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

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Contents of Vol. 11.010 [Sequential No. 187]
Date:
30 September 2007

"There are some who consider its early disappearance by no means a certainty." [Helena Frank in 1906]

1) This issue of TMR (ed).
2)
Helena Frank's 1906 Y.-L. Perets Volume
3) Leo Wiener's Predictions, 1899
4) Mendl Man's Historic Volume of Verse, Communist
Poland 1945 
5) New Volume of Poems by Boris Karloff, 2007 (ed.)
6) The Incredible Rose Bilbool (ed.)

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

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject:
This issue of TMR

* Yiddish has often been the victim of wobbly predictions. In 1906 Helena Frank, the first translator of Yiddish into English, saw the possibility of a flourishing Yiddish culture in a "Free Russia" where in her day the great mass of Jews were Yiddish-speakers. For a brief period Yiddish did flourish in the Soviet Union until it was brutally destroyed. Frank cites Perets reassuring the intellectuals of his day -- this was 1894 -- that a call to write in Yiddish and serve their own people was not chauvinistic: "We do not wish to desert the flag of universal humanity." Forty years later "universal humanity" deserted the Jews.* Professor Leo Wiener of Harvard was certain in 1899 that the end of persecutions -- an end of which he, wisely, was not certain -- would see ghetto walls falling and the disappearance of Yiddish.* In Mendl Man's Di shtilkeyt mont; lider un baladn (The Quiet Demands its Due; Poems and Ballads), a slim volume of verse, could be seen the beginning of a Yiddish cultural revival in postwar Poland. This revival began with high hopes and could claim an impressive measure of success -- only to be ultimately quenched by a renewed anti-semitism. * An impressive little volume of recent poems by Boris Karloff is reviewed. *The quite amazing interviews of the famous Rose of Jericho, Rose Bilbool, is briefly discussed.

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

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Helena Frank's 1906 Perets Volume, reprinted 1936

In the "Preface" to her Perets translations, Helena Frank recomments Leo Wiener as a source of information on Perets. Unlike the author of our first systematic history of Yiddish literature, she is hesitant in predicting the demise of Yiddish: "The future of Yiddish in a Free Russia is hard to tell. There are some who consider its early disappearance by no means a certainty." She cites Perets' metaphoric appeal for Jews to cultivate their own soil, words that express a widespread cultural nationalism but not Zionism. Mendl Mann in an historic volume of verse discussed below employs the same equally ambiguous agricultural imagery. Frank's projection of a "Free Russia" -- in which she was far from alone in 1906 -- proved to be one of the most tragic illusions of all times.

 

 

 

 

3)----------------------------------------------------`

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Leo Wiener's Predictions

In The History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century (London: John C. Nimmo, 1899), Harvard professor Leo Wiener wrote in his "Preface": The purpose of this work will be attained if it throws some light on the mental attitude of a people whose literature is less known in the world than that of the Gypsy, the Malay, or the North American Indian." [p. xi] In his "Introduction" he wrote: It is hard to foretell the future of Judeo-German. In America it is certainly doomed to extinction. Its lease of life is commensurate with the last large immigration to the new world. In the countries of Europe it will last as long as they are secluded in Ghettos and driven into Pales. It would be idle to speculate when these persecutions will cease." [pp. 10-11]

Wiener's speculations invite the following comments:

1.) There is today an extensive literature texts, criticism, multi-media on Yiddish literature, language and culture. 2.) Yiddish is taught in many universities the world over. 3.) Yiddish is now a universally accepted name and Judeo-German is no longer used (except by a few specialists who are uncomfortable with Western Yiddish. 4.) Yiddish has been in decline but there are still many speakers. In any event, "extinction" does not appear imminent. 5.) Mass influx of immigrants to North America continued for several decades after Wiener wrote. 6.) Yiddish culture did not grow from, or certainly not principally from, persecution. 7.) On the last point the impossibility of predicting the end of anti-semitism, Wiener is tragically on track.

