The Forward’s new Yiddish site has certainly taken off with a bang.
In the days since the launch of the yiddish.forward.com site was announced, several major media outlets have run stories on it, and what it means for the future of the Yiddish language.
We hoped the new site might get a lot of attention in the U.S. But we had no idea there would be interest from the four corners of the globe.
As proof, we offer a link to the French news site l’Express, which ran an article in French on the Yiddish site from the Agence France Presse wire service.
Read it and enjoy, nos amis!
What mazel! Last week, Yiddishists round the world woke up to find an article by Joseph Berger about the Forverts — in the New York Times, no less — entitled: “For Yiddish A Fresh Presence Online”.
The next day, a Hebrew translation of the article appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, with a slightly different headline: “Will Yiddish be Revived through the Internet?” Basically the same story, but with a more skeptical twist.
So what’s the big deal? After all, the Forverts has had a website since 1999. In fact, the Yiddish language has felt very much at home on the web for years, coining new terms for the electronic revolution (e.g. blitspost for email). Even Hasidic users have set up a haymish Yiddish-language community on the internet.
In other words, the virtual world has been hearing Yiddish for quite some time.
On the other hand, let’s enjoy this moment in the limelight — especially since discussions about Yiddish tend too often to veer towards eulogies. For the past 60 years, Yiddish writers have had to contend with the cliched question: “So how long do you think that Yiddish will survive?”
Often, these are the same people whose knowledge of Yiddish literature extends to just two or three writers, and their fluency in the language to roughly five or six words, like latkes, gefilte fish and … schmuck.
In an effort to drive home the point that everyone, regardless of their economic standing, is required to study Torah, the Talmud cites a story of Rabbi Hillel the Elder.
Every day, Hillel worked and earned about half a dinar. He spent half of that to feed and clothe his family, and the other half on his yeshiva tuition. One day, after addressing his family’s needs, Hillel hadn’t enough money left to cover his tuition, and so he was barred entrance from the yeshiva. Rather than heading home dejected, Hillel climbed up to the yeshiva’s roof and pressed his ear to the skylight to hear the rabbis teaching below. Rapt in words of Torah, he failed to notice as it began to snow, and was soon covered from head to toe. The next morning, the rabbis noticed it was darker than normal in the beit midrash, and upon inspection saw a body slumped over their skylight. They raced up to the roof and there discovered Hillel buried beneath the snow. The rabbis dug him free, carried him downstairs, bathed and clothed him, and set him before a fire to thaw.
Then they charged him with multiple counts of felony infringement carrying a maximum sentence of 50 years imprisonment and up to $4 million in fines.
Actually, the last part didn’t happen to Hillel. Rather, his primitive act of copyright circumvention is lauded by the Talmud as exemplary of the spirit with which one should commit one’s self to the pursuit of knowledge.
But it did happen to Aaron Swartz, the 26 year-old hacktivist who took his own life last week after hearing that his latest plea bargain offer had been rejected by the U.S. attorneys prosecuting his case. Swartz’s supposed crime was legally downloading thousands of academic articles from the online database JStor with the intent to illegally share them on the Internet for free.
Swartz grew up in an Orthodox home in Highland Park, Ill., outside Chicago. And though he became an avowed atheist as a teenager, ultimately rejecting religion, his life’s work was nonetheless infused with deeply engrained Jewish values of inquisitivness, scholarship, iconoclasm and a passion for social justice.
“You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” Veronique Pozner said in a eulogy for her son Noah at his funeral on Monday.
Six-year-old Noah, who was murdered in the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., will tragically never get a chance to fulfill any of his dreams.
However, people can honor his memory by making the Mexican dish he so enjoyed. Some have posted online that they will have actual taco dinners and parties. Alternatively, others are making imaginary tacos as a sort of virtual comfort food for his bereaved family.
Tacos For Noah went online Tuesday, allowing anyone to post via Twitter the kind of taco they would like to make for Noah (or the variety they would have ordered from Noah’s taco factory).
“Noah Pozner wanted to work at a taco factory when he grew up. Tacos were his favorite food, and no doubt he wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” reads the introductory text on the website. “Help us create a virtual taco in his memory. Add your special ingredient below and tweet it. Voila! Tacos for Noah, all in memory of this very special Little Man!”
Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, a top leader of the Israeli Haredi community, in at the center of a massive scandal.
No, he wasn’t seen with a female escort, accused of child abuse, or fingered in some kind of money-laundering operation.
