Journal of Yiddish Research  

No. 8 Winter 2003

Editors: Shalom Luria, Haya Bar-Ytzhak

Abstracts edited and/or translated by Leonard Prager

'The tongs were made with tongs' [Avot 5,6]: A Word from the Editors


Avraham Sutzkever at 90

Heather Valencia
Sutzkever, France and Paul Valery

From his youth, Avraham Sutzkever took an interest in French poetry and French painting. The author tries to show various later French influences on the Yiddish poet, particularly as effected through his relationship to the translator Mortkhe Litvin and to the painter Mark Chagall. The image of Paris appears repeatedly in Sutzkever's post-World War Two volume Yidishe gas [Jewish Street], a collection of poems written in a period of exile and homelessness in which the image of Paris represents freedom and creative energy. Comparison is made between Sutzkever's poems and those of Paul Valery, whom Sutzkever greatly revered. Similarities are uncovered in their sensibility as well as their musicality and use of certain formal devices. Similarity is manifest in Valery's "Le Cimetiere Marin" ['Cemetery Near the Sea'] and Sutzkever's "Ode tsu der toyb" ['Ode to the Dove'], both great meditations on life, death and art.

Shalom Luria
A Selection of Avraham Sutzkever's Early Poems

The two items presented here are unconnected. The first is an essay on the poet's first volume of verse, Lider (Warsaw 1937) and the second is a Hebrew translation of "Avraham Sutzkever's Poem-of-Poems" (Di goldene keyt 136 [1993], 136-142.)  Sutzkever's Lider contains four sections: "To My Birthday" (11 poems); "Color and Sound" (11 poems); "The Fall of Leaves on the Lake" (12 poems); "Stars and Snow -- Siberian Poem" (17 poems). The analysis of these poems given here was first made at a Yiddish conference at Columbia University and published in _Yidishe kultur_ 1 (Jan-Feb 1988, 24-33). 

Yechiel Szeintuch
Poetry of the Inexpressible: Avrom Sutzkever's "Unter dayne vayse shtern"

Sutzkever's famous poem "Under Your White Stars" is well known both in a post-war adaptation and in a folk version familiar to survivors of the Vilna ghetto and the refugee camps.  This essay compares three published variants of the poem with a manuscript variant from the Vilna ghetto that is not known to students of Sutzkever's verse and that lays claim to being one of the first ghetto versions of the poem. The present comparison details the poetic values, lyrical acuteness, and beauty of the manuscript version, thereby illuminating the poet's Vilna ghetto poems as a whole.

From the Writings of Dov Sadan

Between Desire and Necessity

Sutzkever's poetic development was tied to the American Jewish poets of the In zikh group. His independence was not wholly welcomed even in the "Yung vilna" circle, where he was the youngest member. Understanding and acceptance of his modernist tendencies came gradually.  Showing the relationship between the poet's life and his art, Sadan traces Sutzkever's work through the year 1970, describing as well its reception and translation into a number of languages. Sadan also points out the importance of Sutzkever's role as editor of the prestigious journal, Di goldene keyt.

[Dov Sadan published his detailed essay on Avraham Sutzkever's life and work in the second part of his book Avney miftan (pp. 183-193, 1970)].



Yaakov Shteynbarg [Jacob Steinbarg]
"To the Girl of My Dream" (Original and Translation)


Shmuel Werses
Mendele Mokher-Sfarim 's Travels in the Realm of the Jewish Family

This essay deals with Mendele's view of the Jewish family as expressed in his writings, particularly his sharp criticism of the treatment of women and his understanding of generational conflict. The relationship between mother and son in HaAvot veHaBonim ['Fathers and Sons'] can be understood in the light of works such as Dos kleyne mentshele ['The Tiny Fellow'] and Di kliatshe ['The Nag']. Mendele's warm feelings towards young children are effectively communicated in his shorter works, especially where expulsion and discriminatory decrees are in the background. In his great novel in their Yiddish and Hebrew versions (Dos vintshfingerl ['The Magic Ring'] -- BeEmek haBakha ['In the Vale of Tears']) Mendele shows his ambivalence towards the Jewish family: alongside a critical-ironic view of the family life of poor families, a certain idealization is felt in many digressive passages. Mendele's autobiographial writings cover mainly his childhood years. The differences in the Hebrew and Yiddish versions are palpable.


