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

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Contents of Vol. 12.020 [Sequential No. 211]
Date: 26 November 2008

1) This issue of The Mendele Review (ed.)
2)
Kafka's Friend Dora Diamant Pays for the Shtentsl Mendele Brochure (ed. and Professor Kathi Diamant)
3) Dora Diamant and A.-N. Shtentsl at a British Seaside Resort, Summer 1950 (photo)
4) Undzer Mendele [Berlin, December, 1935] (A.N. Shtentsl)
5) "A freylekhs" ["opgedrukt lekoved dem zeydn"] A.-N.S. [Yiddish]
6) "A freylekhs" printed in Standard Yiddish
7) ('Joyous Dance [or Tune'], translation of "A freylekhs" (ed.)
8) A Reading of "A freylekhs" (ed.)
9) "The Jerusalem Conference: A Century of Yiddish 1908-2008" (Carrie Friedman-Cohen)

1) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: This issue of TMR

*** This issue is devoted to the too little-known Polish-born poet Avraham-Nokhem Shtentsl [Abraham Nahum Stencl) (1897-1983) who was active in Berlin and London. Here we have Shtentsl's account of a celebration in a Berlin cafe of the l00th anniversary of Mendele's birth, disguised as an engagement party, with him as "groom" and Dora Diamant as "bride." Before leaving Germany for the East to rejoin her husband, Diamant gave Shtentsl the cash in her handbag that exceeded the ten marks allowed and said to Shtentsl "Use this to publish your last night's Mendele talk." It was printed on fine paper in Berlin 1936. *** The xeroxed Mendele lecture follows, together with an appended poem "A freylekhs" given in Yiddish, translated into English and commented upon. My warm thanks to members of the Dov Sadan Project who helped me with the poem. Readers' comments are welcome.

2)---------------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject:
Kafka's Friend Dora Diamant Pays for the Shtentsl Mendele Brochure.

6/10 (1974), 33-34.

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I have belatedly thanks to David Mazower and with many thanks to Professor Kathi Diamant -- found this same event recorded under the heading "Berlin, February 10, 1936," on page 191 of Kathi Diamant's Kafka's Last Love (New York: Basic Books, 2003):

It was Dora's last night in Berlin. Stencl described the meeting in an article published in a Yiddish journal in Warsaw. A Jewish restaurant had been rented for a 'tnoim-celebration', the traditional Jewish celebration of the signing of the marriage contract between the bride and bridegroom. The engagement party was a cover-up for the real event: a joyous and clandestine celebration of the hundredth birthday of Mendele Mocher Sforim, the grandfather of modern Yiddish literature.

"At the head of the table, Dora Dymant, a professional actress, the friend of Franz Kafka - was the 'bride' and I was the 'bridegroom'," Stencl reported. "Around us there were a few dozen members of our now non-existent cultural club who were still in Berlin, and a few other lovers of Yiddish." Standing at the head of the table, Dora read a favorite chapter from Mendele's beloved story "Vintsh-fingerl" (The Wishing Ring). Then Stencl gave a talk he had written about Mendele, which moved and delighted Dora. "We all sang Yiddish songs, made merry and rejoiced that even we, a group of persecuted Jews in Nazi-Germany, still managed to participate in the centenary of our great classic writer."

The next morning, Stencl saw Dora off. "I brought Dora to the railway station with her one-year-old child, Marianne. Accompanying someone leaving for Moscow was a venture, which had just as strong a taste of danger as the disguised Mendele celebration the evening before," he explained. As they were saying good-bye, Stencl said, "Dora took out all the silver coins from her purse. She had more than the ten marks which one was permitted to take." She pressed the coins into his hand and said: "Have your talk on Mendele printed!" The money was enough, Stencl said, "to publish the Mendele essay on parchment paper, bound with a gold thread and dated 'Berlin 1936'. There was a drawing of Mendele on the cover."

3)---------------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Dora Diamant and A.-N. Shtentsl at a British Seaside Resort, Summer 1950 (photograph)

For information on Dora Diamant, see Kathi Diamant, Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant, New York: Basic Books, 2003. On the internet see http://www.kafkaproject.com and kathidiamant.com. The photo of Stencl and Diamant appears with Anthony Rudolph's essay "The adventures of Kathi and Dora" in the Jewish Chronicle dated 26 Feb 1999.

4) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 30 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: Undzer Mendele [Berlin, December,1935] (A. N. Shtentsl)

(left click to enlarge printed pages)

5) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: "A freylekhs" ["opgedrukt lekoved dem zeydn"] A.-N.S.

