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

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Contents of Vol. 11.014 [Sequential No. 191]
Date: 30 December 2007

Dorfsyidn ('Rural Jews') Part Two

1) This issue of TMR (ed).
2) Notes on dorfsyidn ('rural Jews')
3) On
Mendel Mann's "Ven epl beymer blien"
4)
Books Received
5) Periodicals Received
6) Symposium Announcement

1)-------------------------------------------
Date:
30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject: This issue of TMR

*** An agricultural-lexicographic note: the last issue of TMR lists suggested glossary corrections. Harkavi directs the user of his dictionary from shenik to the dialectal syenik. His English definition of the word is 'hay mattress' and not Professor Taube's 'straw mattress' (the text has "in shtroy fun shenik"). However, Harkavi's Hebrew definition is khatsir, whose meaning may be 'kash' or 'teven', i.e. 'straw'. Hay (Yiddish hey) and straw (Yiddish shtroy) are not the same. Straw is cheaper than hay and hay has more seeds. Hay is the first cutting from the hay fields, the top growth of the plants. Straw, cut afterwards, is the stalk of the plants. ***We now go on to a brief discussion of those Jews in Eastern-European derfer or small countryside shtetlekh, loosely naming all of them dorfsyidn, who most certainly knew this distinction. (Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish [New York: Yivo, 2005] brings evidence of a rich Yiddish botanic terminology.) The general discussion of dorfsyidn serves as background to an analysis of Mendel Mann's chapter "Ven epl beymer blien" in his autobiographic Di yidish-poylishe milkhome. *** We conclude with sections on books and periodicals received and an announcement of a one-day symposium at Leyvik House in Tel Aviv on January 3, 2008.

2)-------------------------------------------
Date:
30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject:
Notes on dorfsyidn ('rural Jews')

In his hilarious early novel Coming from Behind (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983), Manchester-born Howard Jacobson effectively mines the stereotype of the Jew as city creature, stranger to country and country ways, hardly ever a farmer. Here is his hero, Sefton Goldberg:

"Being Jewish, Sefton did not know much about the names or breeds or needs of fish." [p. 20] "He often struck Sefton as resembling a little English garden bird, though which garden bird Sefton Goldberg, being Jewish, couldn't be expected to know." [p. 22] "Charles, I'm Jewish. What am I going to do in the country? I don't own a pair of Wellingtons." [p. 88] "In the main he was proud to be Jewish and know nothing about animals" [p. 92] "Being Jewish he was as uninformed about beer as he was about flowers and birds" [p. 105]

The country Jews who leased or owned kretshmes ('inns') or raised, sold, processed or in some other manner dealt with the raw materials for manufacturing spirits of various kinds knew about beer and they had terms for numerous plants in their environs. They were Sefton's cousins who belonged to a different world. As with many stereotypes there is at least a crumb of truth in the careless generalization that Jews don't engage in agriculture. Statistically, especially in Western Europe and North America, Jewish representation in farming has been small (see here for a current view of the Jewish-American farming scene). However, in various historical periods and places, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Eastern Europe among them, Jews have farmed the land, worked the forests, tended fish ponds or filled important economic roles in the countryside, often serving as managers of leased estates (rendarn). These were the dorfsyidn 'village Jews' or countryside shtetl Jews who, if they lived among few or no Jews, were identified as yishuvniks (a term Niborski correctly defines as 'Juif habitant en milieu rural chretien').

Judaism in its halachic culture preserves memories of an agricultural past (e.g. see the Mishnaic Seder Zeraim) and among the Orthodox numerous rules and customs relating to agricultural products and practices continue to apply (see http://www.webshas.org/lead/food.htm). But it was precisely because of their country way of life, their distance from synagogues and study houses, mikves and cemeteries from all the institutions required to maintain a traditional Jewish life that yishuvnik became a demeaning term, name for an ignoramus, a blockhead, an uncultivated country bumpkin. Manual labor in general tended to be looked down upon and shnayder ('tailor') enjoyed more prestige than a shuster (cobbler). The farmer had to carry out certain chores at certain times and this made city life Judaically more attractive. The term yishuvnik can often be found in Yiddish literature in a pejorative sense. There are, however, many exceptions: instances where the yishuvnik, (possibly because of his exceptional character or achievements in business or learning) while referred to as a yishuvnik is nonetheless respected. Shtetl and village Jewish life are often sentimentalized in Yisker bikher accounts, but judicious surfing can gather up much objective information. What follows are excerpts and paraphrases from a number of websites, including several from excellent JewishGen reports.