Lea Garfinkel
Isaac Bashevis-Singer's Yentl-Anshl -- A Tragic Figure

The story of Yentl, who under the name Anshl impersonates a yeshiva student, is saturated with dramatic and tragic elements. It is no accident that it has been adapted for stage and film. Yentl's sin was her hubris, her audacious pride. She believed (and this in a pre-feminist period) that she could sidestep social convention. Her posing as a young man with the help of appropriate apparel, haircut and male name slowly implicated her and those close to her in a complex situation from which she repeatedly failed to extricate herself, hastening her fall.   


Gershon Shaked
Menakhem Mendl -- The Shlimazl of Capitalism

The "reality" model of Shalom Aleichem's novel is the migration and urbanization of Eastern European Jewry at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The literary models are the epistolary genre and the Don Quixote tradition, both indicators of the comic-pathetic novel. Menakhem Mendl's urge is to leave the shtetl and find riches and happiness in Odessa [named Yehupetz in the novel] and Kiev, the big cities of Ukraine. He enters the economic jungle of modern capitalism, becoming involved in various facets of the stock exchange. He has no idea what the "papers" mean; for him they are signifiers without any real references, totally abstract and -- frightening. Not knowing what the exchange is all about, he fails in his trading efforts. The structure of his trials and errors in the novel's plot is Sisyphean. He is a Jewish Don Quixote of capitalist adventurism and his wife, Sheyne Sheyndl, is the Sancho Panza that attempts to return him to his senses and his family.  The wisdom of his mother-in-law -- she is the wise old woman of the clan -- is the antithetical provincial shtetl heritage fighting against the false sophistication of the urban world. The comic elements are mainly based on misunderstandings between the correspondents, who neither understand one another nor the complexities of the abstract modern world.  Escape to the new world [the United States] is not a solution for the decline and fall of shtetl mentality.


Ziva Shamir
Ode to the West Wind (On Bialik's "Yam lider" ['Sea Songs'])

Bialik composed his sea poems ("Yam lider") in Yiddish in 1908 and published them in a Zionist-oriented anthology just before his first visit to Eretz Yisrael in 1909. The small cycle of three pseudo-naive poems was defined by the poet as a translation from the prominent medieval poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. However, this cycle of poems is, in fact, a free adaptation of diverse motifs from Halevi, imbued with contemporary colours and revealing Bialik's intimate secrets. On the personal level Bialik was split at that time between his duties as family man and national poet on the one hand, and his great desire to forsake all frameworks and break all conventions on the other. His friend and lover, the painter Irah Yan, encouraged him to leave home and start a new life far from Odessa; Bialik was ambivalent, torn apart by desires and duties.  On the national level, this was the time of the harsh conflict between the devout advocates of Yiddish (who at the 1908 Czernowitz Conference demanded that Yiddish be declared a national tongue) and the poet's inner conviction that the renaissance of Hebrew is a sine qua non for the forthcoming national revival in the Land of Israel. Hence, Bialik wrote these Zionist poems ("Yam lider") in the language of the Jewish masses, telling his ideological adversaries in an indirect and subtle way that if he turns to the writing of poems in Yiddish, it is merely for ideological purposes, and not because he agrees with their credo. Indeed, the role of these poems in many Zionist circles has been long acknowledged.   

Appendix. Kh. N. Bialik: Sea Poems (Original and Translation)


Shifra Kuperman
David Einhorn's Lost Papers

In 1917 David Einhorn (1886-1973) deposited his literary and personal archive in the National Bank of Bern, Switzerland. For various reasons, the location of the papers was not known during the poet's lifetime and it was only in 1996 that it was rediscovered.  The rich materials in the archive cast light on the poet's life, especially during the period from 1900 to 1917; they also tell us much about the groups with which he was associated. The papers reveal a shift in the poet's artistic orientation during the years mentioned. He moved from a prophetic-narrativist approach to a rationalist-"Lithuanian" one. We see this in his attitude towards the neo-hasidic tale.  In honor of  Einhorn's  70th birthday, Y.-L. Perets published memoirs in the Forward which parallel the materials in the Einhorn archive. A comparison of the respective writings of  the two make clear the changes in Einhorn's literary orientation.


