The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)


-----------------------------------------------------------------
Contents of Vol. 09.12  [Sequential No. 164]
Date:
30 November 2005

1) This issue (ed).
2) kvetsh [spelled kvetch] 'complain; complainer' is not a Yiddish word
3) Martin Doering (MARTINTSCHUWE@compuserve.de)
4) Leyb Kvitko (1890 or 1893 -1952) and His Alefbeys
5) Leon Locker

Click here to enter: http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/tmr/tmr09/tmr09012.htm

 

1)---------------------------------------------------

Date: 30 November 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: This issue.

*In this issue I comment briefly on a word, kvetch, that has cropped up frequently lately and that is wrongly taken to be a Yiddish word. I object to the effort to reduce Yiddish to any one of its many registers. *I introduce the TMR readership to a friend of Yiddish, a German former pastor, who played a significant role in the recently completed Yehoyesh Project. *I ponder on the striking contrast between Leyb Kvitko's rather sad children's booklet Alefbeys and one of his powerful authentic poems, "Esau." Lastly I mention a bibliographical matter that will interest students of Yiddish in Britain and Judaica collectors.

 

2)----------------------------------------------------

Date: 30 November 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: kvetsh [spelled kvetch] 'complain; complainer' is not a Yiddish word

Periodically writers on Yiddish -- or more likely reviewers of writers on Yiddish - try to uncover what the language "quintessentially" is and fix this sagacious effort with a catchy descriptor. Lately we have been hearing that Yiddish is primarily, fundamentally, essentially a vehicle for "kvetching" -- yes, Yiddish is the pristine voice of finding fault, of complaining. "Yiddish, rooted in a wandering people, is the essential language of complaint," writes William Grimes in the New York Times (October 16, 2005) in a review of Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods by Michael Wex (a book I have not yet read). Now I do not deny the right of a standup comedian to discourse on learned subjects, employing all the comic distortion his subject can bear. "Franz Kafka is a kvetch" is a phrase that can tickle even a klutz (a good English word today, from Yiddish klots). But I am on principle opposed to efforts to define Yiddish stereotypically and insist on its capacity to convey a wide -- and even widening -- range of registers (poetic, dramatic, ironic, comic, technical, scientific).

Moreover, to find complaint at the center of Jewish civilization is strange. Under the head word "complain" in Uriel Weinreich's MEYYED one finds the expression "nit tsu farzindikn" ('I cannot complain'), whose literal meaning is 'not to sin'. It is SINFUL to complain since one might easily be unjust in one's judgements and be guilty of criticizing a divine order beyond human comprehension. As evident in the kaddish prayer and in large swaths of Judaic belief, one must learn to accept and to affirm, certainly not to complain.

The word kvetsh in Yiddish does not mean 'complain'. The slang word kvetsh in Israeli Hebrew does not mean 'complain'. This meaning represents a semantic shift in Jewish English. [For a clear and concise picture of Jewish English, see Sarah Bunin Benor's description at http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english.html.] From Jewish English the word has passed into general English where, spelled kvetch, it is now a frequently encountered noun and verb. A random internet search brings up ample confirmations that the word is now widely understood, e.g. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/kvetch or http://www.wordreference.com/definition/kvetch. Its origin is in Yiddish, but in the sense 'to complain' it is not Yiddish. Yiddish can of course "kvetsh" in the American sense. But it can also burn with despision and revulsion, making mere "kvetching" seem pallid in comparison. Here for a test case is Meylekh Ravitsh's self- and art-depreciating "Zey lign oyfn tish -- mayne lider." Though not actually spelling out that vulgar word, the poet goes so far as to call his art "drek." The ability to curse one's fate crudely and to construe an image of bird droppings falling from the heavens on the poet's head give this poem a comic undercurrent which provides a kind of pleasure and almost lets it qualify as "kvetching" -- in the American sense. But, again, kvetch is not Yiddish.

 

 

, ,
,

.

, ,
,
.
,
.

,


.

,
,
,
,
,

,
;
,
.

, ?
;

.

,
,
,
.

, ,
,

, ,
-
?

- ?
?

?