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

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Mendl Man's Historic Volume of Verse, Communist
Poland 1945 

In Mendl Man's Di shtilkeyt mont; lider un baladn (The Quiet Demands its Due; Poems and Ballads), Lodz: Borokhov Farlag, 1945 [aroysgegebn bay der mithelf fun ts(entral) k(omitet) fun der yidisher arbeter-partey "poyl-tsien" in Poyln], Nakhmen Blumental (1905-1983), the Holocaust researcher, writes in the "Foreword" (p.4): "Di shtilkeyt mont iz dos ershte yidishe bukh, vos dershaynt in nay-oyfgeshtanenen Poyln. Vi shver s'zol nisht zayn dos itstike lebn oyf di khurves fun poylishn yidntum, muzn mir ober shtrebn oyftsushteln umatum dos, vos iz tseshtert gevorn. Farheyln di vunden. Deriber batrakhtn mir dos dershaynen fun dem bukh yidishe lider vi an onheyb fun der banayung fun dem yidishn literarishn shafn in poyln." [The Quiet Demands Its Due is the first Yiddish book to appear in newly-restored Poland. Despite the difficulty of living on the ruins of Polish Jewry, we must everywhere strive to rebuild what has been destroyed. Wounds must be healed. We see  this book of Yiddish poems as a beginning of the renewal of Yiddish literary creativity in Poland.] The last of the 26 poems in this slim booklet is "Mayn tfile" [My Prayer] (which I give in both Romanized and Yiddish-letter form). In Communist Poland writers did not enjoy full freedom to write as they wished. How are we to read Mann's poem? Is it a disguised Zionist tract or an exhausted individual's appeal for a quiet and unexceptional life? Or both?   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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mayn tfile

 

o got! vos host mayn folk oysderveylt tsum rum,

kedey der faynt zol undz oysveyln tsum umkum.

host undz gegebn klore un likhtike oygn,

kedey finsternish zol eybkik oyf zey loyern.

mir hobn in dayn nomen libe tsu mentshn getrogn

un geven der onzog fun heln morgn,

un s'hot dos same shvartste fun der nakht

dos folk dayn oysderveylts umgebrakht.

s'brent di sine tsu di eyntsl-geblibine fun mayn folk,

vi a nit farloshener shayter.

o, got! her mayn kol.

ikh vil mer nit zayn der oysderveylter!

o got! oyb bist do,

gib mir fun yedn poshetn poyer di ru,

vos akert doyres

di zelbe erd fun urzeydes.

bentsh mayne hent tsu shverste mi,

oyf mayn eygenem pleyn,

fun zayn mit zikh un dir aleyn,

az s'zol mayn shpan nit opshteyn

fun alemens trit,

az s'zol nit umetiker klingen mayn lid.

o, got!

farlesh di sine dem nokh nit derbrentn flam!

nem arop mir di last fun an oysderveyltn shtam!

oyb bist do,

un mayn tfile du herst,

gib mir fun yedn poshetn poyer di ru,

vos akert zayn eygene erd.

 

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

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject: New Volume of Poems by Boris Karloff (ed.)

Boris Karloff. Katoves on a zayt. Nekhtike lider 1993-2001. [I kid you not! Poems of Yesteryears]. Jerusalem: Farlag "Eygns", 2007. Foreword by H. Binyamin. Photo on front cover by Artur Fratczak (Tulchin, May 2007), 62 pages. ISBN-978-965-7188-45-3.

In "A tfile" ('A Prayer') the father asks for protection from the "mayler" ('mouths') that often embitter the life of talents greater than theirs. "Bashirem mir," he pleads, "Protect me." In "Shir ha shirem" ('Song of the Umbrella' ), the son plays on the biblical name of "The Song of Songs" Shir haShirim, relaxedly turning a song into an umbrella, an instance of his verbal playfulness. Against unsympathetic academic voices he musters his irony, the katoves of the title and his poetic wit. We see this in "In flug": "Ikh un professor shmeruk,/Mir kenen zikh, dakht zikh, shoyn yorn, --" and "Di zibn heldn": "In undzer sheyner un farshemter dire/Hobn zikh pasyelet zibn voyle ire" Karloff's ear for dialecticisms joins his filial piety in the moving "Itset. In "Far fri," the poet leaves the petty world behind and, with the control often seen in the verse of Kerler senior, pens a fine lyrical meditation.