***

1. Yishuvniks could be prosperous, owners of fields, etc. -- Vichodnitza, Lithuania: The Synagogue and Our "Yishuvnik"

The "Yishuvnik" had fields, cows, a house, and most important - a Torah. Mother, Father and the other Vishniveans would walk 6 km to the Shtetl Rosh synagogue to pray and be among Jews. This was not convenient both for the Jews in Rosh who felt too crowded and for the Vishniveans. Finally they decided to stay in the village and pray at the "Yishuvnik". He was a "Shmid" (blacksmith) and disabled. He had a wooden leg below his knee. His house served as a small synagogue for the daily "Minyan." (see http://vishnive.org/e_viho.html).

***

2. Many country (and small shtetl) Jews kept vegetable gardens (as well as cows, goats, chickens, etc.): Gardening in Ivenets

The Christian and the Jewish residents of Koidnovi Street had large backyards. Jews would also use those yards as one of the sources of livelihood for their families. The children would collect horse manure and cow dung in the street near their home, and deposit it next to the garbage in the back of the house. In early spring, one or two weeks after Passover, they would engage a local farmer, who would come with his horse and wagon, take out the manure and spread it over the yard. Two days later he would return, mend the fence and plow the yard. Two weeks later he would plow it again. The members of the family would begin to sow. In a small section near the house they would sow cucumbers, onions, peas, beets, carrots, and other vegetables. On a larger portion of the yard they would sow potatoes. After the sowing the farmer would harrow the field, and this would be the end of his work. Weeding was done by the girls of the family. If it was a good year with rain falling in due season, one could start eating the new crop by Tisha B'Av. Every day they would go out to the garden, pluck some fresh cucumbers and dig up some potatoes, which were eaten by the family. This continued until Slichot. The rest of the cucumbers were pickled in a large wooden barrel down in the cellar. Potatoes, radishes, beets, and carrots were also taken down to the cellar, where they were kept in special bins, and were used all winter long, until Passover. (see http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ivenets/ivenets.html)

***

3. Ora of Ivenets -- no ordinary yishuvnik (Translation of Sefer Iwieniec, Kamien ve-ha-seviva; sefer zikaron, Tel Aviv, 1973.

But after Yom Kippur a serious question arose, what to do in order to build a new bath house. A bath house is one of the most essential public needs, without which no Jewish community can exist. The Holy One sent them a redeemer, a farm-dwelling [yishuvnik] Jew named Ora Brikovshtziner, or Aaron of the village of Brikovshtzina. He was not an ordinary yishuvnik. Most of them are ignorant boors, and the town's folks looked down on them.

Ora was no boor, but neither was he a great scholar. He could read a chapter of Mishna and understand it superficially, but he was a good businessman. He leased a flour mill and some land from one of the landowners, and built a brewery in the village, which made him rich. Since he was a yishuvnik who belonged to Ivenets (he owned the house where the town's rabbi lived), he donated lumber from his woods to build the bath house, gave some cash, and paid the builders. Ora had one ambition -- to buy pedigree for his money. He married his son off to a daughter of one of the most illustrious families of that time -- the daughter of the great Rabbi Israel Salanter. [For dishonest business practices] Ora was sent to Siberia for a few years. His family went along with him. Even in remote Siberia he made money, and when he came back he did not return to the village but settled in Ivenets in his own private home, and even enjoyed the bath house he had built for the town. It was a spacious bath house, unlike anything in the neighboring towns. It was no smaller than the bath houses in Minsk. (see http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ivenets/ivenets.html ).