But to the Haredi community, what he did might even be worse: Yitzhak was photographed the other day using an iPhone in his car.
The grainy picture, now roundly circulated on the Internet, comes after months of Haredi denunciation of smart phones.
From public iPhone-smashing ceremonies to posters calling smart phone-users the perpetrators of a “spiritual holocaust,” rabbis across Israel have made it perfectly clear that owning or using a smart phone of any kind is akin to a massacre of your soul.
So how was Yitzhak allowed to have one? On Tuesday, according to JPost, his website posted a notice titled “a clarification to prevent slander.” It conceded that the said the rabbi has an iPhone, but asserts that he received permission to own it from Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of the most senior Haredi rabbis in Israel.
“Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman personally permitted the use of an iPhone by the rabbi and his staff for the purposes of bringing people back to Judaism,” the notice read.
“Anyone who doubts his rabbi is as if he doubts the divine presence,” the announcement concluded darkly.
It remains to be seen, however, if the tempest will damage Yitzhak’s reputation. After all one could assume that no proper Haredi Jew knows of this scandal, as they surely do not possess any Internet-capable devices.
Just over six months have gone by since little Ayelet Galena passed away, following a bone marrow transplant. The toddler’s struggle with a rare disease drew an outpouring of sympathy and support online. And Ayelet’s short life continues to have an impact.
The effort of her parents, Seth and Hindy Poupko Galena, modern Orthodox Jews who live in Manhattan, to find Ayelet a match went viral on their blog, Eye on Ayelet. Although many of the 14,000 online followers in the “Ayelet Nation” praying for her refue shleyme felt connected through Judaism, the story of the little girl’s struggle has reached far beyond faith.
Ayelet’s mother met with President Barack Obama at the White House in June. He told her to, ‘Stay strong, keep going.’”
“We’ve witnessed the best of our community,” said Hindy Galena.
Break-dancing Hasidic robots in metal yarmulkes.
The anti-Internet rally meets Toy Story in a Lady Gaga video.
Those seem to be the general concepts behind this new English/Yiddish music video by Hasidic pop superstar Lipa Schmeltzer, which you really need to watch.
Schmeltzer, the biggest act in the Hasidic world, is a long way from crossing over into mainstream pop, as this video can attest. But the production values are almost there, kind of. It’s like a late-90s boy band video with absolutely no girls in it, and really befuddling silver make-up.
We’ve written about Schmeltzer before. When he made an arguably exploitative video about the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Boro Park, we debated his aesthetic value on our podcast. We’ve also written about how a rabbinic ban levied against his concerts in 2008 actually boosted his popularity.
Schmeltzer now appears to be taking on the use of the web, one of the biggest issues of the day in the Orthodox community. He seems to be taking a slightly different tack from the rabbinic leadership: Instead of opposing web use broadly, Schmeltzer is criticizing overuse of mobile web devices.
That said, this video is pretty nuts. What’s going on with that refrigerator full of cell phones? And why is that kid juggling fire? Explain in the comments.
Update: A sharp-eyed reader notes that we a little off in our characterization of Lipa’s video as “like a late-90s boy band video with absolutely no girls in it.” In fact, there are girls — three, to be exact, browsing the electronics store at 0:13 and then again at 0:19. They disappear in time for the robots to start singing, and they don’t come back - not even for the non-robotic circle dance.
On the G train home from the ultra-Orthodox rally at Citifield last night, I talked Zionism with a passel of Hasidim headed for Williamsburg.
A rabbi named Yechiel Meir Katz had drawn an implicit historical parallel in his address earlier in the evening between the rejection of Zionism by the Orthodox and the need to reject the Internet.
Another speaker, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, underlined the point, citing Communism and Zionism as historical challenges the Jewish people had been forced overcome.
On the subway headed from Citifield to Williamsburg, I asked a group of mostly Satmar Hasids about the comparison between Zionism and the Internet.
“Everyone who has a Jewish heart knows Zionism is against Judaism,” said one, speaking from the back of the small crowd that had gathered around me.
The sentiment isn’t rare among the Satmar, who remain among the most anti-Zionist of the ultra-Orthodox groups.
What was rare, at least for me, was to have a conversation with a Satmar Hasid about these sorts of controversial ideas.
Though it was the exhortations against the use of the internet by a handful of rabbis on the JumboTron at the that drew headlines, the real action at the anti-Internet rally was in the stairwells and the subways, where ultra-Orthodox of all stripes mixed and chatted with each other, and with me.
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