Diving Beneath the Surface
It’s still only April, but summer will be here before we know it. And for generations of Yiddish-speaking Jews, summer meant one thing: Coney Island.
Coney Island was (and is!) New York City’s very own seaside getaway. For just the price of a train ticket, immigrant families could get out of sweltering tenement apartments and go swim in the ocean, lounge on the beach, stroll on the boardwalk, and enjoy amusement park games and rides.
Given the importance of Coney Island to New York’s Jewish population, it quickly showed up in Yiddish literature, poetry, music, and more. So come along as we take a dive beneath the surface of Yiddish Coney Island.
Rhythms and Sounds
Victor Packer was a prolific writer and performer in a unique genre: the ritmish retsitatsye, or rhythmic recitation, a kind of Dadaistic sound poem that he would perform live on radio station WLTH in the late 1930s. This performance, an ode to Coney Island, was transcribed from the original broadcast disks and is accompanied by both the original text and translation.
Uncle Sam by the Sea
It’s safe to say that Sam Liptzin was a character. A self-styled “radical humorist” from Lipsk, Liptzin went by the moniker Feter Shepsl (Uncle Sam), or sometimes, more mysteriously, Kvikzilber (Quicksilver). For years he was a leftist organizer, writer, and speaker, as well as a columnist for the Morgen freiheit. In this memoiristic short story he recalls his greenhorn days in New York and his first visit to that magical place by the sea.
Bashevis Singer Goes to Seagate
Isaac Bashevis Singer often dwelled on his earliest days in America. He described his arrival several times in his fiction, memoir, and journalism. This previously unpublished version was written later in Singer’s life and reflects a fifty-year perspective on the still-vivid impressions of his youth. Translated by Singer himself, along with an uncredited collaborator, it first appeared in the 2020 Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue.
Sweating It Out
Talk to any old-time New Yorker and they’ll be happy to regale you with tales of Coney Island back in the day. For Norman Feinberg, son of Yiddish writer Leon Feinberg, going to the beach meant hanging out with the famed poet Itzik Manger, who would buy his young friend a lollipop on the way. For Arthur Klein, a Brooklyn-born Navy veteran, retired hairdresser, and former Yiddish Book Center docent, his teenage trips meant going to the shvits, or steambath, and “sweating it out.”