Such a Time

Written by:
David Mazower
Fall 2020
Part of issue number:

For four decades, Pakn Treger has featured stories that explore the lives of Yiddish writers and creative artists. This portfolio continues this tradition but with photographs rather than words as our starting point. As this year’s Decade of Discovery theme, Yiddish in America: Cultural Encounters, draws to a close, we bring you a selection of images that are by turns funny, poignant, unexpected, and revelatory. All of them illuminate the rich and continuing story of Yiddish in America in ways that are surprising and intensely human.

These pictures have much to tell us. Rokhl Korn’s infectious delight in learning to swim as an adult mirrors the wonderment found in her poems. The snapshot of Sara Rosenfeld and the Mloteks singing as they picnic by a lake tells us everything about the love of Yiddish song that infused their public lives. Sholem Asch amazed friends and casual acquaintances with sudden outbursts of emotion, and the story of his medicine ball reveals a childlike streak that never left him. Kadya Molodowsky peers into the camera in a photo booth at Coney Island looking as if she wants to smile but can’t, as though what should be a moment of fun is clouded by the stress of leaving her old life behind and starting over in America. Finally, the recent photograph of a klezmer jam in a Brooklyn park captures the power of live music and community to sustain and console in this most challenging of years.

None of these photographs tells the whole story of these writers and artists. But they capture an important truth: Yiddish culture’s creative luminaries have always been vital, restless, sophisticated, flesh-and-blood figures. We’ve had fun delving into public archives and family albums in search of images that surprise, amuse, and enchant. We hope you find them as revealing as we do.  —David Mazower

Miriam Karpilove
Miriam Karpilove, a popular writer of stories and serialized novels for the American Yiddish press, on holiday in Florida, c. 1945.
Sara Rosenfeld, Yosl and Chana Mlotek
Sara Rosenfeld (right) with her brother and sister-in-law Yosl and Chana Mlotek signing together on vacation in the 1980s. As scholars, Yiddish cultural activists, all made enduring contributions to Yiddish culture in Canada and the U.S.
Sholem Asch and family
Novelist and playwright Sholem Asch and family on the beach at Coney Island in 1915, their first full summer in America.
Vladeck in Los Angeles with friends
Yiddish writers and activists in Los Angeles, 1911.