,
,
,
,

[67 , , 1946 . 142-143 ]

 

 

3)---------------------------------------------

Date: 30 November 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject:  Martin Doering <MARTINTSCHUWE@compuserve.de>

One of the most industrious and valuable members of the small team that proofread the Yiddish text of the Yehoyesh Tanakh on The World of Yiddish website was Martin Doering of Germany, a former pastor who left his position because of a strong judaizing emphasis in his outlook and who today attends synagogue regularly. Martin Doering has studied biblical Hebrew and has a good grasp of Yiddish as well (our correspondence has been in Yiddish). Our Yehoyesh text follows the Takones of Yivo -- the entire Tanakh is given in Standard Yiddish Orthography!

Martin also has computer skills and has (with the help of his son) devised a program which enabled him to proofread Yiddish texts efficiently. He is now applying the program to build a Yiddish-German/German-Yiddish dictionary in which color symbolism plays a significant role and which incorporates sound. This is planned as freeware; a donation to a favorite synagogue will be requested for the DVD.

Martin designed the Yehoyesh Shirhashirim ('Song of Songs') http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/texts/yehoyesh/rev2004/shirhashirim.pdf  and his romanizing skill is superb. I will leave it to Mark David, Refoel Finkel and other mavens to explain Martin Doering's system.

Martin is also highly musical and has a close familiarity with central European synagogal music. In the course of our work on Yehoyesh he improvised vocal accompaniments to famous passages; in the following instance he sings Dvorim [Deuteronomy] 32:8  (click to hear).

You may receive details of Martin's "mashinkl" and his dictionary-in-progress from his websitete at http://home.arcor.de/martintschuwe/

 

4)-----------------------------------------

Date: 30 November 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: Leyb Kvitko (1890 or 1893 -- 1952) and His Alefbeys

Reading Soviet Yiddish literature often requires special awareness, attention to date, place, circumstances, to the individual writer's history, position and connections. And even then one may not know how much to read between the lines and one is likely to be shocked at the sharp differences between one work and another.

Leyb Kvitko was especially known for his children's verse. The first couplet in his little book for children Alefbeys (Moscow 1947) has a characteristic charm:

.

 

['An alef has four little tails --

A stick with two little pegs.']

 

Opening page of Alefbeys

 

The delight here stems from the rhyming diminutives and from the play of the imagination in seeing alternative ways of conceiving the alef's shape. A shtekl in Yiddish may also be a 'wand', but in this little book it is only Mikhail Yo's drawings that are somewhat magical; his alef is crowned by a peacock-like bird. All of his letter drawings in this abecedary are ornamented by animal, plant or plantlike figures. But this abecedary is not of the traditional "A is for Apple" kind. In the very second item under Alef we are thrust into the Soviet world of state-supported myth: "Aleksander Matrosov iz a held, / A denkmol vert dem held geshtelt." [p.3] ['Alexander Matrosov is a hero, / A monument for the hero is being built'].

Matrosov was a Hero of the Soviet Union who died a hero's sacrificial death in 1943 in the war against the Nazis. But Kvitko's couplet is by no means unproblematic, simple and transparent though it seems. "Alexander Matveyevich Matrosov (Александр Матвеевич Матросов) (1924-1943) ... threw himself onto a German pill-box, blocking the machine-gun with his own body... the boy's actual background remains disputed.... Sometimes Matrosov's deed itself is contested...." [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.]

A patriotic Jew like Kvitko would not have opposed state patriotism, yet the couplet is wooden. The third item on the page is truly mythical. Was it possible in the Soviet Union in 1947 to believe that all the world belongs to the peasants and workers? The abecedary is a farrago of rhymes -- platitudes: "Nit opleygn oyf morgn, / Vos kenst nokh haynt bazorgn" ['Don't put off to tomorrow, What you can do today']; alliterative couplets: "Bere iz a berye ba di binen, / Shter nit Beren ba di binen;" innocent name rhymes -- "Hindele un Hendele / Esn fun eyn kendele." There are political slogans, patriotic jingles, word games and when we arrive at L and S the -- inevitable? --paeans to Lenin and Stalin, so supplicatory and ritualized one would think them virtual gods. To us these verses seem like parodies that damn their extolled subjects by lavish exaggeration.

