_The Mendele Review_: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to _MENDELE_)
Contents of Vol. 04.012
18 August 2000

1) Herzl's _Judenstaat_ in Yiddish -- the section on language (ed.)
2) Reflections on a Widespread View of Kotik's _My Memoirs_ (Lucas Bruyn)
3) Books Received: (a) _Antologye fun yidishe folkslider_ [band 5] /
   _der Mortkhe Gebirtig band_, [redagirt fun] Sini Laykhter, Yerushalaim:
   HaUniversita HaIvrit, 2000. (b) _Catalog of Out-of-Print Yiddish Books_,
   Amherst: National Yiddish Book Center, n.d.  [ed.]


Date:  18 August 2000
From:  ed. 
Subject: Herzl's _Judenstaat_ in Yiddish -- the section on language

Theodor Herzl is rightly credited with having prophesied the creation of
a Jewish state and of having played an important part in the formation
of the political Zionism which helped bring it about.  Not all his
prophesies, however, have come to fulfillment.  In the brief section on
language in his _Der Judenstaat.  Versuch einer Modernen Loesung der
Judenfrage_ (Vienna:  M. Breitenstein, 1896)_ [The Jewish State], a work
which has been translated into scores of languages and of which there
must be hundreds of editions, he is considerably off the mark.  Like
many of his Jewish contemporaries, both East and West, he is
contemptuous of Yiddish -- the native language of the vast majority of
his supporters -- and, indeed, scornful of all Jewish languages.  These
are corrupt forms of speech ("tsudrehte un farkripelte zhargons"),
ghetto lingos.  The notion of communicating in Hebrew is absurd, he says
-- who even knows how to buy a tram ticket in Hebrew?  In the Jewish
state that Herzl envisions, Jews will continue to speak their
mother-tongues -- "yeder blaybt bay zayn shprakh" (just like the
Russians in Israel, many Israelis would complain.)  And this will raise
no problems.  Herzl was hardly unique in his inability to foresee a
scene in which Hebrew-speaking hoodlums in the Jewish state would kill a
Russian new immigrant, a soldier, for speaking Russian in public.

I give this passage on language from a Yiddish translation which is
heavily daytshmerish, though more in its orthography than its vocabulary
and syntax.  (The lines are numbered to facilitate discussion.)  The
kind of Yiddish we see here was common in the Yiddish radical movement
of the period.  The year of publication of the pamphlet must have been
around 1918.  It is likely that the anonymous translator worked from a
German edition, but I have not checked this.  In the 1920s and 1930s
Newark had an active Yiddish cultural life of its own despite its
proximity to New York City.  This 94-page pamphlet was published by Max
Mindlin and Co., whose address -- 71 Montgomery Street -- was also that
of the Arbeter Ring Socialist Institute.  The pamphlet sold for thirty
cents, which was not cheap.

_der idenshtat_ fun theodor hertsl.  aroysgegeben fun maks
mindlin un ko., nuark, n. dzh.  [Newark, N.J.], on a date [?1918], 94

                          shprakh [z. 83]

1.  filaykht denkt ver, az es vet zayn a shverigkayt derfar, vayl mir
2.  hoben nit keyn gemaynzame shprakh.  mir kenen dokh nit reden eyner
3.  mit andern hebreyish. ver fun unz ken genug hebreyish um er zol in
4.  diezer shprakhe ferlangen a bahn-bilet? dos iz nito.  fun destvegen
5.  iz di ongelegenhayt zehr aynfakh.  yeder blaybt bay zayn shprakh,
6.  velkhe iz di liebe haymath fun zayne gedanken.  far di meglikhkayt
7.  fun der shprakhen-feraynigung iz di shvayts a guter bayshpil. mir
8.  velen oykh blayben in nayem land, vos mir zenen yetst, grade vi mir
9.  hoben kaynmol nit oyfgehert tsu lieben mit veymuth unzer
10. foter-lender fun vanen men fertraybt unz.

11. fun di tsudrehte un farkripelte zhargons, mit velkhe mir bedinen
12. zikh yetst, fun ot-di geto-shprakhen, velen mir zikh obgevehnen.
13. dos zaynen geven di gehayme shprakhen fun gefangene. unzere
14. folks-lehrer velen zikh shoyn dermit besheftigen.  di shprakh vos
15. vet nitslikher zayn far dem algemaynem ferkehr vet zikh aleyn
16. gefinen a plats als hoyptshprakh. unzer folks-gemaynshaft iz dokh
17. an aygentimlikhe, an ayntsige.  mir derkenen unz bloyz in der emune
18. fun unzere eltern als kroyvim.


