Earlier this week, Liana Finck let us peek behind the curtain at the source material for her comic based on A Bintel Brief. She showed us the first two pages and the second story. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I keep a collection in my head of the names of stories, movies, pictures that seem perfect to me. They all have a certain feel to them.
What do these things have in common? A certain magic. I think it’s that they are all miniatures, stories glimpsed through a keyhole. I think comics are miniatures, too.
Liana Finck is adapting old Yiddish press self-help columns into a book. This week, she’s letting us peek behind the curtain at her source material. On Monday, she looked at the first two pages of her comic. Today, she takes a look at the second story. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
This is the text from the second story (translation by the excellent Jordan Kutzik):
Honorable Mr. Forverts Editor,
Allow me a little space in your distinguished newspaper to tell your esteemed readers about what transpired at my house in the month before my wedding. As you probably know the bride whom God has blessed with many good friends receives various gifts for her wedding. I too have many friends as well as many acquaintances from the old country. A week before my wedding they all gathered at my mother’s. They brought a whole wagon full of wedding gifts to my room.
Liana Finck’s Bintel Brief comic is currently being serialized in the Forward. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
This is the first page of a comic book I’m working on. It’s based on the Bintel Brief, a popular Yiddish advice column published in the Forverts newspaper beginning in 1906. It was the brainchild of Abraham Cahan, the man behind the huge success and sophistication of the Forverts newspaper and the mastermind of the Bintel Brief.
About this page: Jacob Zemsner is a fictional character, and this myth about the tears is fictional too, but Abraham Cahan is one of my favorite real characters ever, a self-made American. His face really was vaguely heart-shaped, and he was cross-eyed and terribly embarrassed about that. More facts: he loved Charles Dickens. He was a humanist from a distance, a misanthropist close-up. He was an anarchist (he had to flee Eastern Europe at 22 because he was involved with the group that had assassinated the Czar), then a socialist, but not enough of a purist to satisfy any die-hard idealogues. He kept remaking himself. I completely recommend his autobiography, “The Education of Abraham Cahan.” A page-turner. Also his novel, “The Rise of David Levinsky,” which is slightly dated but no less wonderful because of that. And easier to find in a library than the autobiography is.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Not since the 1939 debut of Sholem Asch’s “The Nazarene: A Novel Based on the Life of Christ,” has so much media attention been showered on the Jewish perspective on Jesus and the New Testament.
The recent release of “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” an Oxford University Press publication co-edited by Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy Jill Levine, has generated considerable attention at conferences, in the press and online. When I asked Professor Brettler to account for the book’s success, he responded by saying that “this is a new era,” one in which Jews no longer regard the New Testament as “dangerous,” but rather as a text that is “important for Judaism.”
Almost every institution of learning can boast legendary teachers, and “Reflections of a Wondering Jew,” recently reprinted by Transaction Publishers, shows that City College professor Morris Raphael Cohen, who died in 1947, is one such legend.
Cohen’s 1950 posthumously compiled collection of articles displays the philosophy professor and legal theorist at his most informal and charming. Born in 1880 in Minsk, Belarus, Cohen earned a Harvard PhD in philosophy, but as a Jew, he could only find a job teaching mathematics in 1906. Not until 1912 was Cohen appointed to CCNY’s philosophy department, in what his daughter Leonora Cohen Rosenfield later called “for a Jew, a precedent-shattering event.”
Cohen stayed at City College until 1938, producing key texts such as “A Preface to Logic,” reprinted in the 1970s by Dover Publications and “An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method,” available from Hackett Publishing.
In “Reflections of a Wondering Jew” Cohen slates Freud’s 1939 “Moses and Monotheism” as a “work which has so little solid foundation,” adding in professorial fashion: “The facts of history refuse to fit into any simple preconceived hypothesis no matter how plausible or intriguing.”
In the 1920s, Yiddish was more than just a lingua franca for East European Jewish émigrés; it was also a language of high culture, as demonstrated by a brilliant new book, “Yiddish in Weimar Berlin: At the Crossroads of Diaspora Politics and Culture” (Legenda Books), edited by New York University Yiddish scholar Gennady Estraikh and University of Michigan professor Mikhail Krutikov.
“Yiddish in Weimar Berlin” describes street scenes in the ironically named “Jewish Switzerland,” a slum northeast of Alexanderplatz, which housed arrivals from Poland. Though poverty-stricken, the area boasted theatrical performances by the touring Vilna Troupe, while Yiddish writers clustered at the Romanisches Café, nicknamed the Rakhmonisches (Pity) Café by its regulars to evoke its “poor food and run-down interior.”
Catty jokes as well as sardonic puns were rampant among the writers at the café; Isaac Bashevis Singer once reportedly claimed that if Sholem Asch ever “wrote in a grammatically correct Yiddish, his artistic breath would evaporate.” Hersh Dovid Nomberg, a tubercular Yiddish author and disciple of I. L. Peretz, said that the Romanisches Café was an ideal sanatorium, since the air was so “filled with tobacco smoke that not a single [tuberculosis] bacillus can survive here.”
Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Cahan, the longtime editor of the Forverts. It is hard to imagine a more influential figure in the history of American Jewry than Cahan, who helped found the Forverts in 1897 and was the guiding force behind the paper until his death in 1951. Under his leadership, the Forverts became a friend and confidante to generations of Yiddish speaking immigrants and the most successful Yiddish newspaper in history.
In honor of the anniversary, the Forward recently published a special section on Cahan, which includes pieces about Cahan’s life and career as well as excerpts of Cahan’s own writing.
In my introduction, I argue that while Cahan made many enemies among the socialist and Yiddishist intelligentsia because of his populist and assimilationist policies, his work was invaluable to the ultimate success of the American Jewish experience.
Forward editor Jane Eisner wonders how Cahan would meet the challenges journalism faces today, paying homage to his engagement with readers while acknowledging some of his more pedestrian practices.