 

Here is Lamed:

"Lebn heyst Lenin,
Lenin heyst Lebn.
Lenin hot glik
Un freyd undz gegebn.
Lenin heyst lernen,
Lenin iz likht,
Lenin di felker
Hot oyfgerikht." [p. 22]

 

[Life means Lenin,
Lenin means life.
Lenin brought us
Good fortune and joy.
Lenin means study,
Lenin is light,
Lenin restored
The peoples."]

 

In Mem we are briefly returned to childhood. (This booklet, we recall, was prepared for school children.) -- Mame, mame, mol ikh sheyn? -- Molst, mayn tokhter, mole-kheyn!...

[-- Mama, Mama, do I draw nicely? -- My daughter, you draw charmingly!) We arrive at Samekh and the very first word to greet us is "Stalin". Here is his quatrain:

 

"Stalin zorgt far kind-un-keyt,
Stalin zorgt far gor der velt,
Stalin git undz mut un freyd,
Stalin's likht di velt bahelt."

 

['Stalin takes care of kith and kin,
Stalin takes care of all the world,
Stalin gives us strength and joy,
Stalin's light brightens the world.']

 

Dare we think that Kvitko was aware that the "hel" in the verb baheln could mean 'Hell' as well as 'bright', that the rime velt:bahelt protects him from the Gulag? I write this half seriously since no non-Soviet reader can fathom fully what is happening here. The author of Alefbeys, a small booklet filled with a great deal of non-poetry, wrote magnificent poems and is a major Yiddish author. "Eysev," a poem which fuses both Judaic and universal motifs and carries a distinctly individual voice, makes this clear.

 

 

 

,
, !
,
,
. . .

,
, ,
,

, , .

,
,
-,
,
. . .

.

,
,
. . .

,
-
,
,

,
,
- . . .
, . . .

,
.
,
,
. . .

 

An English translation can be found in Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk, eds. The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse, pp. 296,298.

 

5)------------------------------------------

Date: 30 November 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: Leon Locker

In Yiddish Culture in Britain (1990), I wrote:

LOCKER, LEON [Yiddish: Loker]. L.L., a translator and interpreter, described himself as "Compiler, Lexicon of Romanisms in Yiddish Literary and Commercial Translator (Hebrew, Yiddish and Romanian.)" He lived at 54-56 Cannon St., Manchester 4. Was his lexicon published? Is the manuscript extant? Ref: NNYI [archives].

I recently received a letter from the antiquarian (Hebraica and Judaica) book dealer M. L. Weiser of Emel Books of London in which he writes:

On Page 419 of Yiddish Culture you make mention of Leon Locker and you raise the question as to whether his Lexicon was ever published and furthermore whether the manuscript is indeed extant. I have recently acquired the archives of this very same Mr. Leon Locker, consisting of literally hundreds upon thousands of letters, notes and assorted ephemera. Among them I have found this aforementioned manuscript, namely Lexicon of Romanisms in Yiddish etc.  I have also found another book in manuscript entitled Mayn Veltl. We are in the middle of sorting out this material which in due course will be offered for sale. 

There is archival material on and by Locker in the Manchester Jewish Museum. See http://www.art.man.ac.uk/RELTHEOL/JEWISH/EXHIBITION/ARCHIVE.HTML

http://www.art.man.ac.uk/RELTHEOL/JEWISH/EXHIBITION/5leonlocker.html

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

End of The Mendele Review Vol. 09.12
Editor, Leonard Prager

 

Subscribers to Mendele (see below) automatically receive The Mendele Review.

 

Send "to subscribe" or change-of-status messages to: listproc@lists.yale.edu

        a. For a temporary stop: set mendele mail postpone
        b. To resume delivery: set mendele mail ack
        c. To subscribe: sub mendele first_name last_name
        d. To unsubscribe kholile: unsub mendele

 

****Getting back issues****

 

The Mendele Review archives can be reached at:  http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/tmr/tmr.htm

Yiddish Theatre Forum archives can be reached at: http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/tmr/ytf/ytf.htm


***