What I’m Reading

Here is some of the Yiddish or Yiddish-related material I am/have been reading. I have nothing specific to uncover or to preach this week. So, I fall back on the original meaning of “blog” as “web log”, and share some of what I have been reading and thinking about, and what’s on my immediate reading list:

  1. The Birobidzhan Affair, by Israel Emiot. I received a gift of Masha Gessen’s book “Where the Jews Aren’t” that has been in the news lately. So, rather than read it right away, I thought I’d read the Birobidzhan book that’s been sitting on my shelf. I have both the Yiddish and the English version (on extended loan from by friends in Rochester. But I’m honorable and they had extra copies of both). I was going to make a try at the Yiddish, but in the end I’ve opted for time efficiency. Despite the title, the book focuses not so much on Birobidzhan itself, but on the author’s experience in a prison camp.
  1. The story, Di Farkishefter Shnayder, by Sholem Aleichem. Preparation for an online class.
  1. Fishke der Krumer, by Mendele Mocher Sforim. Ditto.
  1. Dr. Shloime Simon, by Chanan Kiel. A tribute published in the Tsukunft, dated 1988 (eighteen years after his death).
  1. An article Gele Fishman wrote in the Forverts about her friend Blume: http://yiddish.forward.com/articles/199592/my-close-friend-blume/ What is interesting to me here (besides the wonderful photo that not only features the writer and her friend, but also my Aunt Judith Simon Bloch as a teenager), is the picture Fishman gives of the crystallization of identity. Being teenage Yiddishists, just coming into their mature intellectual selves in the holocaust years, marked her and her friend and gave them a life’s mission. I am fascinated by that interplay of timing and individual meaning-making.
  1. Translation and Poetry. An article my grandfather wrote in 1932 reviewing a new translation of Lord Byron’s poetry. Kindly shared with me by a scholar of English Romanticism, whose particular interest is in parallels and intersections between English and Jewish culture. I looked for and could not find this article over the summer, and I’m grateful to have it. Therefore it is slightly awkward to arrive at the conviction that her characterization of my grandfather’s article in her book “Byron and the Jews” is not altogether accurate. Just between you and me.
  2. Also still working on A Little Love in Big Manhattan, Ruth Wisse’s book about the poets Mani Leib and Moishe Leib Halpern..

This should keep me busy. “Any one can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”– Robert Benchley.


People did show up at Yiddish Ithaca’s first meeting two weeks ago. Hooray! We are meeting again Monday. This time I did not move heaven and earth to publicize it. We will see who comes back. The problems are first that it is still “my group” and not “our group” yet, and second that despite our small numbers we have a broad range- from knowing nothing and being idly curious, to knowing little but eager to learn more (and even these split between wanting to learn to read or just to talk) to knowing a bit and undecided on reading vs. schmoozing as a focus, to being fluent. No one else seems ready to assert what they want and bring the energy to help make it happen. So I’m taking charge of the beginners. Otherwise, my plan for smoothing the way despite the disparate experience and expectations is to bring honey cake.

If the group shrinks in one direction (only the beginners, or only the highly committed learners) that will simplify matters. But if not, I have a role model in my teacher from Rochester, D, who has managed to keep a group together for many years despite some fairly stark differences in level and learning style.


Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute’s Mitl Shul graduation, 1944. Photo presumably supplied by Fishman to accompany her Forverts article. Please repay them for my stealing it by reading (and/or by subscribing or contributing to) the Forverts.


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