A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
On April 24 Yiddish Book Center founder and president Aaron Lansky announced that his organization will receive the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The award will be presented by First Lady Michelle Obama in a ceremony at the White House on May 8.
The medal is the highest honor awarded by the U.S. government to museums and libraries that serve the public good. In a press release, The Institute of Museum and Library Services wrote: “In its 20th anniversary year, the medals program celebrates excellent institutions that have made a significant impact on individuals, families and communities across the nation.” The winners were selected from among dozens of nominated institutions that “demonstrate innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach.”
After the ceremony Storycorps will visit the Book Center to conduct oral history interviews about the Center’s mission.
In an email to Yiddish Book Center members announcing the award, Aaron Lansky wrote: “The award recognizes our pioneering work in rescuing Yiddish books and making them available to readers around the world … We’ll be proud to accept it as a recognition of the Yiddish Book Center … and even more so as a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Yiddish itself.”
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
In 2013, The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., launched an ambitious series of cultural programming aimed at providing an opportunity for young Jews to learn about modern Jewish culture. The weeklong program, “Tent,” brings together 20 young people aged 21 to 30 in order to intensively study different facets of modern Jewish culture. Each week is dedicated to a different subject and the participants attend performances and lectures related to the topic and meet with experts in their chosen field. At the same time they learn about the connections between the week’s theme and modern Jewish culture.
In the coming year, The Yiddish Book Center plans to expand Tent to include 10 different programs, with the help of partner organizations around the country.
The first three Tent programs were about comedy, in March in Los Angeles; creative writing at the Yiddish Book Center in June, and a week dedicated to theater in New York in August.
During the program in creative writing participants read selections from modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature in translation as well as works on Jewish themes originally written in other languages. After lunch the aspiring writers workshopped their own stories with professional writers. During the evenings they went to literary readings or met with literary agents and publishers. And later at night they hung out together in the dorms at Hampshire College and quickly became friends.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Over winter break, I didn’t want for activity. There were people to see, films to screen and a wealth of exhibitions to behold, one of the most inventive of which was a modest but arresting show at the Jewish Museum, on until February 3, called “Collection Tableaux.” Taking the form of four distinctive mediations — in paint, paper, glass and fabric — on the role of the table in Jewish life, the exhibition highlighted the connections between the material and the cultural dimensions of the Jewish experience.
I relished each of the artworks but, as a practicing historian, I took particular delight in Izhar Patkin’s “Salonnière,” a large scale, stenciled and framed collage of a fussy end table crowded with the kind of stuff one was likely to encounter in the determinedly bourgeois setting of a 19th-century German Jewish home: books, bric-a-brac, a tea cup and other appurtenances of the cultured.
A closer look, however, disclosed that what was on display was studded with actual historical references. As the artist would have it, the table belonged to Dorothea von Schlegel, Moses Mendelssohn’s daughter, who not only changed her name but her station in life by becoming a saloniste of the highest order. On its surface rested a couple of books, one of which, “Florentin,” she had penned. Slightly off-center, upsetting the balance, the elegant proportion, of things, was a rather unappealing and hulking porcelain figure of a monkey.
When Yiddish writer Chaim Grade died in 1982 he was highly regarded in Yiddish literary circles, though less known to English readers. Only a few of his novels had been translated, and hardly any of his poetry. He was also overshadowed by his more famous contemporary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.
In the years following Grade’s death more of his work was brought out in English, including his great novelistic memoir, “My Mother’s Sabbath Days,” in 1986. But because Grade’s widow, Inna Hecker Grade, protected his legacy with fervor tantamount to obstructionism, readers and literary scholars found him increasingly inaccessible. All that changed with Inna Grade’s passing in May, 2010.
“In the years after his death there was a lot of interest, but Inna’s cease and desist letters and obstructions pull a chill on the interest. And now it’s possible to work on the topic,” said David Fishman, a professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a lecturer at a recent conference on Grade held at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. “We couldn’t have done this until now,” added Book Center Founder and President Aaron Lansky, alluding to Inna Grade’s opposition. “It was just too difficult.”
Titled “Sabbath Days and Extinguished Stars: The Life and Work of Chaim Grade,” the conference was the latest example of reawakened interest in the writer. It follows a 100th anniversary celebration of Grade’s birth, held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in October 2010, and a staged reading of a play based on “My Mother’s Sabbath Days” by the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene in the spring of 2011. On June 3, a tribute to both Grade and Singer will be held at the Museum at Eldridge Street in Manhattan, cosponsored by the Yiddish Book Center and featuring Harvard professor Ruth Wisse.
On September 4, 1965, Lin Jaldati stepped onto a stage in Pyongyang, North Korea and quite possibly became the first person in Communist North Korea to sing in Yiddish. As I will discuss in a July 13 talk at the Yiddish Book Center’s Paper Bridge Summer Arts Festival in Amherst, Mass., Jaldati and her husband, Eberhard Rebling, became the voices of leftist Yiddish culture throughout the Communist world at the height of the Cold War.
Jaldati’s story begins in Amsterdam, Holland, where she was born in 1912 and raised in a Jewish family with Dutch as her native language. A member of labor Zionist circles, she trained as a dancer and performer and learned Yiddish in order to participate in the Jewish immigrants’ Yiddish culture club.
An exhibit at the Israel Museum celebrates German Jewish painter Jakob Steinhardt.
The Arty Semite contributor Menachem Wecker looks at a 1979 caricature of Henry Kissinger that was cut from the New York Times.
Which Yiddish books would you like to see translated?
The Palestinian National Orchestra has its debut.
Eilat celebrates the 10th annual Red Sea Classical Music Festival.
A new book fails to exonerate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
What accounts for the enduring fame of Walter Benjamin?
And why isn’t Moses Mendelssohn similarly remembered?
Researchers interested in poking through the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris or the Hungarian Jewish Archives in Budapest may no longer have to leave their laptops to do it.
The rich cultural heritage of European Jewry was recently recognized by the European Commission with a grant to Judaica Europeana, an organization that aims to provide online access to a wealth of Jewish cultural materials from the collections of ten different Jewish organizations.
According to a press release issued today, “Judaica Europeana will begin by digitizing millions of pages and thousands of other items selected from the collections of its partner libraries, archives and museums. The next stage will be to aggregate other digital collections on Jews in European cities — wherever they may be.“