Chapters: Ours

Yiddish periodicals from around the world, all "ours." (Photo by Ben Barnhart)

In the Yiddish Book Center’s vault of rare materials, there are countless pieces of Yiddish cast-metal type along with box after box of the journals and magazines they may well have been used to print. Over the past century and a half, organizations of every ideological stripe published more than 3,000 titles of Yiddish journals and magazines around the globe, from Cuba to Krakow to Capetown. Browse the titles in our vault and you’ll notice a single word recurring again and again: “Undzer—Our.” 

There is Undzer veg (Our Way)—a name shared by various journals, one of which was created in 1945 by and for survivors living in displaced persons camps in Germany. Yellowed 1936 issues of Undzer shul (Our School: A Magazine for Parents and Teachers) feature practical advice like that set forth in 1914’s equally edifying Undzer gezunt (Our Health). Girls engaged in manual labor smile to each other from different covers of Undzer vort (Our Word), the organ of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order. The front page of Undzer vort in Belgye (Our Word in Belgium, or, as the cover translates it, Notre Parole) from 1985 sits across the aisle from Undzer gedank (Our Thoughts), published in Melbourne in 1969.

The ubiquity of the word reflects Jews’ collective spirit during this period: not mayn—my—but undzer, our. Tossed by the tempests of the twentieth century, Jews clung to old communities or created new ones. If their homes were destroyed, they found a new refuge in Yiddish letters, in Undzer eygn vinkl (Our Own Little Corner)—yes, the title of yet another periodical. 

Michael Yashinsky is an alumnus of several Yiddish Book Center educational programs and holds the first-ever Applebaum Fellowship at the Center.