Date: 18 August 2000
From: Lucas Bruyn 
Subject: Reflections on a Widespread View of Kotik's _My Memoirs_

       Reflections on a Widespread View of Kotik's _My Memoirs_

                           by Lucas Bruyn

The view that the second volume of Kotik's memoirs is inferior to the
first was strongly implanted by Zalmen Reyzn, who also claimed that a
third volume (which remained in ms.) was equally inferior:

"a bazundern interes hot aroysgerufn der 1 t', vu der mekhaber hot
gegebn a breyt bild fun dem yidishn lebn in rusland in der ershter helft
fun dem forikn y[or] h[undert], shilderndik di sotsyale, ekonomishe un
kulturele tsushtandn fun yener tkufe un ire mentshn, dem kamf tsvishn
khsidim un misnagdim un azoy vayter. ober akhuts dem zeyer groysn
kultur-historishn vert fun dem bukh, hot es oykh a reyn literarishn; di
perzonen, vos figurirn in di zikhroynes, zaynen boylet un zeyer lebedik
geshildert un dertsu iz dos gantse verk geshribn in aza hartsikn
oyfrikhtikn ton, in a guter shprakh, az es gehert tsu di shenste bikher
fun der yidisher memuarn literatur. di iberike 2 t' fun di _zikhroynes_
(fun velkhe der 3ter t' iz geblibn in ksav-yad) laydn shoyn fun
tsetsoygnkayt un oykh der materyal iz veyniker interesant."

[Especially interesting is the first volume, in which the author
presents a broad picture of Jewish life in Russia during the first half
of the 19th century.  In this volume he sketches the social, economic
and cultural situation of that era, its people, the struggle between
Hasidim and Misnagdim etc.  But apart from the extremely great
cultural-historic value of the work, it also has a purely literary
value.  The characters in the memoirs are depicted in a clear and lively
fashion. Besides, the whole work is written in a candid voice coming
straight from the heart, in good language, thus making it one of the
finest examples of Yiddish memoir literature.  The other two volumes of
the 'memoirs' (the third volume remained in manuscript), suffer from
prolixity and their subject matter is less interesting.]

(Zalmen Reyzn, _Leksikon_ band 3 [1929], zz. 425-426).

A half-century later, the Yivo archivist Yekheskl Lifshits repeated the
Reyzn argument in almost the same words:

"k's ort in der yidisher literatur kumt ober nor fun zayn bukh _mayne
zikhroynes_ ... band 3 iz geblibn in manuskript. bazunders vertik iz der
ershter band, vos hot gegebn a breyt bild funem yidishn lebn in rusland
in der ershter helft fun 19tn yorhundert. es is eyns fun di shenste
bikher in der yidisher memuarn-literatur... dos verk hot oykh a reyn
literarishn vert tsulib zayne lebedike shilderungen un dem sheynem

[Kotik only deserves his place in Yiddish literature because of his
book 'mayne zikhroynes'. Volume 3 remained in manuscript. Especially
valuable is the first volume, which gives a broad picture of Jewish life
in Russia during the first half of the 19th century. It's one of the
finest examples of Yiddish memoir-literature. The book also has a pure
literary value because of its lively descriptions and its good Yiddish.]

Y[ekheskl] L[ifshits].  _leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur_,
band 8 [1981], omed 44.)

Both Reyzn and Lifshits speak of the first half of the 19th century,
when surely they meant the second; and much of the memoirs deals with
Poland, though then under Russian rule -- these writers, like all of us,
are capable of erring.  Though I accept Reyzn's statement that Kotik
wrote more than two volumes, I am reluctant to believe that Kotik
planned his memoirs as a trilogy in which the third volume formed an
integral part.(1)  Internal evidence bolsters this conclusion.