Bilha Rubinstein
On Isaac Bashevis-Singer's The Slave

In the course of discussing the novel's poetic strategy and kabbalistic

infrastructure, the writer points up its central theme of personal and national redemption. The poetic pattern fuses two genres (the naturalistic historic novel and the fantastic romance) and its deep structure is composed of basic kabbalistic-mystic symbols.

The immediate historic background is the edicts of 1648/1649, the 17th-century tragedy also pointing forward to the Shoa during World War Two.  Experience is filtered through the minds of both hero and author.

The romance is a love story that scales internal and external barriers and passes from carnal to metaphysical love.  The lovers are painted as highly individual beings who complete one another. They are elevated above those among whom they live, and the more they guard their independence, the more they come to differ from their neighbors.

The kabbalistic infrastructure fuses the somber naturalism of the historical novel with the fantastic light of the romance, while moving toward the idea of redemption that is at the heart of the novel.  

This poetic course is based on literary realization of three symbols in the kabbala of the Ari: (a) the secret of coupling -- an abstract spiritual concept that expresses man's aspiration to unite with God, and the heavenly harmony that is the foundation of the universe. This symbol is described in the sources in the most explicit erotic terms. (b) The myth of the breaking of the vessels and the fall of the divine sparks into the Satanic realm is tied to the rupture in the existential world of the hero: the murder of all the members of his family, his captivity, and his life as a slave in a dark and degenerate world. (c) The connection to Wanda-Sarah and her rescue from this world is the fictional realization of the symbol of the "Nefilat apayim" ['prostation'] and the idea of the redemption of the sacred sparks that fell into the captivity of the "klipot" ['peelings']. These mystic symbols give timeless, universal meaning to the crises in the heroes' lives; their salvation is tied to the revelation of the hidden kernel of their identity and to their total liberation from the shackles of  earthly servitude. 


Shalom Luria
A Little Anthology -- Poems by Jacob Glatstein, Abraham Sutzkever, Rivka Basman [original and Hebrew translation]

Abraham Sutzkever, "Ven di eybikayt veynt fun hanoe" ['When Eternity Weeps With Solace'], Di fidlroyz (1974), p. 8.

Jacob Glatstein, "Kibya" ['Kibya'], Fun mayn gantser mi, p. 50.

Rivka Basman, "Mayne gumene shtivl" ['My Rubber Boots'], Oyf a strune fun regn [2003], p. 14; "Ikh fir mitn regn a flirt"

['I Flirt With The Rain'], Di draytsnte sho [2000], p. 40.   



Yudl Mark
Zelik Kalmanovitsh

Yudl Mark (1897-1975), one of the most learned scholars of Yiddish language, literature and folklore, sketches a portrait of his friend and colleague, Zelig Kalmanovitsh. Mark was a "Litvak" ['Lithuanian'], Kalmanovitsh a Courlander (from Goldingen). They nevertheless always found a common tongue, for both men had a great love for Yiddish. Mark's essay is the first of a series of portraits of Yiddish scholars which Khulyot will be publishing in coming issues.  The original essay, in Yiddish, was published in Di goldene keyt 90, pp. 127-143.


Books Received

This section of Khulyot has been somewhat thin in the past. Moreover, relevant works in the field of Yiddish have appeared this year for which reviewers have not been found. Nonetheless we will try not to neglect this section. In the present issue Shalom Luria reviews a significant work, Avraham Novershtern's Kesem HaDimdumim ['The Enchantment of Dusk'], whose subject is apocalyptic and messianic elements in modern Yiddish literature. On the occasion of the publication of Y.-D. Berkovitz's Yidish dertseylungen ['Yiddish Stories'] in Jerusalem this year, Itai B. Zutra discusses Berkovitz as Yiddish writer.


Shalom Luria
Kesem haDimdumim ['The Enchantment of Dusk'] by Avraham Nowersztern


Itai B. Zutra
Y.-D. Berkovitz's Yiddish Stories



Zalmen Reyzen
On the History of Yiddish Folk Literature

The author brings his immense knowledge, precision and love of Yiddish to bear upon the task of listing folktale booklets which the broad public read even before Ayzik-Meyer Dik (1814-1893) published his numerous short and long stories. The folk favored traditional literature such as the Tsenerene, but also read other works in the eighteenth century. First published in Yivo bleter 3:3 (March 1932), pp. 240-259, this essay documents in rich detail a very extensive body of writing. 


