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Culture

April 8, 2005

100 YEARS AGO

• Vaudeville theater manager Abraham Levi was brought into court on charges that he threatened to kill his wife, from whom he has been separated for a year. Mrs. Levi, a magician, showed up in court covered with diamond jewelry, causing a stir among the lawyers and clerks, who couldn’t take their eyes off her. The lawyer for the deaf defendant had to yell the charges of breaking into his wife’s apartment into Levi’s ear. “That’s a lie!” Mr. Levi screamed, so loudly that one could hear him in the street. “I went to her apartment to see if a certain man was there.” His wife argued that her estranged husband broke in with two other men, who left after she pointed a revolver at them. The judge arranged for the pair to have their case moved to the divorce court.

75 YEARS AGO

• Yarmulkes have become big business in America. Of all the religious articles available, the yarmulke is a best seller and millions are being bought. They have become a symbol of Yiddishkeit for American Jews and they put them on at weddings and bar mitzvah parties and even funerals. These yarmulkes aren’t like the traditional sort that our fathers and grandfathers wore as part of their daily get-up. They are worn only at religious events, and then they are thrown away afterward. If you need another one for a different event, you just buy a new one. That’s the American style. They’re also much smaller, and barely stay on your head.

• “It’s already been two days, and I’m so captivated by this book that I simply can’t tear myself away. However much I read is not enough — I want to know more. This is a book about well-known figures, good and even better friends, about people with whom one has lived for years. And once in a while you come across a new name that, as long as the person is interesting, is equally as engaging.” The preceding is from a review of Zalman Reisen’s Lexicon of Yiddish Literature, Press and Philology, a four-volume collection of biographies of Yiddish writers over the last 150 years.

50 YEARS AGO

• A large literary conference that took place in Moscow was reported on this week in both Izvestia and Pravda. Every people and language of the Soviet Union was represented — except the Jews. It was noted that between 1918 and 1954, more than1,600 foreign language books were translated into Russian from nearly every European language and from many Asian ones — but not Yiddish or Hebrew. The Jews, it seems, have ceased to be a people in the Soviet Union. There seems to be no more Yiddish literature and no more Yiddish writers. Making things worse, Yiddish and Hebrew have been written out of Soviet history. No mention is made that these languages once existed in the USSR.

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