Weekly Reader: Yiddish in the South

What is the “South”? Well, it depends how far north you are. For Yiddish speakers it could mean the southern United States, as it does for many Americans. It could mean countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia, South Africa, or most nations in South America. Or it could refer to the southern areas of Eastern Europe, whose Jewish communities spoke their own dialect of “Southern Yiddish.” To celebrate the Yiddish in all of these souths, the Yiddish Book Center recently launched a call for southern-themed submissions to our online translation series, which this year will be publishing short works every month on our website. This is also a part of our 2023 Decade of Discovery, “Yiddish Around the World,” and a thematic extension of our new core exhibit (opening October 15!), Yiddish: A Global Culture. The translation series is always a treat, bringing to light previously obscure Yiddish works rendered into English by some of the most talented translators in the field. I encourage you to be a part of that, if you can, and certainly to read it. But for now, if you’re looking for inspiration, read on. 

—Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor

A Portable Library

Teitelbaum - Varshever heyf_0.jpg

South America has been home to some of the most important Yiddish cultural initiatives, and Argentina most of all. One of these was Dos poylishe yidntum (Polish Jewry), a series of 175 hardcover books published between 1946 and 1966 by Buenos Aires’ Tsentral farband far poylishe yidn in argentine (Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina) under the editorship of Mark Turkow. Dos poylishe yidntum articulated the determination of a small cadre of writers to rebuild Yiddish culture in their new homes, far away from Eastern Europe. Like other publishing ventures after 1945, Dos poylishe yidntum was a heroic attempt to commemorate the destruction, and continue the creation, of modern Yiddish literature. 


Read about the history of Dos poylishe yidntum 

Masterpiece Series

A selection of colorful Musterverk covers

Dos poylishe yidntum was only one of the publishing initiatives to emerge in Argentina after the Holocaust. Another was the 100-volume series Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Masterworks of Yiddish Literature), edited by Shmuel Rollansky between 1957 and 1984. As the founding director of La Fundación IWO, the Argentinian branch of YIVO, Rollansky was acutely aware of the challenges facing Yiddish in the postwar period. In creating this series, he not only set out to make a vast corpus of Yiddish works widely available, but he also hoped to cultivate a new generation of readers who might otherwise assume Yiddish to be irrelevant or outdated. 

Read about the Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur 

Globe Trotter

Yiddish title cover of People and Places, black text on white background.

Peretz Hirshbein was one of the greatest playwrights of the Yiddish theater. Together with his wife, the modernist poet Esther (Shumiatcher) Hirshbein, he was also one of the best traveled, touring the world from South America to the South Pacific. In this book, titled People and Places, he wrote about his trips to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in 1920–22. 


Read People and Places in the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library 

Jerusalem of Africa

Cover of The South African Jewish Chronicle, black text on white background

Until his death in 1975, Leybl Feldman (along with his brother, Rakhmiel Feldman) was a mainstay of the South African Jewish community and one of its chief chroniclers. Among his books were several histories of the country and its Jews, including a volume devoted to the town of Oudtshoorn, a place once known as the “ostrich capital of the world,” or as Feldman termed it, the “Jerusalem of Africa.” 

Read books by Leybl Feldman in the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library 

Living Legacy

Doodie Ringelblum

You might think of Yiddish in Australia, South America, or other southern places as a thing of the past. Not so! As elsewhere, Yiddish continues to be spoken and celebrated by people of all ages. In this oral history interview, the Center’s Christa Whitney talks (in Yiddish) to Doodie Ringelblum, a medical doctor and Yiddish activist based in Melbourne. 

Watch an oral history interview with Doodie Ringelblum 

South of Somewhere

David Berg

Can “the South” include South Philadelphia? Well, for present purposes, why not? In this oral history interview, David Berg, a developmental psychologist and South Philadelphia native, recounts the history of his childhood in that particular “southern” neighborhood. 

Watch an oral history interview with David Berg