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Decade of Discovery Yiddish in America: Cultural Encounters
The Decade of Discovery is a new initiative of the Yiddish Book Center, launched in conjunction with our Fortieth Anniversary in 2020, designed to foster a deeper understanding of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture. This year's theme focuses on Jewish immigration and the ways in which the encounter with Yiddish culture has shaped Jewish life in America over the past 150 years. In celebration of this theme, we're spotlighting a collection of short interview excerpts from the Wexler Oral History Project about the Jewish experience of immigration to the US, a blog post about how Yiddish immigrant writers mobilized to provide relief aid during WWI, and a podcast featuring strange but true stories from Yiddish newspapers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Handpicked David Mazower
As the bibliographer and editorial director at the Yiddish Book Center, David Mazower spends much of his time combing through and adding to our collections. He shares a few of his favorite items here.
A Good Friend in Troubled Times
This translation by Elissa Bemporad from a recent issue of Pakn Treger is an example of the treasures nestling inside memorial books to individual writers. It’s a touching memoir by the writer Rokhl Faygnberg of her friend Mordkhe Spektor, an influential Yiddish author and editor whose book appeared in Warsaw in 1929. Personal and playful, it’s a great introduction to the scandalously overlooked Faygnberg.
“Letters,” “To Miriam Ulinover,” and “Letters”
Staying with the theme of friendship and tribute, here’s a distilled poetic dialogue across time and space. It unites three women spanning three generations: the poets Miriam Ulinover and Rivka Basman, and the scholar Kathryn Hellerstein. Reading this piece is like eavesdropping on a shared conversation, a gathering of kindred spirits. It’s a beautiful meditation on the reasons for writing—and reading.
Oyf gots velt
This slim pocket-sized volume is one of my favorite Yiddish illustrated books. The poems are by L Miler [Louis Miller, the pseudonym of Eliezer Meler], a leftist poet and novelist who also wrote a long study of Walt Whitman. But the real beauty of the book for me lies in the sinuous drawings by the Polish-American Jewish artist and poet, Yehuda [Jennings] Tofel. Tofel studied briefly in Paris, and it shows: there’s a very French lightness and lyricism about his sketching and calligraphy.