February 2017: Handpicked

Each month, the Yiddish Book Center asks a member of our staff or a special friend to select favorite stories, books, interviews, or articles from our online collections. This month, we’re excited to share with you picks by Faith Jones.

Faith Jones—an adjunct professor at the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies, University of British Columbia, and head of Reference and Information Services at New Westminster Public Library, a 2015 Yiddish Book Center translation fellow, and a frequent contributor to Pakn Treger—knows our collections as well as anyone. Here are a few of her favorite finds. 

After delving into her selections, scroll down to read a short interview with Faith about her choices.

Handpicked:

"Tall Tamare"

Recent interest in Abraham Karpinowitz and in unsentimental representations of Yiddish life in pre-war Europe makes this a great teaching story. If you're not teaching, enjoy Karpinowitz's expansive humanity and Helen Mintz's wonderful translation.

Baym toyer (At the gate)

Kadia Molodowsky's late novel of life in Israel, Baym toyer (At the Gate), expertly read by Cecylia Serlin of Montreal's Jewish Public Library. Yiddish students, take note: audio books are a great way to practice learning comprehension.

Got fun nekome (God of Vengeance)

Couldn't get to New York for New Yiddish Rep's production of this classic Sholem Asch play (God of Vengeance)? Or you were there and couldn't get a ticket? The Center's Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library includes this edition from 1913, proving that more than 100 years later we can still be enthralled and even shocked by the Yiddish modernist vision. 

An Interview with Chava Turniansky

Professor Chava Turniansky's extraordinary reminiscences, delivered in her beautiful Yiddish, make this oral history storytelling at its best.

A Lecture by Fania Fenelon

Musician Fania Fenelon survived many dangers during the Holocaust, beginning long before her deportation. This brief but action-packed lecture, delivered in English but flecked with Yiddish and French, is a stunner.

Chayele Grober in Concert

A rare opportunity to experience one of the great practitioners of Yiddish theater directly: Chayele Grober in concert, recorded only a few years before her death. 

An Interview with Adrian Silver

Adrian Silver's charming Yinglish interview reflects how his Yiddish-speaking family history has influenced his professional life as a dancer and dramaturg. 

Q&A

Faith Jones talks to Eitan Kensky, the Yiddish Book Center's director of collection initiatives, about her Handpicked choices.

Eitan Kensky: Your selections for Handpicked are great. Can you say more about your research process? How did you find them? What were you searching for?

Faith Jones: Well, here's what I do. I'm like a cranky baby—I need a lot of stimulation. So I look for different kinds of media and genres to keep myself engaged. One of my main interests is women writers, so when I saw the Molodowsky novel, for example, I was immediately intrigued.

EK: Had you read the novel before?

FJ: Nope, only poems and stories. What I like about her stories is how sharp she is about human nature and how almost painfully acute her language is. I thought the novel would be like that, and it is. But what really makes this resource is the reading. It's a performance in itself.

EK: Side question: If you were going to recommend one Yiddish audio book to someone studying Yiddish, what would it be?

FJ: Oooh, I think the Bergelson—Arum vokzal (At the Depot). That is a perfect book. Bergelson is a genius. Hard for beginners, though; the Molodowsky is definitely going to be better for learners.

EK: Can you say more about Sholem Asch's Got fun nekome, another one of your recommendations?

FJ: I'm just reading this now. Amazingly, despite my many years in Yiddish, with all my queer bona fides, I never actually read it. We're about to restart the Yiddish Book Club podcast [in which Faith, author Michael Wex, and Yiddish-theater actor Shane Baker talk about a Yiddish book]. We decided to do Got fun nekome next, since it's having its moment. What an amazing play. Still really resonant and surprisingly sexy. I'm so impressed with Asch, way more than I thought I would be. I thought this play would be sensationalist, but it's not. Among the major male writers, he was one of the few really invested in women's liberation.

"Karpinowitz was always considered minor—maybe we need to revisit that. His stories are so humane. They burst with life, and with sympathy for all the ways life does people wrong. I think a lot of people who care about the Jewish past don't necessarily realize how poverty made that past grubby and imperfect."

EK: Tell me about the translation you chose.

FJ: Oh, the Karpinowitz. You know, not to brag, but my friend Helen Mintz is an amazing translator. Former translation fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, too. She chose a really interesting writer to work on. Karpinowitz was always considered minor—maybe we need to revisit that. His stories are so humane. They burst with life, and with sympathy for all the ways life does people wrong. I think a lot of people who care about the Jewish past don't necessarily realize how poverty made that past grubby and imperfect. Karpinowitz leads us to the complex individuals in the places we would rather forget—the whorehouses and the thieves' dens, where everyone has a scheme and an angle, and nobody can ever quite escape.

EK: You mentioned that Helen Mintz is a friend. There are quite a number of Yiddish translators in Vancouver. Why do you think that is? Do you meet regularly?

FJ: We all know each other quite well, and I think maybe we inspired each other. Seymour Levitan has been doing it for years but was the only local Yiddish translator for most of that time. Helen and I went through the YIVO program at different times, and we did learn some technique there. And I'm not sure how Rachel [Mines] got interested. We're all part of a loosely knit Yiddish reading circle. But most of our members do not translate. I don't know why the four of us do. (There's also Harvey [Fink], who is even more remote on one of the Gulf Islands.)

EK: One last question: who was Chayele Grober?

FJ: She was a performer in Montreal. She wrote a few memoirs. She was a star in the Montreal Yiddish theater. You come across her in Canadian materials. I think I also read about her in Rebecca Margolis' book about Yiddish in Montreal [Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Cultural Life in Montreal, 1905-1945]. I'm not an expert on her by any means, but listen to that concert! She's fantastic.