***

4. Yekhezkl Kotik's father, a zealous hasid, could not bear to pray with misnagdim yishuvniks

From TMR vol. 4 no. 3:

gedavnt hot der tate shabes oykh in der heym, khotsh ale yishuvim fun a vyorst, tsi fun tsvey vyorst arum, kloybn zikh oyf, loyt der traditsye, tsu eyn yishuvnik davnen shabes mit a minyen. in aza minyen leyent men oykh di toyre, vi es firt zikh umetum: tsvey yishuvnikes, gaboim, rufn oyf tsu der toyre. es iz oykh do sine, kine far alies. yederer vil di fetere aliye, un di gaboim kenen keyn mol nisht yoytse zayn. teyl mol kumen derfun aroys groyse makhloykesn biz masrn oder biz oysdingen bay yenem zayn kretshme, tsi zayn pakt.

der tate hot keyn mol nisht gevolt davnen mit di yishuvnikes misnagdim, nor az es hot gefelt tsum minyen, flegt er muzn kumen. ober er flegt bay zikh nisht kenen poyeln tsu davnen mit zey betsiber. er flegt shoyn demolt hobn ongegreyt bay dem yishuvnik a medresh oder a zoyer un flegt beysn davnen kukn in di sforim. gedavnt hot er in der heym far zikh.

***

5. Shmarya Levin [1867-1935] was born and grew up in Swizlowitz, a shtetl at the confluence of the Svisla and Beresina Rivers in Belarus. It wasn't far from Borisov. Levin says:  "On Rosh Hashanah the Yishuvniks came to town.  There is no word for Yishuvnik in English, for the type is unknown to the language.  They are Jews who live abandoned in the midst of some village or settlement, alien figures in a world not their own.  Months may pass before they see the face of another Jew.  Only on the High Holidays they leave their occupations, and flock to the nearest Jewish centre".  Shmarya Levin, Childhood in Exile, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929, p. 8; reprint by Arno Press, 1975].

***

6. In Der fremder ('The Stranger') by Y.-Y. Zinger (I.J. Singer) we see one pattern wherein the sole Jewish farmer in a village is forced to leave for the greater security of a Jewish community in a town. I concluded my commentary on the story as follows: (see TMR vol. 3 no. 11)

The point is not that Jews can only live among other Jews -- this is obviously not so historically and actually -- but that Jews (or any other group with a highly defined moral code of its own) cannot be integrated in societies whose mores and manners conflict sharply with their own. Traditional Jewish religious and communal life requires a certain concentration of Jews in a circumscribed area to fulfill ritual needs, but the hero of our story is a yishuvnik who davens but obviously can not maintain the higher degrees of observance. Yet it is not because of difficulties in observance -- one reason that yishuvniks left their farms for city or town -- that Refoyl must leave Lyeshnovke. Following ... the ostracism imaged in the breaking of all his windows, he felt he must abandon his native village. Ironically, in the town or city to which this yishuvnik will move, he is more than likely to remain always a rustic outsider, "a fremder."

***

7. The first two paragraphs of Leyb Rashkin's Di mentshn fun Godlbozhits introduce us to a dorfsyid who has prospered in his village and seems comfortable there, yet who is eventually drawn to the nearby town with its many religious, social and other advantages. See http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/PDF%20Stories/di_mentshn_leyb_rashkin.pdf

 

3)-------------------------------
Date:
30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject:
Mendel Mann's "Ven epl beymer blien" [Commentary]