(left click to enlarge printed pages)

 

 

6) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: "A freylekhs"

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1928

7) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 30 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: ('Joyous Dance [or Tune'], translation of "A freylekhs" (ed.)

 

Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl [Abraham Nahum Stencl]

 

"Joyous Dance"

 

[Printed in Honor of Grandfather]

 

And the match went well

And a big boy was born

"For Torah, marriage and good deeds,"

A big boy with a pair of shoulders,

Large hands,

Tousled earlocks,

Who could spit between his teeth,

And send you to the Devil!

 

And who, seeing that couple under the wedding canopy,

Could have foreseen this offspring,

The father, as big as an Adam's apple

With his open little larynx,

With his chronic little cough and his little sneeze,

Ennobled groom now called to the pulpit,

Elye Bakhur reading of blessings and curses

In the double Torah portion Nitsavim and VaYeylekh.

 

And the bride with her porged and scrawny

But unmistakable double chin,

Whose first husband expired from bloody piles

And another from a dry cough.

And now she wouldn't mind burying her freshest husband

Just as he was

Since she lacked

An onion to put in her fish pan

Beside her volume of Sarah Bas-Tuvim's litanies.

 

It was during a plague,

Outdoors, indeed in the old cemetery,

With Pedhatsur and his astounding band

Turning the world over calling

For dowry gifts from the rich

Who enjoyed endless honor.

Oh! And what about Menakhem Mendl

Who banged on the table

And spilled scarce liquor

And all his matchmaking earnings nebbekh

That spread as far as you could see

And he yelled all the time

As though it cost him his life --

Sad to hear and see.

 

And the miserable miscreant

Who mumbled through his nose,

Hunchbacked front and rear,

May his name be blotted out!

The rogue, the villain!

Drumming on a bath bucket

To annoy everyone,

Shouting the phrase "Charity saves from death."

May he drop dead!

 

Who can forget that wedding,

When Elye Bakhur spoke out the marriage vow

"Behold you are..."

And Sarah Bas-Tuvim melted with rivers of tears

That streamed from the Red Sea to the Vistula.

 

Oh! Auntie Yakhne with her braided Sabbath khale,

With her pursed pious lips,

Self-assured and merry.

"Dance the Gate Dance for bride and groom!"

And our tipsy Tevye with his garment laps wide open,

With his little beard,

Cross-eyed,

Rapped out the rhythm with his big whip.

 

Who doesn't remember that wedding

With all the pure and holy souls,

The sunken headstones and graves,

All the cemetery full of light

And the candles of a departing Sabbath.

Bontshe, holding one of the canopy poles,

Is already breaking pieces off the roll in his pocket.

 

And the wedding officiant Reb Shloyme,

Grandly attired and excited,

Holds a full cup in his hand

And his eyes sparkle as he looks about.

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

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

Oh! Bride and groom under the canopy in those days!

Reb Elye Bakhur lifted his little foot (though his knee was weak)

And stepped gently, gently stepped,

Gently stepped

And broke the wedding glass.

 

Mazltov!

Mazltov!

Mazltov!

And the match went well

And a big boy was born

"For Torah, marriage and good deeds,"

A manly big boy

With two powerful shoulders,

Who could spit between his teeth,

And send you to the Devil!

 

[Autumn 1928]

 

8) ---------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: ed.
Subject: A Reading of
"A freylekhs" (ed.)

At the end of 1935 Shtentsl [Stencl] gave a talk on Mendele Moykher-Sforim (1836-1917) for a Yiddish club in Berlin which had gathered to celebrate the centenary (1836-1936) of the great Yiddish writer's birth . It is quite remarkable that Yiddish cultural events of any kind were taking place in Berlin at the end of 1935. The story is told that Dora Diamant, Kafka's last companion (later called Mrs. Kafka in London by the Loshn un lebn circle) donated her last bit of spareable German currency for the publication of that modest celebratory lecture (see below). What I did not know and have only now discovered is that in addition to the lecture in the little brochure finally printed on 1 January 1936 and dedicated to "grandfather'' appeared a Shtentsl poem dated Autumn 1928 and entitled "A freylekhs" ('a joyous dance or tune') The date at the end of the poem -- Autumn 1928 -- tells us something of Shtentsl's intense commitment to Yiddish language and literature, one which reflects a wider confidence by the community of Yiddish writers in the viability of their medium two decades after Czernowitz. This poem was waiting in the poet's drawer for a fit occasion to be aired. It expresses a delirious joyfulness evoked by the near miraculous birth of a baby boy bursting with energy and born of the most unlikely parents and in the most unlikely place and time. It is not literally drawn -- the poem is a phantasmagoria, utterly surreal and, incidentally, confusing to the reader who misses its dense allusiveness.

