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

Prince of the Press

How One Collector Built History's Most Enduring and Remarkable Jewish Library

issue 17 / September 2020 by Mirjam Thulin

“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

This paper explores the relations between Ottoman maskilim (Jewish enlighteners) and their Austro-Hungarian counterparts during the second half of the nineteenth century. I shall illustrate this issue by means of a case study of the relationship between an Ottoman maskil, Judah Nehama of Salonica, and his Austro-Hungarian counterpart, Chaim David Lippe, who was born in Galicia but lived in Vienna.
Based on the conceptualizations proposed by scholars such as Matthias Lehmann and Yaron Tsur, the paper analyzes the emergence, during the second half of the nineteenth century, of a “pan-Jewish” maskilic space. This space facilitated the strengthening of the “integrative pole” over the “reluctant pole” in the relations between Jews from “East” and “West,” thereby also weakening the “internal Orientalism” that was prevalent in the Jewish world of the time. Thus the paper highlights the contribution of the Haskalah movement to consolidating the affinities between Jews from across the Diaspora during this period.

issue 17 / September 2020 by Tamir Karkason


The Genealogy of a Modern Notion

issue 17 / September 2020 by Daniel Boyarin

The Absent Jews

Kurt Forstreuter and the Historiography of Medieval Prussia

issue 17 / September 2020 by Ingo Haar

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