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
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.
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.
The Golden Chain
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.
Negating the Diaspora
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.
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.