Kotik clearly states that his grandfather will be the central figure of
his work.  His grandfather dies at the age of seventy at the end of the
second volume.  The first volume ends with the death of the
grandfather's wife; the second volume begins with the grandfather's
remarriage shortly after her death.  One of the main themes of the work,
the author's departure from his father's house, is structurally central
in the two volumes as a whole, occupying as it does the last chapters of
the first volume and the first chapters of the second.  The 29th and
last chapters of the first volume are reflected in the 25th and last
chapters of the second volume; the same hasidic morning- prayers scene
is described in both volumes.  Many of the stories in the first volume
are referred to or expanded upon in the second volume.  The two volumes
mirror each other to a remarkable extent.

The main leitmotif, the red thread going through both volumes, is
Kotik's obsession with and frustration over 'learning'.  His education
is described in detail in the first volume; throughout the second volume
we hear about the author's disappointment for not having studied more
seriously.  This theme is developed.  The main scope of the work is the
sense of an era, of the 'breathing space' for Jews during the reign of
Alexander II.  The period ends with the murder of the czar and the
pogroms of 1881.

The author himself plays no important role in the memoirs.  At the end
of two volumes we know that he was a 'shlimazl' with 'yikhes' and some
'khutspe'.  We know that he read many haskole books (though he gives no
titles).  We know he was married and had five children.  We don't know
his wife's first name or the names of his children -- reticence in
regard to close retatives is found in other autobiographies of the
period.  Kotik directs our eyes to a well-defined section of the past.
It is hard to see how a third volume could add to the two that we have.
Kotik might have written a third volume describing his life in Warsaw,
but the design of the work points to a two-volume structure.  Is there
any evidence besides Reyzn's and Lifshits' of a third volume in ms.?
Kotik may have written such a volume, and either he or his publisher
might have realized it added little to his two-volume design.

With regard to the supposed inferior quality of the second volume,
Reyzn's opinion might be dated.  Read as a series of anecdotes and
descriptions of characters, the second volume is much like the first.
Sholem Aleichem, writing his famous letter to Kotik after reading the
first volume only, praised the work for its 'lively characters'.  He
seems to have read the work as a collection of 'vignettes'.  He had
doubts about a second volume -- he didn't think Kotik could keep it up,
creating character after character.

The importance of the period described in the two volumes might not have
been as clear to Reyzn as to a post-World War II reader.  If seen as a
cinemascopic description of a significant era in history, the second
volume gives depth to the first.  Moreover, the second volume makes
better reading than the first in some respects:  It is only in the
second volume that we meet the author and come to know his opinions and
feelings.  Here he seems to become more at ease with his own character;
his personal feeling for humor becomes more pronounced; his style of
writing improves to the point that his personal voice becomes almost

                   What the memoirs are about

In the first chapter of the first volume, the longest chapter in both
volumes, the author introduces the reader to his native town, its
institutions and inhabitants.  Kotik calls Kamenits:  'a shtot fun
lomdim' and 'di eydlste shtot in grodner gubernye' ['A town of Talmud
scholars; the finest city in the Grodno Province'].  Introducing the
important families of the town, he says:  'di drite familye iz geven
mayn zeyde r' arn leyzer un zayn bruder mortkhe-leyb kotik' (2nd ed,
1922, vol. 1, p. 41) ['The third important family was my grandfather
Arn-Leyzer and his brother Mortkhe-Leyb Kotik'].

In the second chapter the reader is introduced to Kotik's grandfather,
Arn-Leyzer Kotik, born in or around 1800.  Arn-Leyzer's father, Velvl
Kotik, had been a 'parnes-khoydesh', a leader of the Jewish community of
Kamenits, not just for a month, as the title indicates, or for a year,
as was the custom at the time, but for 'dos gantse lebn' (69) ['his
whole life'].  In this chapter the author states:  'der elterer zun,
arn-leyzer, mayn zeyde, vos iz eygentlekh di tsentrale figur fun mayne
zikhroynes, hot zikh aroysgevisn far a zeyer gerotn yingl.'(72).  ['The
elder son, Arn-Leyzer, my grandfather, who actually is the central
figure of my memoirs, turned out to be a very clever boy.'] This is the
case.  Though the grandfather is not the main subject of the memoirs, he
certainly is the central character.  The last page of the second volume
ends with Arn-Leyzer's death in 1880 or thereabouts.

However, a figure almost as important in the memoirs as Arn-Leyzer is
his wife, Beyle Rashe, who is also introduced in the second chapter.
Grandfather married her when he was eleven and she was twelve.  Her
death in 1865 or 1866, about fifteen years before her husband's, is
described towards the end of the first volume.  Her grandson,
Yekheskl-Zeyv (Khaskl-Velvl) Kotik married at age 18 (in 1865) after
receiving her grandmotherly advice.