"Ven epl-beymer blien": A Reading

The central theme of "Ven epl-beymer blien" ('When Apple Trees Blossom') -- albeit expressed in a daytshmerism in the very opening sentence -- is awakening: "Arum Shvues hobn mayne feters dervakht." The story (which can be read as fiction whether or not it attemps to report real persons and events or is an imagined narrative) begins at dawn before Shvues (a harvest festival) in a shtetl in Mazovia, Poland where the ripe fields reach the Jewish homes ("dos tseblite feld graykht biz di yidishe shtiber in shtetl"). Though all shtetls resemble one another in some respects, they can differ greatly in size, economy, religious life. It was not unusual for a shtetl to be located in the middle of a large agricultural area whose products it purchased and to whose households it sold merchandise and services. ("Azoy vi di shof velkhe kumen tsu der lonke un yedes shefele heybt on tsu zukhn bazunder, dort vu di grezn zenen hekher un griner, azoy hobn mayne feters ongehoybn zikh tsu tseshpreytn iber di shkheynesdike derfer un yeder bazunder hot gezukht zayn parnose.") ['Like the sheep who go out to pasture, each one of them searching for the greenest grass, so did my uncles start fanning out to the surrounding villages in search of livelihood'.] A shtetl, like that in our story, could have a Jewish section and generally a larger Gentile one. Our shtetl is large enough to provide a koshtshol ('Catholic church') for its Christians and a shul (synagogue) for its Jews. As the second sentence so vividly describes, dorfsyidn stream to the Gentile villages with the coming of Spring to purchase animals ("araynkhapn tsum poyer Kopito un aynhandlen di tsvey beheymes"), lease orchards and engage in other countryside transactions.)

Uncle Elye goes to the synagogue at the break of day and from gossip that inevitably arises when neighbors meet he learns that so and so's orchard remains unleased, a particular peasant is selling two cows, and other news which will determine his day's movements. He is happily pious, as a hasid should be: "Der feter Elye, tsurikgeyendik fun der shul, nokhn shakhris, hot oysgezungen far zikh aleyn, shtilerheyt, etlekhe psukim fun tilim (*) -- "Hashmieyni va-boker khasdekho" un zey glaykh iberzetst in yidish, azoy vi der feter volt gevolt, az nisht nor der reboyne-shel-oylem zol im farshteyn, nor oykh der zamdiker shliakh...." [p. 42]. Prayer and commerce mingle in an easy alliance as Uncle Elye sings out: "Oy oy, gotenyu, loz mir hern in frimorgn dayn khesed, vorem oyf dir hob ikh mikh farzikhert"... In preparation for the day's business, he takes money from a straw mattress on a bed in the same room where his nephew, Menakhem, has been sleeping and may have seen what transpired. Elye's sudden notion to take Menakhem with him for the day's dealings is at least partly born of a fear that his hiding place might be accidentally revealed by his nephew to beggars passing through the shtetl or to others. This suggestion of possible evil helps make the near-idyllic atmosphere of a wholesome pastoral life more believable.

When Elye and the soon-to-become a bar-mitsva, city-bred Menakhem, arrive at the estate of a Polish nobleman to lease an orchard, the dogs bark fiercely and they are turned away by the gate-keeper. They learn that the baron has been drinking hard, fighting with his wife, whipping his best horse mercilessly and had ordered that no one be allowed to enter the farmyard. Elye loosened his horse's reins and lay down on the grass, singing his earlier refrain with a surprising addition: "Hashmieyni va-boker khasdekho... ay,ay,ay... to vos eytsestu mir, Menakheml" ('What do you advise me to do, Menakheml?') The boy presumably remained speechless; the uncle fell asleep. It is during his nap that events occur which Elye has not directly influenced and in which rancor is transformed to amicability. The uncle's prayers are answered, but this is not the prime meaning of what occurs during his sleep. That meaning is the experience of Menakhem.

The landowner's young daughter came out of doors after being indoors for a long period. She was delighted to have a young companion with whom to chase butterflies and soon invites him home. "Zi hot nisht aroysgelozt Menakhem's hant un ir fremder otem hot im tsuersht gelokt, dernokh opgeshtoysn." ['She did not let go of Menakhem's hand and her strange breath at first attracted but afterwards repelled.'] The boy is welcomed by the landowner's wife and the nobleman's anger subsides. He is so delighted by his daughter's happiness and his wife's softening that he leases his orchard to Uncle Elye at extremely favorable terms with the condition that Menakheml spend the summer, the picking season, on the estate where he can be a companion to his much isolated little daughter.

