Maybe it’s a sgule — a remedy prescription, for long life — to become a Yiddish writer. Itche Goldberg and Mordkhe Tsanin both died at the ripe old age of 102 a few years ago; poet Avrom Sutskever died in 2010 at 96. Now the New York Yiddish world has lost another wonderful poet, Jeremiah Hescheles, at the age of 100.
I looked around — and saw that half of my years are fading on the dirt road; that over my life, there closes, from my burial shroud, the first pale fold. So I doubled up like a swallow, that no longer finds her nest under the roof. From youth I separated in mute language — as a cow that accompanies her calf to the slaughterer’s knife.
Perhaps the greatest American poet ever to have lived, Walt Whitman was not always regarded as such. Thanks, in part, to the emergence of modernist forms in poetry toward the end of the 19th century, Whitman’s work did not attract critical attention until after his death in 1892. But for Jewish immigrant poets living in New York City at the turn of the century, Whitman was an iconic figure — a poet and even a prophet.
Yankev Glatshteyn (Jacob Glatstein) was born in Lublin, Poland, in 1896 to a religious family. In 1914, he immigrated to the United States under the pretense of enrolling in law school but almost immediately dropped out and became involved with the burgeoning Yiddish poetry scene in New York City’s Lower East Side, where he would live the rest of his life.
A literary talent is stalking the web, but his name is a mystery. A Yiddish blogger, who has been compared to leading writers of the past two centuries goes simply by the pseudonym Katle Kanye, meaning “rod cutter” or “thick headed.” Combining the vernacular of the Yiddish street with the language of rabbinic literature, Katle Kanye muses about daily life in the Hasidic world. Few situations escape his ironic eye, or in this case, his keyboard.
There’s a new sound in Jewish music. It’s coming from young musicians with one foot in Brooklyn and the other on klezmer’s silk road through Europe: Paris, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest and points east. These musicians have bands with cheeky names, like Yiddish Princess and Electric Simcha, and they’ve come of age in a cultural landscape utterly transformed by the past 35 years of what is usually called the “klezmer revival.”