Yisroel Tsinberg
On Wandering Motifs in Yiddish Folklore

It is well known that myths, legends, heroes, tales migrate from land to land and from generation to generation, changing in form, style and national coloring as they move. This short essay illustrates this process in three Yiddish folktales: "The Tale of a Clever Thief,"  "The Tale of a Lost Purse," and "The Tale of a Shepherd," marking their transformations in Yiddish literature, particularly their Hasidic variants. This essay was first printed in Yivo bleter 3:4-5 (April-May 1932), pp. 330-336.


Isidore Levin, Boris Kotlerman and Avidov Lipsker
The Jewish Folklore Archive in
Tartu, Estonia

Professor Isidore Levin, one of the collectors of the magnificent archive of  Jewish folklore in the university library of  Tartu, Estonia, sketches the collection's history. Boris Kotlerman and Avidov  Lipsker describe the contents of the collection according to professional criteria, helping to make these materials accessible to the general public.


On the Periphery

Shmuel Bunim
French Words in the Yiddish of Immigrants in France

The ability of Yiddish to absorb words from the vernaculars of countries in which Yiddish-speakers settled needs no proof.  This essay on the language of  Jewish immigrants attempts to understand the phenomenon in the context of the history of  Jewish migration from Eastern Europe to the West. The French national model of the nation-state is linguistically committed to block incursions of foreign words into French.  Thus  in the course of several decades the traffic was one-way -- from French to Yiddish. The phenomenon is a by-product of the entry of immigrants into the socio-economic fabric of the new land of absorption.  Over three hundred French words and expressions underwent "conversion" and passed into colloquial Yiddish; they can be heard to this day in the speech of Shoah survivors and their children, though Yiddish is no longer the language of the latter. 

This essay examines only those words that appeared in the Yiddish press during the absorption period. The Yiddish press adopted the language of the immigrants -- not to flatter them or mock them but to honestly provide them with expressive tools.  Use of these terms in written French is testimony to the recognition of the new Jewish community with its own particular language.

The essay examines the morphology of several words and their functions in the private and social life of the immigrant. Classification of the terms draws circles within circles, the innermost of them dealing with work and family and the outermost with social connections. The essay poses the phenomenon as a possible midway stage between acclimatization and  acculturation.


Hamutal Bar-Yosef
The Reception of Leonid Andreev in Hebrew and Yiddish Literature and Theatre

Leonid Andreev (1871-1919) was a very popular Russian story writer and playwright at the beginning of the 20th century, together with Chekhov and Gorky. His writings were translated into many European languages, and his plays had a great success in Europe and England. The publication of his writings was prohibited in Soviet Russia because of his anti-Bolshevik ideology, and that is why his complete prose writings and dramas were published in Russia only after Stalin's death. Andreev's expressionist prose and drama predated the Expressionist movement in European literature and art. He was very interested in "the Jewish Problem" (perhaps because his second wife was Jewish), described the suffering of Jews in his stories and plays, and participated in the efforts of Gorky and other Russian intellectuals to protect Jewish civil rights in Russia. His interest in the Jewish problem and his criticism of Christianity made him very popular among the Jewish intelligentsia even before he was translated into Yiddish. During the first quarter of the 20th century Andreev was widely translated into Yiddish: 10 titles of Andreev's writings (4 of which are plays) in Yiddish translation were published in Warsaw, Vilnius, London and New York. His story "Marselieza" was translated into Yiddish by Yosef Khayim Brenner (1907). Yiddish performances of his plays by the "Vilner trupe", in the "Vikt" theatre and elsewhere had many reviews in the Yiddish press. Andreev's reception in Hebrew literature was less enthusiastic. He was admired by the Hebrew writer Uri N. Gnessin, but most Hebrew criticism on him was written with reserve (including Brenner's). His stories were translated by Y. Fichman (1919), E. Handelsalz (1920) and K.A. Bertini. Three of Andreev's plays were performed in 1923 in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem by "Hovevei Habima Ha-ivrit", a group which was founded in Tel-Aviv before the arrival of Habima in Eretz-Israel. Andreev had a considerable influence on Yiddish and Hebrew writers and playwrights such as Lamed Shapiro, An-Sky, Yosef Khayim Brenner and Uri N. Gnessin.


