On Saturday, February 26, my mother-in-law, Judith Socolov, died peacefully in her sleep at age 89. Her death was covered extensively by The Associated Press and The New York Times, and reporters openly discussed her “infamous” past as part of a Cold War drama that had long been forgotten.
By the time the union was done with J.P. Stevens and Co., the boycott of the giant textile manufacturer had so penetrated the culture that the wives of Stevens executives, heading off to cocktail parties, would warn their husbands not to tell anyone where they worked.
Three years after a Lower East Side match that seemed made in heaven, Manhattan’s historic but struggling Sixth Street Community Synagogue and popular Chabad rabbi Simon Jacobson have divorced amid acrimony to rival that of a bad marriage from an Isaac Bashevis Singer tale.
In a cold and windswept Staten Island cemetery, four dozen people huddled together to recite Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, and to mark the 100th yahrzeit of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire’s victims. Twenty-two of the victims were laid to rest in 1911 at the Mount Richmond Cemetery, which is owned by the Hebrew Free Burial Association.
Piece by piece, the everyday blouses were assembled by hand, crafted in small steps from cuffs to collars, from basting to buttons. In cramped quarters, garment factory workers stitched the seams, fitted the sleeves and attached the lace as hundreds of $3 shirtwaists took form.
In 1959, a group of Holocaust survivors, most of them living in the secular, Yiddish-speaking enclave of the Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx, did something remarkable. Each of them shelled out $500 of hard-earned money to found a summer camp in the Catskill Mountains. The survivors’ goal was to pass on to the next generation their own devotion to democratic socialism and to Yiddish language and culture, mirroring their childhood experiences in Poland between the two World Wars. They called it Camp Hemshekh, which means “continuation.”
Long faced with extinction, Yiddish literature has been preserved for the digital age with a newly activated online archive.
When Lori Cahan-Simon, a singer and music teacher at the I. L. Peretz Workmen’s Circle school of Ohio, in Cleveland, was promoted to Yiddish teacher 10 years ago, her excitement was hampered by anxiety.
This month, during the first yahrzeit of my father, Mordkhe Schaechter, of blessed memory, I recalled a story my father used to tell us about his paternal grandfather, Reb Itsye Mordkhe — a shokhet (slaughterer) who was not very popular among the butchers of the shtetl because whenever he rendered one of their animals treyf, the animal could be sold only to non-Jews and at a much lower price. One day, the chief butcher in the shtetl warned him: “Reb Itsye Mordkhe, if you tell me one more animal is treyf, I’ll break your neck.” This did not frighten my great-grandfather, who continued to follow the letter of the law. One day, after he once again declared an animal nonkosher, the chief butcher, a large, muscular man, waited for him on a side street, and when Reb Mordkhe passed him by, the butcher struck him so hard that he was knocked unconscious. Several months later he passed away.
It’s been more than three quarters of a century since young intellectuals were voicing their Yiddish-inflected ideas in the parks, cafés and tenements of lower Manhattan. But the days of the Yiddish intelligentsia are still rolling for 24-year-old Menachem Yankl Ejdelman, who is the newly appointed leader of Yugntruf, a worldwide organization of young Yiddish speakers and learners. “We attract all types of people, from high-school students to young people with day jobs. Many of the people who come to our events love languages,” he said.