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.”
Branko Lustig, producer of “Schindler’s List” and “Gladiator,” plans to hold his (belated) bar mitzvah at Auschwitz.
The Yiddish Book Center has put the family photos of Yiddish writer Scholem Asch online.
Joshua Cohen interviews Israeli novelist Yoram Kaniuk for The Paris Review.
Jeffrey Goldberg on the trials and tribulations of Sister Mary Schmuck of Kentucky.
A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Some weeks ago, on December 12, I was involved in a commemoration at YIVO of the 120th birthday anniversary of the great Yiddish actor and director Solomon (Shloyme) Mikhoels.
I am not sure if Mikhoels is well known among the younger generation in Russia, or anywhere else. Older people, however, specifically in America and Canada, may recall the trip that he and the poet Itsik Fefer took from the Soviet Union to North America in 1943. They came as representatives of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, of which Mikhoels was the chairman. What is often forgotten is that not all Jewish organizations made the two artists welcome.
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.”