Karloff feels free to soak up clichés from many sources and readers will respond differently to this quirk. A native English speaker inevitably hears the poet's "Kh'ob mayn harts forlorn in Khlandidno" ('I lost my heart in Llandudno Junction') as a worn-out phrase and will free-associate to the many popular songs beginning with the line "I lost my heart in..." In defence of this practice one can argue that Karloff consciously makes his verse contemporary and will Yiddishize English words and names as he sees fit e.g. Dzhankshon ('Junction').

This issue began on the theme of "wobbly predictions" for the future of Yiddish. The kind of vitality Yiddish poetry calls for in 2007 is not forthcoming in large servings, but Karloff's latest slim volume makes one almost optimistic.

 

 

Father: Yoysef Kerler's "A tfile"

 

 

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Son: Boris Karloff's  "Far fri"

 

 

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Note:

I have taken the liberty to diverge from the authors' spelling in a few particulars (indicated by red-coloring), as required by the Takones fun yivo . Thus I give bay nakht and far fri as separate words. I distinguish tsvey yudn (ey) from pasekh tsvey yudn (ay). It is important to be able to see the difference between leyb (lion) and layb (body), between eyn and ayn. Native speakers do not require the Takones to understand and read Yiddish aloud, but even for them a single widely accepted rational spelling system is a desideratum.

6)-----------------------------------------------------------

Date: 30 September 2007
From: ed.
Subject: The Incredible Rose Bilbool (ed.)

Roz Bilbool. Be-guf rishon: ma'ase be-ma'asim. mi-siget le-yerushalayim,   [Rose Bilbool. Personally Speaking: Deeds Recounted from Siget to Jerusalem, Edited by Ruti Zakovitz, Jerusalem: Dov Sadan Institute, Hebrew University, 2007] Copies may be ordered from Dov Sadan Institute (972-2-5883527) for 60 shekels per copy in Israel and $25.00 from abroad.

I know of no one in the world of Yiddish studies who is more deeply involved in extensive, time-consuming research projects than Hebrew University Professor of Yiddish Yechiel Szeintuch, keen student of the writings of Yoysef Tunkl (Der tunkeler), Ka-Tsetnik, Yitskhok Katsenelson Yeshayohu Shpigl, Arn Tseytlin, Yankev Fridman, Mortkhe Shtrigler and others. Yet this scholar, together with a small band of diligent helpers, spent months and months interviewing an elderly woman whose métier was in no way connected with Yiddish, but -- exotic though this may sound with the papaya plant, of whose multiple medicinal and cosmetic applications she may justly claim to be the world leader. Interviewing Rose Bilbool, whose very name excites speculation, was a self-powering experience for the interviewer who framed the questions and taped the replies (in Hebrew), the transcriber of over a year's accumulation of tapes, the ground editor of the bulk work who brought it into orderly shape and, finally, the style editor who swept away inconsistencies. In her mid-nineties while this adventure in autobiography proceeded, it developed into a gripping personal history, which is also a mirror of the larger events in which it has been enacted.

Rose Bilbool, as a quick internet check via Google will show, is no obscure personage. Much is known of her papaya work in Jericho and of her adventurous life. Born in Hungary in 1909, she lived for many years in Beirut and speaks eight languages, six of them learned by ear. She is one of an extraordinary family of eight children, all but one of them doctors. Her book of interviews reflects the multilingual world in which she lived, one which also had a place for Yiddish, to which she often resorts in her free and marvelously recollected reminiscences of a highly eventful life, one crowded with interesting personages and revealing anecdotes. The folklorist and the linguist will be charmed by Rose's memories. Her Hebrew, the fairly simple colloquial speech of an immigrant in Jerusalem, is punctuated by a scattering of other languages. We hear a living voice that this reader felt compelled to listen to.

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End of The Mendele Review Vol. 11.010

Editor, Leonard Prager

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