The paper seeks to expand the area of modern Yiddish culture beyond literary fiction. It explores the rise of modern Yiddish theatre, press, poetry, and political literature in Imperial Russia in the 1880s. The essay argues that these forms of Yiddish cultural expression first became significant and widespread phenomena in the 1880s. It also highlights the emergence of a diverse Yiddish readership and audience, with different levels of Jewish and European cultural background, in order to counter the common dichotomy that Yiddish was for the masses, whereas Hebrew and Russian were used by the Jewish elites. Finally, the article places the rise of Modern Yiddish culture within the context of major social and economic transformations in East European Jewry: urbanization, population growth, and downward economic mobility. Overall, the article refines and revises certain conclusions offered in the author’s book The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (2005).

issue 17 / September 2020 by David E. Fishman

As the first prominent Yiddish writer from the Polish territories of the Pale of Settlement, I. L. Peretz (1852-1915) was from the beginning of his career an outlier in the geographical politics of Yiddish culture. He dramatized this difference in a number of ways: insisting on the linguistic difference of his Yiddish from that of his colleagues, dispensing with the overt appeals to oral discourse which Yiddish literature had adopted and adapted from Russian literary models, and demanding of himself and his readers a sensitivity to literary style on the highest level of sophistication. As an outlier, these aesthetic differences find representation in analogously exceptional approaches to the question of literary space. Unlike his primary colleagues, and competitors, in Yiddish literature of the day – Sh. Y. Abramovitsh (c. 1835-1917) and Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) – Peretz dispenses with the convention of creating prototypical, imaginary shtetlekh in order to situate his stories, including his most fantastic and parodic narratives, in a verifiable Eastern European geography. He is moreover the first great Yiddish writer to describe these traditional communities from a perspective of the writer living in a modern metropolis, even if the metropolis itself figures in comparatively few of his narratives. What emerges from these strategies is a writer who situates himself not only as an “outlier” with respect to the linguistic and literary conventions of his contemporaries, but also with respect to the territories he describes. His narratives are neither traditional nor modern, neither metropolitan nor peripheral, neither realistic nor phantasmagoric, but in each instance somewhere in between and, more significantly, constantly in a state of flux among these contrasting locations. This essay will trace the narrational techniques and representations of space in Peretz’s fiction to demonstrate the dislocations which determine his best writing and provide a model for the leading trends in Yiddish modernism that follow in his wake.

issue 17 / September 2020 by Marc Caplan

“To Hell with Futurism, Too!”

The Metamorphoses of Western and Eastern European Modernism in Yiddish Manifesto

After World War I, Yiddish poets and artists in Lodz, Warsaw, Kiev, Vilna, Moscow, Paris, London, and New York created a number of short-lived publications such as Yung-idish, Khalyastre, Albatros, Di vog, Ringen, Milgroym. The editors spoke different languages beside Yiddish, were familiar with numerous cultural and literary traditions and, while living all over the world, created common networks of cooperation. Their artistic programs as formulated in the manifestos opening the magazines are complex hypertexts referring to the Torah and the Talmud in the same breath as to futurist and expressionist images. These manifestos form the core of the multilayered and polycentric Yiddish modernist culture. The article traces the threads connecting the Yiddish modernist magazines to various cultural traditions with special attention to the processes of cultural translation and hybridization.

