The Schmooze

Back in the Old Courtyard

Between 1929 and 1935, Yiddish writer Moyshe Kulbak (1896-1937) published a comic novel called “The Zelmenyaners” serially in the Minsk-based Yiddish language monthly Shtern.The novel told the story of a family courtyard in Minsk, in Soviet Belorussia, which was being progressively transformed through aggressive Soviet modernization.

As I will explain in an April 13 lecture at YIVO titled “Ethnography of a Vanishing Courtyard: Moshe Kulbak’s Zelmenyaner,” the novel offers great insight into official ethnographic discourses about Jews produced in the 1920s and ‘30s as part of Soviet policy.

“The Zelmenyaners” offers a multi-layered commentary on the persistence of Jewish difference in a period of increasing attempts at ideological homogenization. One particular character, Tsalel, is engaged throughout the novel collecting and preserving the linguistic and behavioral peculiarities of his family — a clan of Zelmenyaners named after their patriarch, Reb Zelmele.

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Back in the Old Courtyard

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