Yiddish Book Center
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Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, announces retirement
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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 Maya González, the 2023–2024 Harriett and Seymour Shapiro Fellow in Bibliography.
Geographies of the Soul: Marjorie Agosín and Ruth Behar in Conversation on Memory, Identity, and Storytelling
This conversation brings together two of my long-time inspirations, Marjorie Agosín and Ruth Behar, who are both Jewish Latina immigrants and self-proclaimed “memory keepers.” Agosín and Behar describe the geographic and linguistic contours of their memories, from their respective home countries of Chile and Cuba and beyond. They dive into a question that I often consider in my work as a Holocaust and genocide educator: How do we write histories of violence for a younger audience? “Hope is found in the truth,” says Agosín, discouraging the audience from shielding children, or any reader, from learning about the difficult parts of our histories.
Suddenly I Was a Holocaust Survivor: A Child Survivor’s Experience of American Holocaust Memorial Events
In this oral history excerpt, Irena Klepfisz remembers participating in akademyes (Holocaust memorial ceremonies) as a nine-year-old emigre in Sweden. Wearing the label of “Holocaust survivor” and being the daughter of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising hero Michał Klepfisz, she was often called upon during these ceremonies to represent the 1.5 million child martyrs of the Holocaust. She describes the experience as “destructive” and “traumatizing.” In a landscape of Holocaust memory that often prioritizes triumphalist narratives, Klepfisz refocuses her narrative to center the vulnerability and humanity of survivors.
“A nay kleyd” (“A New Dress”) performed by Adah Hetko
After fleeing genocidal violence in Poland in 1941, writer and poet Rokhl Korn often lamented the loss of her home in her writings. This poem expresses Korn’s aching disappointment with her own inability to adjust to her new environment as she attempts to settle into an unfamiliar life in postwar Montreal. Apart from its original content, Korn’s expression of disconnection from her own body resonates deeply with the part of me that is dedicated to reproductive justice. Adah Hetko’s melodic adaptation gives voice to Korn’s grief, while her voice soothes the wounds it describes.
Shtendiḳ zayn zol di mame! zamlung fun ḳindershe gemeln
To end on a lighter note, I’d like to share a precious collection of children’s illustrations published in 1986. Each picture shows the love and care with which children observe their mothers and the world that revolves around them. Much like these young folks, I’m also compelled to make art inspired by Yiddish traditions like woodcut printing—and, of course, I’m inspired by my mom, who taught me to observe the world with an open heart and mind.
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