The Arty Semite

YIVO Encyclopedia Launches Online Edition

By Shoshana Olidort

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Goose market in Kraków. Alois Schönn, 1869. Engraving. (Moldovan Family Collection)

Geese were a staple of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and Jewish women knew how to get the most out of their fowl of choice. The feathers were sold as quills for writing and stuffing for bedding, fat used as an alternative to butter or the Jewish version of lard, and the birds themselves were served up roasted, stuffed or sautéed, and, on special occasions, made into foie gras. So says an article in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, a multi-volume work whose online version launches today, bringing to the public a plethora of articles, original documents, images, and recordings about Jewish life in Eastern Europe — all free of charge.

Originally released in hardcover form by Yale University Press in 2008, the encyclopedia covers 1,000 years of Jewish history in Eastern Europe, with more than 1,800 articles on every topic imaginable — from religion to literature, and from politics to popular culture. The article on geese is one of many that address unlikely subjects as a way of drawing readers into the world of East European Jewry.

Full disclosure: I’ve worked on this encyclopedia project, first as an editorial assistant on the hardcover edition and later as an archival researcher for the electronic book. And I’ve been counting down to the launching. Call me a geek, but I’m pretty gleeful about this no-cost alternative to the $400 hardcover set which gives scholars, students and the lay public easy access to all the original articles included in the hardcover version, plus some. Added features in the electronic edition include archival materials like handwritten letters and manuscripts by famous Jewish personalities in politics and the arts such as Leon Trotsky, Sholom Aleichem and I.J. Singer, as well as interactive maps and dozens of audio and video recordings that depict slices of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, from weddings to political events and from cantorial performances to street scenes. Check it out here.


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