In the fourth chapter, another important character is introduced, the
author's father Moyshe Kotik.  Born in 1832 or 1833, at the age of
thirteen he married Sore Haleyvi, then eighteen or nineteen years old.
She was of a very good, misnagdic family.  Her husband Moyshe, an ardent
hasid, died at the age of forty-six in 1878 or 1879.  The author's
mother is almost absent in the memoirs.  Though we learn little about
her, she is important in the author's life if only for having provided
him with 'yikhes', pedigree.  Not only was she the daughter of a _rov_
['misnagdic rabbi'], she was also related to the greatest scholars of
the time, including the Gaon of Vilna.

The second volume ends with a description of the Kiev Pogrom of 1881.
Kotik's memoirs therefore only cover the first thirty-four years of his
life -- he died in 1921.  The period covered in the memoirs coincides
with the period of the reign of Alexander II (1855-81), with some
flashbacks to the previous period.  The earliest year mentioned is 1842
and the first childhood memory is the author's entering a 'kheyder' at
the age of two and a half.  The author we meet is not a successful
person.  On the contrary, the Yekheskl Kotik of the memoirs fails at
whatever he undertakes.  Though he talks a lot about himself, his main
theme is the period he lives in, one during which the Jews in the Pale
of Settlement and Russia fared reasonably well.  This is also the period
of competition between misnagdim and hasidim, and the period of haskole.

Raised as a hasid, Kotik turns misnagdic around the time he gets
married.  Though his father finds him a hasidic wife, he renounces
hasidism and becomes interested in the Enlightenment ['haskole'].  The
struggle to get away from the influence of his father is described in
the last chapters of the first and the first chapters of the second

In the first volume especially we find many anecdotes about colorful
characters.  Kotik describes members of his family, his teachers,
citizens of Kamenits, Polish noblemen, rebbes, rovs, preachers etc.  The
historical context is restricted to two major events:  the abolition of
serfdom (1861) and the Polish uprising of 1863.  Kotik describes how the
latter results in a change of the Jews' position.  Though we find
similar anecdotes and descriptions of characters in the second volume,
there they are more illustrative of the changes in the economic position
of the Jews.  Sholem Aleichem, as we have noted, was thrilled by the
diversity of 'characters' he met in Kotik's first volume.  Not having
read the second volume, he could not grasp the scope of the work.

In the second volume the author himself plays a more prominent role.  He
leaves his father's house and after a one-day career as a teacher in
Warsaw becomes an innkeeper in Makarovtsi, near Krinik.  After living
for several years in this village, he becomes leaseholder of a farm in
Kushelyeve in the Prushany District, a village without any Jews.  Here
the author suffers several disasters -- a huge forest fire and typhoid
fever.  His loneliness and the animosity of the locals are well
portrayed.  In the last part of the second volume, Kotik moves to Kiev.
He describes his life in the city in some detail.  After living for five
years in Kiev, the pogrom of 1881 strikes the city.  His description of
this event is gripping.

The memoirs are not just a chronicle.  Kotik sketches himself as a
protagonist in the drama of his age.  Basically a man with old-fashioned
values, he is open to the more enlightened ideas of his time while
remaining strongly opposed to total assimilation.  He shows a great
interest in society, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and in the course of
his memoirs reveals the inevitability of his becoming a communal worker
and a Bundist.(2)



1) Dr.  David Assaf discusses the question of the lost sections of
Kotik's memoirs in the introduction to his Hebrew annotated edition of
the first volume (_Ma sheraiti -- zikhronotav shel yekhezkel kotik_
Tel-Aviv:  HaMakhon leKheyker hatfutsot, 1999, pp. 56-58.)  He gives a
facsimile of a 1919 Kiev publisher's announcement of new works which
specifically mentions Kotik's memoirs as a three-volume work and adds in
parantheses that the third volume is appearing for the first time.  A
third volume might well have decribed Kotik's life in Warsaw, but by
that time Kotik must have been another man than the one described in the
first two volumes.  Dr.  Assaf recently drew attention to the fact that
the memoirs of Falek Zolf [1896-1961] "were considered by Weinreich as
'a continuation of Kotik's memoir'."  (See _Mendele:  Yiddish literature
and language_, Vol. 10.029, July 6, 2000).