Yiddish in the Limelight

Miriam Kachanski
Abraham Goldfaden and 'Lovers of

This article is based on a chapter in a dissertation entitled Khibat-Tsion and Yiddish: the Multidimensional Encounter Between Movement, Language and Culture.  Khibat-Tsion, the first Jewish national movement of its kind, emerged in Czarist Russia during the early 1880s. Over a fourteen-year period (1881-1895), the movement made a profound contribution to the birth of a modern Jewish national ideology -- Zionism.  Khibat-Tsion established the ideological foundation and facilitated the means for the return of the Jewish people from the Diaspora to its historical homeland in Palestine and cultivated the renaissance of Hebrew culture. However, in a manner little known to either the research community or the lay public, the Khibat-Tsion movement and its ideology created and promoted a wide range of cultural activities in Yiddish. This use of Yiddish not only enriched the language, but enabled the vast Jewish population then living in the Russian Empire to be reached in its mother tongue.

The dissertation discusses the role played by Yiddish in spreading Khibat-Tsion ideas among the Jewish population by writers, poets, journalists, preachers, batkhonim [Modern Hebrew: badkhanim 'wedding entertainers'] as well as by the creators and actors of the Yiddish theater. Modern Yiddish theater has a place of honor in popular Jewish culture. It is inseparable from its creator, the poet, songwriter, and journalist Avrom Goldfaden. A chapter of the dissertation examines Goldfaden's career as a popular playwright, director, and producer during the Khibat-Tsion period. The chapter also explores certain of his poetic works which echo his national preoccupations.

This article focuses on the role played by the historical musicals and by a modern musical written and staged in Yiddish by Goldfaden in awakening and nourishing the new modern national ideology of Khibat-Tsion. It shows how through these popular musicals in a modern Yiddish, ideas, myths and beliefs regarding a national existence entered the lives of many Jews.


Shalom Luria
Ezra Lahad


Ezra Lahad
The Memoirs of Moyshe Zayfert [Moshe Zeifert] (1851-1922)

Moyshe Zayfert (1851-1922), born in Vilkomir, became famous as a New York playwrite and author.  He wrote about sixty novels of the kind that Shomer was known for and forty-seven plays, mainly translations and adaptations. Nonetheless a score of his original plays were staged in New York.

He was born into a maskilic family and was given a Hebrew education. His favorite authors were Abraham Mapu and Perets Smolenskin.

He was sharply critical of the Yiddish theater in America, his principal complaint being that even the best actors looked at their work on the Yiddish stage with irony. Such a theater, he claimed, had no future. He wrote his memoirs in Hebrew.  They were published in the New York Luakh Akhiever, 1921/1922, pp. 133-150.


Moyshe Zayfert
Selections from his Memoirs (History of the Jewish Theatre) 


Zelda Kahana Newman
In Search of Lost Irony -- from Sipur Pashut ['Simple Story'] to A poshete mayse ['A Simple Story']

The irony in Agnon's Hebrew novel Sipur Pashut is entirely lost in the Yiddish play A poshete mayse.  It is the (seemingly) pious narrator who creates the irony in the novel; in the play there is no narrator at all. The decision to excise the narrator (with his pious and learned asides) may stem from the director's belief that the largely secular audience does not identify with Agnon's narrator. Alternatively, it may stem from the director's belief that  the audience is simply unfamiliar with or ignorant of Agnon's Jewish sources. Either way, ignoring the religious dimensions of the novel exacts a high price from the Yiddish play.



Shmuel Avneri
Eliyahu Maidanik and His World View

Eliyahu Maidanik (1881-1904) was an almost forgotten Hebrew writer whom Khayim Nakhman Bialik and Ahad Ha'am encouraged and supported. He succeeded in publishing about twelve stories in Hebrew. At age twenty-three he committed suicide. He wrote one story in Yiddish and published it in the weekly Der yud (ed. Yoysef Luria) on May 15, 1900. This story is reproduced here as well as translated into Hebrew. The story is about a rebe and his pupils who go into the woods on Lag B'Omer for an outing. Everyone is cheerful and merry when they start out but the mood changes to one of fear when the group undergoes a humiliating experience. The pupils ask why God allows such injustice.  


Eliyahu Maidanik
A Page from My Childhood Memories (Yiddish original and Hebrew translation)

[Home] [Khulyot]