A vast, heartbreaking and, to English readers, inaccessible Yiddish and Hebrew library — of some 1,000 volumes, studded with unique memoirs and rare photographs — known as yizker-bikher, or memorial books, is devoted to eternalizing the legacies of the myriad cities and towns of Jewish Eastern Europe destroyed by the Holocaust. These books were collaboratively produced, mostly in the late 1950s through the early ’70s, by the survivors of those Jewish communities. But with the exception of a half-dozen or so, they are not the product of critical historical scholarship, and only three have been fully translated into English.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of interns in the U.S. work without pay or for less than minimum wage. Many of these unpaid or underpaid internships are at for-profit companies and closely resemble regular work: thousands upon thousands of labor violations each year, hidden in plain sight. In certain for-profit industries — fashion, publishing, entertainment, journalism, to name a few — demanding unpaid internships dominate, with illegal situations possibly constituting a majority of all available opportunities.
The death of Brazilian fabulist Moacyr Scliar, at the age of 73, on February 27, in his native Porto Alegre, represents the loss of Latin America’s most popular Jewish writer of his generation, and the most influential.
Jan Gross is once again forcing Poland to take a new look at its past. The Polish-American historian, whose previous books generated heated controversy and self-examination, has written a searing new indictment of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II.
The Yiddish-American novel has always been vexed by its double-foreignness: It is “Other” not just by virtue of its language, but also by virtue of its subject, which, with very few exceptions, tends to be the Old World rather than the new. Such texts, of course, trouble and challenge our definitions of what constitutes “American” literature in the first place. “America” within the Yiddish novel of the United States is fundamentally problematic — not least because it’s hardly present.
Suspended in white space, a goat romps and a rooster struts across a modest book cover. Beneath them, running right to left, is the Yiddish word “mayselekh” — less a title than a simple description of what’s inside: two little stories for children. The book, which is more like a pamphlet, is small enough to slip into a greeting card envelope. Inside are 15 pages of rhyming Yiddish verse, plus eight black-and-white drawings. The book was printed in Petrograd, published in Vilnius (commonly known to Jews as Vilna) in 1917 and written by Der Nister, pen name of the avant-garde Yiddish writer Pinkhes Kahanovich (1884–1950). The illustrator is Marc Chagall.
In September 1976, Commentary printed the letters of three novelists who had taken umbrage at appraisals of their work, in a previous issue, by a relatively unknown Yiddish professor named Ruth Wisse. Cynthia Ozick, the most fervent of the respondents, judged Wisse guilty of a “fundamental (and, for a good reader, unforgivable) critical error”: confusing literature with sociology.
Each month, a handful of New York feminists, who are also students of Yiddish, get together in each other’s homes to read the work of Yiddish women writers. Several writers, a couple of filmmakers and librarians, a culinary scholar and a singer/songwriter form the core of the group. Our population, however, expands and contracts, following cycles of visiting researchers, friends and the occasional curious academic.
Let’s say you’re raising your children in Yiddish and you want to buy them some books. What do you do? If you walk into the children’s section of any bookstore, you’ll be deluged with a huge number of engaging, beautifully illustrated books, from board books to chapter books to beautifully rendered pop-ups. But none of these books is written in Yiddish — right?
There are many bilingual Jewish books in which the two languages are dependent on each other. The Gemara is a mostly Aramaic reworking of the Hebrew-language Mishnah. The stories of Reb Nachman of Breslov were told in Yiddish, but their first written versions were in Hebrew. The majority of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work is now best known not in the original Yiddish, but in the English into which Singer reworked his stories.