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Yiddish Book Center

Celebrating Yiddish Language & Culture

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Focus On Thanksgiving and Yiddish

Is turkey kosher? That’s a serious question (can you eat previously unknown fowl that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible?), but for most Jews, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” Which is good news around this time of year. Turkey may not have been a traditional Eastern European food, and Thanksgiving may not be a traditional Jewish holiday, but it doesn’t take much convincing to enjoy quality time with family and friends, eat a big celebratory meal, and give thanks for the good things in life. And given the secular, non-sectarian nature of the holiday, it didn’t take long for Jewish immigrants to adopt the holiday as their own. However you choose to celebrate this occasion, we wish you and yours a happy, and healthy, Thanksgiving. 

אויסגעקליבן Handpicked Asya Vaisman Schulman

Woman wearing glasses and headscarf, black and white illustration

Each month, the Yiddish Book Center asks a member of our staff or a friend to select favorite stories, books, interviews, or articles from our online collections. This month, we’re excited to share with you picks by Asya Vaisman Schulman, the director of the Yiddish Language Institute and the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program at the Yiddish Book Center, and the lead author of In eynem: The New Yiddish Textbook, published by White Goat Press in 2020.

Asya Vaisman Schulman’s Handpicked Selections

Asya’s selections highlight the goldene pave, or golden peacock, a frequent motif in Yiddish folklore and literature that often acts as a messenger or companion on a long journey. So frequent is this symbol that it has also come to stand for Yiddish culture itself. Let’s see where the bird has landed in our collections, focusing in particular on the works of American Yiddish poet Moyshe-Leyb Halpern (1886–1932).

Di goldene pave (The Golden Peacock)

Moyshe-Leyb Halpern titled his second book of verse, published in Cleveland in 1924, after the legendary creature. The volume contains several poems that feature the golden peacock, such as “The Ballad of Kashtakhan.” For a literary analysis of this poem (including the peacock’s role in it), see Yiddish poet and literary critic Abraham Tabachnik’s book Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and Poetry).

American Yiddish Poetry: Reading Resources

To learn more about Halpern in the context of American Yiddish poetry, you can explore this reading resource guide that was created for members of the Yiddish Book Center’s Great Jewish Books Club of 2019. The guide quotes Benjamin Harshav, who describes Di goldene pave as “a tour de force, combining elements of Yiddish and Slavic folk bards, direct naturalistic description with satirical and grotesque overtones and a lyrical romanticism.”

Modicut Yiddish Puppet Theater, 1925–1933 with Eddy Portnoy

Di goldene pave was illustrated by cartoonist, poet, and puppeteer Yosl Cutler (1896–1935). The graphic following the beautifully designed title page depicts the golden peacock within what is likely an illustration of the aforementioned “Ballad of Kashtakhan.” In a virtual public program from 2021, Eddy Portnoy, the academic advisor and director of exhibitions at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, talks about Cutler and his artistic partner Zuni Maud. Portnoy shares Cutler’s peacock illustration from 21:06 to 21:53 of the presentation, describing it as “modernist” and “compelling.”

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