One recent find that has excited me came via Yivo, though it has nothing directly to do with the Yivo archives. Prior to this summer, I had tried on a few occasions to locate some of my grandfathers writings apart from his books, such as chapters in other people’s books or articles in literary journals. There have been some successes– Among others, I turned up Mayses fun Agadete, written with Chaim Shoys and indexed only under the latter’s name; and I found a couple of chapters in a book issued in honor of Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute’s jubilee. It has been slow going. Though some Yiddish journals have been scanned, they are few and far between. Also, there is no good Yiddish text-recognition software yet, and the programming problem is a non-trivial one to solve.
A couple of weeks ago my archive work had turned up a couple of articles in Velt un Folk, a newsletter published by the World Jewish Congress. Photocopying there is (deliberately) onerous, so I wondered if there might be some way to find those articles on line. I didn’t find anything, but while I was looking I did stumble onto the Index of Yiddish Periodicals, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Here’s the link: http://yiddish-periodicals.huji.ac.il/
To Jewish Studies scholars, I’m sure this is old news, but to me it was a revelation. I typed my grandfather’s name in (in Yiddish characters) and it returned well over fifty references! Moving through the results is cumbersome. You have to click on one at a time, so you can’t skim to pick out articles of particular interest. But that is a minor quibble. Whoever went through the tons of newspapers and journals and hand-entered every article title along with the author and page numbers is a hero.
The picture of Solomon Simon’s output revealed by these references is awe-inspiring. I have long known about the twenty full-length Yiddish books that he published. Newcomers to this blog should note that my grandfather did that while working full time as a dentist. He was also active in his community, especially as a teacher and school administrator. The smaller-scale works that I now know about, both from the archive and from the periodicals index, give an even better picture of his productivity and range.
I already knew, for example, that he was a Talmudic scholar and wrote religious commentary, that he wrote about Israel, as well as about Jewish nationalism, identity and modernity. Above all, he wrote for children and he wrote about education. Here, though, are: appreciations of fellow writers, probably originally delivered as banquet speeches; book reviews and literary criticism (these include reactions to Philip Roth and William Blake, along with more expected subjects like a review of an English translation of Song of Songs); philosophy; current events, and on and on. Often when he published books, he also managed to get excerpts published, in children’s journals, literary journals, newspapers, and anthologies. This was without a literary agent and, naturally, before computers.
The Index is not complete. I’m sure that more of his writings will surface beyond the scores that I found in my search. So far an incomplete list of journals and newspapers in which his work appear includes: Kinderfraynd, Di Tsukunft, New Yorker Vokhnblat, “Tshikago”, Yidish, Zayn, Heymish, Literarishe Bleter, Der Khaver, Oyfgang, Der Oyfkum, Undzer Bukh, Di Tsayt, Morgn Zhournal, Volk un Velt, Tshernovitser Bleter, Shulblat, Bleter far Yidisher Dertsiyung, and Yidisher Kemfer. For some of these he was a regular contributor over an extended period of time. I know he also wrote extensively for, and edited, the Kinder Zhournal published by the Sholem Aleichem Folk Insititute, but I have not been able to find that online—neither the actual content nor an index of the articles.
Last week we read Perets’ short story, “Mendl Braynes”. Mendl, the protagonist, is a fool, but also a pious man and a good citizen. Where his foolishness bites hardest is in his relationship with his wife Brayne, whom he takes completely for granted. He ‘studies’ (at a rudimentary level) and does his good deeds, while she does everything— earns the money, cooks, and raises the children. Mendl is a fanatic admirer of England and wants to go there some day, “on his way” to the Holy Land, his grasp of geography being no better than his grasp of life in general. His wife tells him to wait until the children are grown and married off, at least.
One day he comes home in distress, having noticed a gray hair in his beard. He is afraid he will not live long enough to make his dreamed-of trip. His wife reassures him:
“My father, may he rest in peace, was only fifty when he turned completely gray… and he went on to live another thirty years.”
“But the generations weaken,” Mendl replies.
Our teacher pointed out how the concept of “the decline of the generations” [link] was meant to describe the distance from the revelation at Sinai, not the short span of one generation, and to refer to spiritual, not physical strength. Mendl is a dolt. But Brayne meets him on his level, and promises to feed him more to keep his strength up.
I have to say, though, that I have a certain amount of sympathy for Mendl. The immigrant generation, that arrived here with nothing and made lives for themselves and meanwhile produced such an unbelievable outpouring of literature— we are simply not in their league, and I don’t expect to see their like again. The children of immigrants that not only ‘made it in America’, but broke through professional barriers, put their stamp on every aspect of our cultural, intellectual, political and communal lives— they were no slouches either. Me and my suburb-reared peers have our virtues, and our stars, but let’s not fool ourselves. For my part, my beard is full of gray and here I am a schoolboy. Mind you, it does lend me a certain charm…