Weekly Reader Five Quirky Finds

December 26, 2021

The end of the year is a time when most media outlets do their best-of lists—a somewhat reductive exercise, but a useful way to sum up the year’s output of books, movies, or notable moments. But when you’re dealing with the whole of Yiddish literature and culture, putting together a best-of list just seems ridiculous. So, in lieu of “best,” here are five of the quirkiest items we’ve culled from our website. Here’s to a happy, and healthy, new year!

Ezra Glinter

Whistlemania

Like singing or clapping, whistling is one of those arts that has existed since the dawn of humanity. During the age of vaudeville there were even professional whistlers, whose talents contributed to what some historians have called a “golden age of whistling.” Those top-tier whistlers are fewer now; one of the last was Montreal’s Jack Cohen, whose repertoire included hundreds of Yiddish songs. Cohen died in 2014, but you can still enjoy this concert he gave in 1987 at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library.

Listen to Jack Cohen in concert

Gevalt in our Stars

The idea of attaching one’s luck and fate to the movements of the cosmos is nothing new; early records from around the world show widespread acceptance of the heavenly bodies as authorities on earthly affairs. In Jewish culture, too, this belief was pervasive. Early Talmudic scholars argued over how great the influence of the stars was on daily life and even went so far as to create a complex numerological system with each of the planets corresponding to a different angel. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s also a fair bit of Yiddish writing on the subject. In this essay, Sadie Gold-Shapiro describes their search through the literature for a Yiddish take on astrology—and what they eventually found.

Read an essay on Yiddish astrology

A Poet's Paintings

Celia Dropkin (1887–1956) is a poet known for the boldness and honesty of her poetic imagery, its unrestrained carnality. Rather softer are the images Dropkin created with her paintbrush. In exploring our Dropkinalia, we came across a rare item: a collection of Dropkin’s little-known watercolor and oil paintings. The slim volume contains almost no bibliographic information, only Dropkin’s pictures, with titles in Yiddish and English.

View a volume of Dropkin’s paintings

Recommended Reads

In the spirit of a more traditional year-end list, we thought we’d provide a few recommendations to help you get through these next few winter months. From pocket-sized Yiddish books to night-table English-language works, Zeke Levine, producer of The Shmooze podcast, and host Lisa Newman sit down to discuss and recommend some of the titles from their recent reading lists—it’s an eclectic and surprising handpicked collection.

Listen to the podcast episode

Recommended Beards

Born in Yarmolinetz, Podolia (modern day Ukraine), Abraham (Ab) Goldberg (1883–1942) was a prolific writer, journalist, and public figure in labor Zionist circles in New York. In this essay, taken from his 1924 collection Grenetsn (Borders), Goldberg offers a tongue-in-cheek history of facial hair in Jewish society—from tender memories of bygone beards from the shtetl to depictions of facial hair in Jewish art. Lamenting the smooth-chinned face of American Jewry in the early 20th century, Goldberg would no doubt have been pleasantly surprised by the grooming habits of the 21st.

Read a translation of Goldberg’s essay “Beards”