issue 17 / September 2020 by Daria Vakhrushova

In 1920, following their wedding and a devastating miscarriage, Molly Picon and Jacob Kalich traveled to Europe, where they spent the next several years performing before Yiddish-speaking audiences across the continent. At the time, Molly Picon was not yet a Yiddish theater star. She was a young, relatively unknown young performer who was trying to move from English-language vaudeville into Yiddish theater, encouraged by her new husband, a Yiddish theater impresario. Their biggest obstacle? Molly’s lack of fluency in Yiddish. “I was a Yiddish illiterate,” she later wrote in her autobiography. “The Yiddish I spoke was completely bastardized.”
The goal of Kalich and Picon’s European trip was for Picon to acquire a more sophisticated, authentic, “correct” Yiddish so that she would have a better chance of getting cast on Second Avenue when they returned to the United States. The pair began in Paris, then traveled throughout the cities, towns, and villages of Poland, and ultimately, across Austria, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. Molly Picon was an American actress, but it was in Yiddish Europe that she first became a star.
This essay will consider Picon and Kalich’s travels and performances across Yiddish-speaking Europe in the early 1920’s through a close examination of Picon and Kalich’s letters, reviews of Picon’s performances in both Europe and the United States, and other contemporaneous accounts of the tour. Implicitly, the stated goal Picon and Kalich’s tour positioned Europe as the keeper of Yiddish linguistic, theatrical, and cultural authenticity – even as New York had already succeeded Warsaw and London as the global capital of the Yiddish stage. How did a young Picon, a nascent Yiddish performer who had never left the United States before, understand the cultural landscape of a Yiddish Europe in which she spent her most formative years and became a global star? To what extent can we understand her subsequent career as an American Yiddish performer as influenced by the Yiddish Europe she encountered on this tour?

issue 17 / September 2020 by Debra Caplan

In August 1935, a group of intellectuals who gathered in Vilna at a jubilee conference of the Jewish Scientific Institute, YIVO, announced the founding of a movement called the Yiddish Culture Front (YCF), whose aim would be to ensure the preservation of Yiddish culture. The article focuses on the congress convened by the YCF in Paris. The congress, a landmark in the history of Yiddishism, opened on September 17, 1937, before a crowd of some 4,000 attendees. 104 delegates represented organizations and institutions from 23 countries. Radically anti-Soviet groups boycotted the convention, considering it a communist ploy. Ironically, the Kremlin cancelled the participation of a Soviet delegation at the last moment. From the vantage point of the delegates, Paris was the only logical center for its World Yiddish Cultural Association (IKUF or YIKUF) created after the congress. However, the French capital was not destined to become the world capital of Yiddish intellectual life. Influential circles of Yiddish literati, still torn by ideological strife rather than united in any common cultural ‘Yiddishland,’ remained concentrated in America, Poland, and the Soviet Union.

issue 17 / September 2020 by Gennady Estraikh

This paper analyzes how the Zionist discourse on shelilat ha-galut – “the denial of the diaspora,” or rejection of the image of the exilic Jew, which also implies removal from the culture of the country of birth in the diaspora – is prominent in Hebrew literary works. Whereas this discourse remains very complex in Ashkenazi writers, we can identify even greater challenges and disparities in the output of writers of Moroccan and Ethiopian origin who left the countries of their birth and in whose work “at home” seems to be the very country of exile. In these writers, we find a self-distancing from Israeli reality and from identifying with the “Israelis.” This is a reversal of the exile-vs.-redemption discourse, with Eretz Israel now as the country of exile and the country the writer has abandoned, previously deemed the land of exile, as the homeland. These writers have left a homeland, a supposed land of exile, only to arrive in a promised homeland which becomes even more of a land of exile, and makes them yearn for their former exile. In this article I will restrict myself to analyzing Avne shaish tahor [Stones of Pure Marble] by Herzl Cohen, Asterai by Omri Tegamlak Avera and Ha-derekh li-Yrushalaim: reshit ha-‘aliyah me-Etyopyah u-qelitatah (1980) [The Road to Jerusalem: The Beginnings of the Aliyah from Ethiopia and Its Absorption (1980)] by Yilma Shemuel.

