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Focus On Yiddish and Social Justice
The Yiddish Book Center's Decade of Discovery is an initiative launched by the Center to mark our 40th anniversary in 2020. Its aim is to foster a deeper understanding of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture. Our focus for the 2021 Decade of Discovery is Yiddish and Social Justice.
In novels, poetry, plays, and in the press, Yiddish artists explored issues of racism, workers’ rights, women's suffrage, indigenous peoples, and political protest. The Jewish engagement with social justice can be found throughout our collections—here are few selections - Di balade fun litl-rak (The Ballad of Little Rock), an epic poem by Dora Teitelboim, the story behind Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II, and The Yiddish Press and Racism in America, 1880–1920, with Tony Michels.
Handpicked Jennifer Young
Jennifer Young, education program manager, recently joined the staff at the Yiddish Book Center. We were eager to ask Jennifer to curate this month's Handpicked - with her background in the field of education, curation, and museum work we knew Jennifer would find an interesting mix of content. And she did.
Ben-Tsion Liber, Dos Geshlekhts Lebn (1915)
I’m very interested in the connections between radical politics, mutual aid, and public health. Liber was born in Romania, the son of a Yiddish dramatist, and studied medicine in Vienna. He wrote for anarchist and Communist publications, and translated a French play about syphilis. This book, published in numerous editions, includes very straightforward information on sex, biology, and health.
Chava Rosenfarb, My Life as a Yiddish Writer
I read Rosenfarb’s short story “Edgia’s Revenge” as a college student at McGill University, and it changed the way I thought about Yiddish literature. Post-holocaust Yiddish literature, written by a woman, and in the same city where I was living, opened up new ways for me to think about what Yiddish literature is, and who it is for. This recording of Chava Rosenfarb provides a window into the writer and her work.
Nokh Alemen, by Dovid Bergelson,1935
This is the first novel I read in Yiddish, and it floored me. The main character, Mirl Hurwitz, is a modern woman, caught between modernity and tradition, and she ultimately chooses alienation and isolation rather than being caught up in either flawed social system.
Who doesn’t love a collection of children’s stories about a Yiddish dog? The Labzik stories, now translated by Miriam Udel and the subject of a wonderful puppet film by Jake Krakovksy, are about a Depression-era dog who comes to live with a working-class family in the Bronx, and helps them face the issues of their time, (and ours) such as political protest, racism, and economic insecurity. The Labzik stories were originally published by the International Workers Order, founded in 1930 as an immigrant fraternal order that provided high-quality, low-cost health and burial insurance and other benefits for members. It also ran a birth control clinic led by a pioneering female physician, Dr. Cheri Appel, out of its office at 80 Fifth Avenue.