Weekly Reader: Israel's 75th Birthday

Happy birthday! To the State of Israel, that is, which turns 75 this week. When it comes to Yiddish and Israel, that history has been complicated. In its early years, Yiddish was suppressed in favor of Hebrew, the newly revived language of the new country. Yet Israel has also been home to important Yiddish writers, communities, academic programs, and cultural organizations, and it has served as a base for the Yiddish revival of recent decades. To learn more about this fascinating topic, read on.

—Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor

Seeds in the Desert

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The early years of the State of Israel are usually associated with a precarious military situation, waves of immigrants, the idealistic kibbutz movement, and an atmosphere of a hardscrabble society trying to find its footing. But the country was also home to a new wave of Yiddish literature, often written by refugees who had arrived from Europe after the Holocaust. This is the setting of the opening stories of Seeds in the Desert, a collection by Yiddish writer Mendel Mann, published in an English translation by Heather Valencia for the Center’s White Goat Press.


Read about Mendel Mann’s Seeds in the Desert


Purchase Seeds in the Desert, translated by Heather Valencia and publised by White Goat Press


Read the original collection, Kerner in midber (Seeds in the Desert), in the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library

Young Israel

Title page of "Young Israel"

Just last month, Shachar Pinsker, a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Michigan, gave a talk focusing on “Yung Yisroel” (Young Israel)—a group of Yiddish writers in the 1950s and ’60s—as well as the influence of Yiddish on Hebrew cultural production from the state’s establishment until today. The program was part of this year’s Decade of Discovery theme, Yiddish Around the World, and is now available to view at your leisure.

Watch a lecture by Shachar Pinsker

The Golden Chain

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Perhaps the most important figure associated with Israeli Yiddish was the poet Avrom Sutzkever. Sutzkever was a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, a member of the famed Paper Brigade, a partisan fighter against the Nazis, and for decades editor of the Goldene keyt (Golden Chain), the most important Yiddish literary periodical of the postwar period. For all of his importance as an editor and cultural figure, Sutzkever never stopped producing his own work, which included many prose poems that have only recently been translated. You can buy the entire collection from our online store and read an excerpt from the 2018 Pakn Treger translation issue.

Read Avrom Sutzkever’s “An Answer to a Letter,” translated by Zackary Sholem Berger


Listen to a selection of, and read an introduction to, Avrom Sutzkever’s talks at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library

Negating the Diaspora

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The State of Israel’s attitude toward Yiddish was bound up with its attitude toward the diaspora in general. In this oral history interview Izzy Feldman, an Israeli-American IT specialist, speaks about how the diaspora was regarded in Israel during his childhood, when young Israelis felt ashamed of European Jews’ inability to resist the Holocaust.

Watch an oral history interview with Izzy Feldman

Poetic Visions

Recorded conversation "The State of Israel in Yiddish Poetry" at MJPL

The relationship between Israel and Yiddish was hardly one way. The Zionist movement had long included Yiddish-speaking factions and organizations, and many Yiddish writers and cultural activists were staunch supporters of both Zionism and the Jewish State. In this 1979 program recorded at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, a panel of Yiddish writers discuss (in Yiddish) the diverse treatments of Israel in Yiddish poetry.

Listen to a program about the State of Israel in Yiddish poetry