PERMANENT EXHIBITION | Yiddish: A Global Culture

On view at the Yiddish Book Center

About Yiddish: A Global Culture

An immersive experience, Yiddish: A Global Culture tells the diasporic story of modern Yiddish literature, theater, music, press, and politics through hundreds of objects, including rare books, artwork, photographs, sheet music, Yiddish typewriters, memorabilia, and more. Global in scope yet deeply personal—with many prized heirlooms donated by families over the past 40 years—the exhibition tells the stories of both the creators and the consumers of Yiddish culture.

The exhibition displays artifacts from the Center’s collections or on special loan, all shown in public for the first time. Highlights include a 60-foot color mural of global “Yiddishland” by illustrator Martin Haake; an enormous hand-drawn 1945 micrographic portrait of Yiddish activist Chaim Zhitlowsky, composed of thousands of miniature letters from his selected texts, created in Buenos Aires by immigrant textile worker Guedale Tenenbaum; a well-worn leather medicine ball, used by the popular Yiddish novelist Sholem Asch when he relocated to the United States in the 1940s; and vintage clothes and a leather steamer trunk from the 1920s that were used by the celebrated Yiddish literary couple Peretz Hirshbein and Esther Shumiatcher on their decade-long travels around the world.

Visitors can also explore a re-creation of the turn-of-the-century Warsaw apartment of writer I. L. Peretz, whose legendary salon stood at the forefront of Yiddish modernism in the 1900s and 1910s. The period reproduction features books, profiles of writers and artists in Peretz’s circle, a soundscape of voices from the salon, a re-creation of Peretz’s desk, and wallpaper based on original photographs.

Yiddish: A Global Culture Sections:

The exhibition's sixteen featured sections (listed below) present a richly visual and revelatory account of a vibrant and interconnected Yiddish civilization, from the mid 19th century to the present moment. 

  • Yiddishland: Transnational Yiddish
  • Expanding Horizons: Yiddish as a Gateway to New Worlds, New Lives
  • Bestsellers: Dime Novels, Romance Fiction, and Workers’ Libraries
  • Modernism: Yiddish Avant-garde, 1914–1939
  • Soviet Yiddish: From Revolutionary Promise to Murderous Repression
  • Women's Voices: Gender, Stereotypes, and the Struggle for Equality
  • Shraybmashinen!: Yiddish Typewriters and Typists
  • Khurbn / Holocaust: Martyrs, Survivors, and Books of Remembrance
  • Celebrities: Culture Heroes and Commercial Images
  • The Hirshbein/Shumiatcher Trunk: The Steamer Trunk That Travelled the World
  • Peretz's Salon: Yiddish Pride and Jewish Renewal
  • Saving a Culture: Preserving the Past, Enabling the Future
  • Music: Songs and Sounds of Synagogue, Street, and Second Avenue
  • Press & Politics: Mass Newspapers and Mass Politics
  • Postwar & Contemporary: The Response to Catastrophe: Resilience and Renewal
  • Theater: The Global World of Yiddish Entertainment

In addition to these main sections, sixteen Story Cases display unique artifacts and related images, each telling a distinct story about a moment or phenomenon in Jewish history, or about Yiddish cultural preservation and continuity around the world. 

Exhibition Support

Yiddish: A Global Culture has been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom.

Additional major funding support has come from The Kaplen Brothers Fund, the Estate of Dr. Thomas Zand, The Simha and Sara Lainer Family Foundation, Dr. Martin Peretz, Arthur Sands, Leona Kern, The David Berg Foundation, Dr. Jesse M. Abraham and Amy Peck Abraham, The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, The Malka Fund at Jewish Communal Fund, Ben Shneiderman, and the Dr. Matthew A. Budd and Rosalind E. Gorin Fund at Combined Jewish Philanthropies.