It was a time of epidemic and, as was often done in those superstitious days, a wedding was arranged between a normally unmarriageable couple. Mendele (as we will now call him) in his Fishke der krumer and many other Yiddish authors have staged anti-demonic graveyard weddings, both a defensive act for the community and a manner of assisting cripples, paupers, mentally impaired. The wedding couple Shtentsl draws is as unlikely a marriageable pair as could be imagined. The father is physically pathetic and the mother is a shrew. But their child, somewhat amazingly -- as amazing as the birth of an exciting new literature in the language of the ordinary folk -- is a little bruiser.

The wedding guests and their symbolic behaviors make up the bulk of the poem. These participants are focal figures in the nascent Yiddish canon. They include the primary hero of Old-Yiddish letters, Elye Bakhur; the woman composer of tkhines, Sarah Bas-Tuvim; the classic triumvirate (Mendele: Shloyme Reb Khayims ; Perets: Bontshe Shvayg; Sholem-Aleykhem: Menakhem-Mendl), the father of the Yiddish theatre: Avrom Goldfadn (if his Mume Yakhne is a variant of Bobe Yakhne). The band of marvelous klezmorim is led by one Pedhatsur, whom I cannot identify (though his name appears in BaMidbar 1:10)

The entire poem somehow bends under the pressure of one cryptic phrase, that of line 15 where Elye Bakhur reads from the Torah, the weekly portion being the double one of Nitsavim and VaYeylekh. I wonder if the presence of these polar lines does not describe also the condition of Yiddish literature -- which may or may not join Moses in not crossing the Jordan, may be blessed or cursed. But in the meantime there is a wild party in honor of the newborn.

Addendum

Shtentsl most probably knew Bialik's "A freylekhs", very likely having first read it in the Berlin 1922 Klal-farlag edition [Shirim; Lider un poemen, pp. 23-25]. (Shtentsl's first book of Yiddish poems, Un du bist got, was published in Berlin in 1924. Shtentsl lived in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany from 1921 until November 1936).

The major similarities between the Bialik and Shtentsl poems are the polarity on which each rests and their common devil-may-care spirit of insouciance. Bialik's poem is included in the 1922 volume under the rubric "natsionale." In a general way, it points to the depressed condition of Eastern Europian Jewry; it names but does not describe their suffering. It calls upon those whom it addresses to dance, in order, perhaps, to release pent up feelings, or to discover hidden energies. Several roguish expletives dot Bialik's poem just as Shtentsl's poem ends on a wholly impish note.

Bialik writes -- I cite three instances --

"Zol a kreynk der soyne visn,/ Vos in hartsn brot un brent."

"Af tsepikenish di sonim,/ Af tsulokhes gor der velt!"

"A kapore hundert veltn / Far eyn sho fun dreyst un mut!"

This is a call for courageous action to replace passive suffering. Shtentsl's poem takes place in a cemetery; a sickly couple brings forth a healthy boy. The polarity of the Shtentsl poem rests on the double haftara of Nitsavim and VaYeylekh -- blessings opposed to curses. Bialik's "A freylekh" opens with the couplet "Nit genasht fun oylem-haze,/Oylem habe oykh nokh gants;" the polarity here being the pain in this life as opposed to the promised relief in the next. In Shtentsl's poem the agent of change is a newborn boy who represents the burgeoning Yiddish language and literature.

The subject of Bialik's influence on Shtentsl needs close study. There are a number of similar or parallel terms in the "A freylekhs" of both poets. Were it not for the identical title we would probably not notice them (e.g. beys-oylem / beys-khayim, aksl /akslen, fish / fish, tish / tish, taykhen / taykhn, etc.)

9)---------------------------
Date: 26 November 2008
From: Carrie Friedman-Cohen for the Organizing Committee
Subject: "The Jerusalem Conference: A Century of Yiddish 1908-2008"

The organizing committee of the Jerusalem Conference, that will mertseshem take place in the fall of 2009, announces some of the titles of the planned lectures, in addition to what was previously announced in the last TMR:

1. The comprehensive Bibliography Project of Yiddish Books Published Since the Beginning of the Printing Press and Until Today. This is a part of the ongoing Hebrew Bibliography Project at the Hebrew University of books printed in "Hebrew letters".

2. Passionate Pioneers: Yiddish Secular Education in North America 1910-1960: an exploration of the history, challenges, accomplishments and failures of "veltlekhe shuln" and summer camps in the United States and Canada during their heyday.

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End of The Mendele Review Issue 12.020
Editor, Leonard Prager
Editorial Associate, Robert Goldenberg

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***