issue 16 / December 2019 by Emanuela Trevisan Semi

This article discusses the processes of de-diasporization and re-diasporization experienced by the Israeli-Ethiopian community in Israel but which take a special twist regarding the homecoming of a Jewish diaspora. At first the Ethiopian immigrants’ culture and religion were marginalized or silenced. Yet, the older generation progressively returned to their linguistic, religious, social, cultural and economic practices, forming a “little Ethiopia” in Israel while the younger generation, who strove to become as Israeli as possible, began feeling discriminated, leading to the beginning of a protest movement in 2015, demanding social justice and inclusion in the Israeli narrative. A second part examines physical and virtual “returns” to diasporic spaces through an ethnic revival and the re-appropriation of Ethiopian roots among the younger generation (in theatre, dance, music, literature and visual arts), as well as through return trips to Ethiopia and “heritage tourism;” new identifications, with a global Black diaspora, and the emergence of Israeli-Ethiopian diasporas living abroad, complicating yet again the notion of “home.” This paper thus shows how Israeli-Ethiopians challenge notions of homecoming and question constructions of location, displacement and identity.

issue 16 / December 2019 by Lisa Anteby-Yemini

“Who gave you the right to abandon your prophets?”

Jewish Sites of Ruins and Memory in Egypt

This article is dedicated to the cultural heritage of Jews from Egypt,1 that worked to reaffirm a collective Egyptian Jewish history and identity by preserving Egyptian Jewish architecture, primarily religious buildings, which were falling into disrepair, most often through lack of maintenance, abandonment, sale or damage. This “patrimonialisation” is driven by various actors, who nowadays constitute, in Egypt and in various diasporas, the diffracted constellations of vanished worlds and promote their “dormant” buildings and religious artefacts as living traces of a past that can no longer be associated with current practices performed by any social group in Egypt. These actors, however, do not share a same vision of how to preserve, in the short or in the long term, these emblematic sites of diasporic Judaism, witnessing both the disappearance of a world and the possibility, through the presence of its material traces, of identifying part of a past that can still be written and evoked. This paper explores the paradoxical trajectory of Jewish heritage in Egypt, between promotion, co-option, abandonment, forgetting and rejection. Caught between diverse interests and intertwined stakes, heritage became a concrete trace of the physical exclusion of the Jews (expelled from the country) and at the same time an emblem of their symbolical inclusion, given Egypt’s claim of tolerance of its many communities.

issue 16 / December 2019 by Michèle Baussant

The Israeli literary scene, particularly in the early years of the state, tended to represent the Israeli Zionist life, expressed in Eurocentric style and modes. Nevertheless, other voices and alternative narratives of the Israeli experience are heard, offering different styles and flavors, challenging the dominance of the hegemony and the ethos of mizug galuyot [merging of exiles] that negated Diasporic existence in the process of emergence of a new Hebrew people.
In this paper I wish to demonstrate how renowned Mizrahi poets cope with the boundaries of poetics in relation to the Israeli “Other.” The poets are roughly divided between “founding fathers,” who arrived to Israel as children, and younger poets of Mizrahi origins born in Israel. The paper focuses on poems that specifically deal with Mizrahi-Ashkenazi relationships, themes that continue to concern migrant poets. The chronological perspective allows considering the content of poems as well as new venue of disseminating poetry – the Internet – that enables variations of positioning oneself vis-à-vis the literary hegemonic establishment.

issue 16 / December 2019 by Esther Schely-Newman

The aim of the present article is to delineate the way the Palestinian Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), which was one of the consequences of the 1948 War, has been portrayed in Israeli history textbooks since the establishment of the State of Israel until the present. Based on the assumption that all history textbooks can be situated between the poles of history and memory, the article examines three main factors that determine the actual place of textbooks: academic history, the dominant ideology within the ministry of education and pedagogical norms. An examination of history textbooks that have referred to the 1948 War shows that the entire time span can be divided into three periods: first period, from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, in which the official Zionist view of the past prevailed; second, intermediary period, between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, in which the official Zionist view was slightly modified; and a third period, between the late 1990s and the late 2010s, in which the textbooks became diversified – some presented the official Zionist version, while others presented an alternative, critical version.

issue 16 / December 2019 by Avner Ben-Amos