Elye and Menakheml set out for home, Elye pleased that he need not continue his business pursuits that day (by buying the peasant's two cows as originally planned). He is teaching Menakhem the virtues of moderation and of graciousness in business matters by making him a partner in the orchard transaction which the nephew had made possible . The boy, sensing the uncle's indebtedness, sees the opportunity to ask to take the horse's reins while they ride home; the uncle agrees, counseling him to ride at a leisurely pace, not whipping the horse. "Menakhem hot gekukt oyf gots velt un a benkshaft mit a troyer hot im arumgenumen nokh epes vos iz vayt un umbakant". [my emphasis ed.] ['Menakhem looked out at God's world and was seized by a sad longing for something distant and unknown'.] One can almost hear Wordsworthian intimations in this line. The author shows his psychological grasp of the pains of growing up. So much is attractive, confusing and disturbing the beauty of nature which demands response, the responsibilities of material life (leasing an orchard), the hierarchies of class and wealth (the nobleman's estate and family), human behaviors (anger and love), the mystery of sex (the lovely young Polish girl held his hand), the familiar and the unknown (uncle's home and the silent backroads), power over some other even a dumb animal. In short, awakening.

Mendel Mann's concluding paragraph is masterful: "Di erev Shvuesdike sheynkeyt fun di poylishe botshne vegn hobn im geshrokn. Er hot gevolt oyfvekn dem feter un nisht gevakt. Dos ferd iz gegangen shpan nokh shpan, nisht gekukt oyf der shalve, hot es azoy vi oysgefilt dem umru fun yidishn yingele un zikh umheymlekh tsehirzhet." [' The Shvues eve beauty of the Polish backroads frightened him. He wanted to wake his uncle but did not. The horse trotted on, pace after pace. Oblivious of the evening's calm, it countered the young Jewish boy's uneasiness with an uncanny neighing'.]

4)------------------------------
Date:
30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Books received.

, -: . , 2007

Aleksander Shpiglblat. Griner umet; lider. Tel-Aviv: H. Leyvik Farlag, 2007

Three poems from Shpiglblat's most recent volume of verse, Griner umet, are given here, ample evidence that he stands at the very apex of the dwindling group of Israeli Yiddish poets of stature. His style is spare and each poem of his is masterfully etched. He is also, or even primarily, one of Israel's finest prose writers.

 

 

,

.

 

.

 

[' 42-43]

 

 

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,
Weiss, was ich leide!

Goethe, Lied der Mignon

 

,

.

, ,

.

 

,

.

, ,

.

 

[' 34-35]

 

,

", . , , ".

, , ' ,

,

,

.

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' , , 2007

Dr. Shmuel Liberzon Raisins and Almonds, illustrations to Yiddish songs. Haifa, 2007

In his individual homely style, Haifa retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Shmuel Liberzon illustrates Yiddish folk songs. Below is the cover of his latest work, Tsimukim u-shekeydim ('Raisins and Almonds') [Haifa: privately printed (2007)] and his illustration of the popular song "Lomir zikh iberbetn" ('Let's Make Up').

 

5)-----------------------------
Date: 30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Periodicals Received

The veteran Bundist periodical Lebnsfragn under the able editorship of Yitskhok Luden continues to appear both in print (see Table of Contents below) and online at http://www.lebnsfragn.com.

Lebns-fragn

Click on the picture to get a larger resolution

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Yidishe heftn (its French name is Les Cahiers Yiddish) has been published in Paris since 1996. One of the very few remaining Yiddish literary periodicals in Europe, it is notable for its literary quality, its illustrations and its typographic clarity.

Yidishe heftn/ Les Cahiers Yiddish

Click on the picture to get a larger resolution

6)---------------------------------
Date: 30 December 2007
From: ed.
Subject:
Announcement:

The Leyvik House in Tel Aviv cordially invites you to a symposium celebrating Israels 60th anniversary, on Thursday, January 3, 2008, on the theme of Between Ashkenaziness and Israeliness, Between Yiddish and Hebrew. See printed invitation here, and more details here.

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