2) A. Litvin (pseud.  = Sh.  Hurwitz [1862-1943]) paints a lively
portrait of Kotik in his latter days.  See "Y. Kotik un zayn
kaviyarniye" [Y.  Kotik and his coffee-house], _Yidishe neshomes_ (6
vols), New York:  Farlag "Folksbildung," 1917, Vol.  IV., pp. 1-11.

Date: 18 August 2000
From: ed. 
Subject:  Books Received

(a) _Antologye fun yidishe folkslider_ [band 5] / _der Mortkhe Gebirtig
band_, [redagirt fun] Sini Laykhter, Yerushalaim:  HaUniversita HaIvrit,
2000.  [_Anthology of Yiddish folksongs_, vol. 5, The Mordechai Gebirtig
Volume, [ed.] Sinai Leichter, Jerusalem:  The Hebrew University, 2000]
[ISBN 965-223-447-8] This book is distributed by the Magnes Press,
P.O.B.  Box 39099, Jerusalem 91390, Israel.  Tel.  [972] 02-6586656.
Fax:  [972] 02-5633370.  Email:  magnes@vms.huji.ac.il.  Price: $30
[thirty USA dollars].

The four-volume _Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs_, edited by Aharon
Vinkovetzky [who emigrated to Israel from Leningrad in 1979}, the poet
Abba Kovner, and Sinai Leichter, began to appear in 1983.  It was based
largely on the private collection of Vinkovetzky and its advisors
included Dov and Meir Noy.  An editorial board chose the 340 songs in
the four volumes.

The fifth and last volume of this ambitious two-decade long publishing
project is devoted to the work of the much-loved folk-poet and composer,
Mortkhe Gebirtig, famous for such songs as "Undzer shtetl brent" and
"Reyzele."  Gathered here are 87 of his lyrics, for many of which he
himself wrote the music.  An appendix of four very well known songs
(e.g.  "Mayn shtetele Belz") fills gaps in the first four volumes.  A
popular rather than an academic publication, the volume consists mainly
of scores with lyrics (Yiddish and Latin-letter Yivo transcription) and
melody.  The complete lyrics in Yiddish and, in opposite columns, in
Yivo romanization, follow the score.  There are also Hebrew and English
translations to all the songs.  This salute to Mortkhe Gebirtig, who
perished in the Holocaust, will be especially useful for individual and
group performers.  [ed.]

(b) _Catalog of Out-of-Print Yiddish Books_, Amherst:  National Yiddish
Book Center, n.d.

The latest NYBC catalog is worth looking at.  Folio-size, 15 pages long,
its over one-hundred items include some real nuggets.  Noyekh
Prilutski's scarce _Dos gevet_ [no. 101264] is offered for $25 -- well
worth the price.  _TMR_ readers will recall our featuring the first
dialogue of this work, "Loksbn," one we strained over because of the
small print and numerous footnotes [see Special Lokshn Issue, Part One
and Part Two in _TMR_ vol. 1, nos. 16-17].  Serious students of Yiddish
will want to own this work -- and indeed almost everything Prilutski
wrote about Yidish.  The _TMR_ Yivo transcription of the first dialog
["Lokshn"], may assist some students of the not-always-easy-to-read
Yiddish text.

Another scarce language item listed in this catalogue is Aleksander
Harkavi's _Verterbikhl fun noente verter in yidish un english_ (New
York:  Hebrew Publishing Co., 1939) -- a lexicon of cognates.  The
Medresh translations by Shimshen Dunski (p. 11) can also be recommended,
as can Y.-Kh.  Ravnitski's well known collection of Yiddish jokes,
_Yidishe vitsn_ (p. 12).  A Los Angeles 1925 imprint by Sholem-Aleykhem
["Taytsh-vertlekh"] (p. 14) can only arouse curiosity.  L.S.  Kreditor
(see p. 9), a veteran Yiddish journalist in London, was the
father-in-law of former leader of the British Labour Party and
Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Gaitskell.  There are good pickings in
this (unnumbered, undated) catalog.  [ed.]

End of _The Mendele Review_ 04.012

Leonard Prager, editor

Subscribers to _Mendele_ (see below) automatically receive _The Mendele

Send "to subscribe" or change-of-status messages to:

        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: