Weekly Reader: An International Culture
May 15, 2022
Yiddish is a famously diasporic language—a language without a country of its own. But this seeming weakness has also, often, been a strength. During the era of Jewish mass emigration from Eastern Europe, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Yiddish-speaking communities popped up around the globe—in New York, of course, but also in London, Detroit, Melbourne, and the Argentine Pampas, among other places. This week we’re celebrating examples of Yiddish culture in all of these locales, which represent just a sampling of the internationalism of the language and its speakers.
Spring in Whitechapel
Arye Mayer Kaizer (1892—1967) was a Yiddish journalist who wrote humorous sketches about the Jewish community living in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. The East End, of course, was not known for its nature: it was crowded and dirty, and during the Depression workers, especially those in the tailoring trade, struggled to make ends meet. Kaizer’s sketch “Spring in Whitechapel,” which was first published in Di tsayt (The Times) on April 24, 1932, ruefully laughs at the difficulty in finding a patch of sky, a ray of sunlight, running water, freshly picked flowers, earth, air, light, and milk straight from the cow.
Ritz with a Shvitz
In the 1920s, unscrupulous mortgage companies financed the construction of grand edifices all over the United States. Many went into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Libby’s, a twelve-story luxury hotel on New York’s Lower East Side, long demolished and almost completely forgotten, is one. Today, two depressions in the sidewalk at the corner of Chrystie and Delancey Streets are all that remain of Libby’s Hotel and Baths.
Jews on the Pampas
For years, Vladimiro Rosenberg’s mother would tell the story of the day she and his father arrived from their native Poland to their new home on the remote and desolate edge of the Argentine Pampas. “That first night, my mother would always say, it was cold. There was no running water, no bathroom, no nothing. But there was also no going back. Either you survive or you die there. She cried like crazy. She always said that she cried more tears that night than she did for the rest of her life.”
A Jewish Enclave in Motor City
Mark Slobin is an ethnomusicologist who has specialized in the music of Eastern European Jewry. In this oral history interview he discusses his Jewish background and describes the Jewish enclave in Detroit in which he grew up, where the egg man spoke Yiddish and the bakery had barrels of pickles on the floor.
A Yiddish Kindergarten Down Under
In this oral history interview Helena (Chayele) Storch Jacobs, a Yiddish actress, talks about her mother’s role in the Melbourne Jewish community. Her mother founded and opened a Yiddish kindergarten with Yasha Sher and Yosef Giligich. This kindergarten eventually grew to be a larger Yiddish school.