The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 07.005 [Sequential No. 131]
31 May 2003

1) About this issue of TMR (ed.)
2) Letter to Editor regarding Yiddish in Israel (Yael Chaver)
3) Summary of new book on Israel Bercovici (Dr. Elvira Groezinger)
4) Publications received

Date:  31 May 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: About this issue of TMR.

The subject of attitudes towards Yiddish in Israel with which this issue
of TMR opens is a complex one whose history has not yet been fully
sketched.  Today there is a visible sentimentalization of the general
subject of Yiddish.  Nostalgia is increasingly allowed free rein.
Perhaps this can be seen in little in the name of a new confection in
Israel -- the baking company Beigel and Beigel's series of
sophisticatedly packaged cookies called "Mitukis" by Israelis (mem sof
vov kof yod samekh) which is fashioned on Hebrew _metikut_ and Yiddish
_mesikis_.  Weinreich in MEYYED defines _mesikes_ as 'sweetness; bliss'
and Niborski illustrates the word by Perets' "ikh hob gemeynt ikh tsegey
fun mesikes."  The BB spelling has a melupm vov (vov dotted in the
center) to indicate /u/, and a yod where Hebrew and Yiddish have a vov
-- BB has reversed letters here.  The most visible sign of
"Yiddishization" is the substitution of a samekh for a sof, as in the
Soviet spelling codex.

The name exudes a Yiddish flavour which is augmented by its associations
and its phonotactic qualities -- the stressed middle syllable can be
stretched out in a kind of imitative play of sensual satisfaction.  The
unstressed final syllable /is/ -- as opposed to Israeli Hebrew /ut/ --
has a distinctly Yiddish ring.  The well known Hebrew form _metuka_
'sweet' (e.g.  Koheles 5:11) helps _metukis_ to seem very Israeli and
Hebrew, but the subtle changes make the name simultaneously Diasporan
and Yiddish.  On the package the company weaves a myth of having baked
these mouth-watering recipes back in the Old Country, in Poland.  In
certain connections -- in this instance gastronomic -- goles is good.
The novel spelling also invites a comic response, so that sentiment not
soften these delicious hardbaked cookies.

Date:   31 May 2003
From:  Yael Chaver
Subject: Letter to Editor regarding Yiddish in Israel

Dear Editor,

This is a belated response and addendum to your note of 29 July 2002 in
Mendele, concerning "Some Random Observations on Yiddish in Israel."  I
completely agree with your comments on the status of Yiddish in Israeli
culture today.  The roots of this situation, of course, lie in the
official and unofficial attitude of political Zionism toward this emblem
of a diasporic existence.  The fact that modern Yiddish, often Zionist,
literature was produced in the Yishuv from the second decade of the 20th
century on has been virtually suppressed.  (Some manifestations of this
suppression process, as well as fascinating aspects of the literature
itself, form the substance of my dissertation, "What Must Be Forgotten:
Yiddish in Zionist Palestine" [2000, University of California at
Berkeley]).  To add to your example of Elisheva as a writer whose
Yiddish activity is elided, let me add a note on Zalmen Brokhes, the
writer who is perhaps the first in the 20th century to write Yiddish
stories about Zionist and non-Zioni st Palestine.

Brokhes wrote solely in Yiddish, as far as I have been able to determine
from his archives at the JNUL.  Yet Nurit Govrin's study of the effect
of the First Aliya on Hebrew literature includes Brokhes among ten
Hebrew writers of the Second Aliya, ignoring the language in which he
wrote and utilizing the fact that some of his stories were translated
into Hebrew -- she cites from those stories ("Shorashim ve-tsamarot:
rishuma shel ha'aliya ha-rishona ba-sifrut ha-ivrit", 1981, Tel-Aviv,
pp. 37-39).  Govrin also appropriates Brokhes in her later essay on S.
Ben-Zion and the Palestinian childrens' magazine _Moledet_.  (Govrin,
"Dvash mi-sela:  mechkarim be-sifrut eretz-yisrael," Tel-Aviv, pp.
288-343).  Here, she cites an enthusiastic contemporaneous review of a
Brokhes adventure story that appeared in translation in "Moledet" in
1911, which considers the tale suitable for young Hebrew readers.
Neither the magazine, the review, nor Govrin, nearly 80 years later,
mention the crucial fact that the original stor y was in Yiddish.  (A
later story in "Moledet" has the cryptic footnote "Translated from a
manuscript" ("turgam mi-ktav-yad"), "Moledet" 1913, Vol. 4, 4-5, p.
390).  (See my dissertation, pp. 81-87).  It helps, of course, that the
Yiddish pronunciation of the hebraic "Brokhes" can easily be rendered as
the modern Hebrew "Brakhot."  The final insult to Brokhes and his
language is in David Tidhar's enormous _Encyclopedia of the Pioneers and
Builders of the Yishuv_, who devotes almost a whole page to Brokhe s.
Although Tidhar takes the trouble to note the phonetic Yiddish
pronunciation of the name, he lauds the stories of Jewish hunters as
"unique in Hebrew literature" (Tidhar, 1966, p. 3866) and makes no
reference at all to the fact that they were written in Yiddish.

Another, perhaps more salient example that has been acknowledged but is
hardly part of the mystique surrounding him, is Uri Tsvi Grinberg, who
is considered to have abandoned Yiddish after immigrating the Palestine
in late 1923, yet continued writing Yiddish and publishing it (in
Europe) for years; see Khone Shmeruk, "Yetsirato shel Uri Tzvi Grinberg
be-eretz-yisrael u-ve-polin bi-shenot ha-esrim ve-ha-sheloshim", in
"Ha-sifrut", 1979, 29, pp. 82-92.

These are examples that I have studied in detail; as you point out, the
practice of minimizing or suppressing Yiddish is widespread.  Thank you
for bringing this up in _The Mendele Review_.  My book on the topic is
currently under consideration in both th e US and Israel.  I trust that
when it finally appears it will come into wider discussion.  In the
meantime, I would be glad to hear comments from TMR readers.


Yael Chaver
Department of Near Eastern Studies
University of California, Berkeley


Date: 31 May 2003
From: Dr. Elvira Groezinger 

Subject:  Summary of new book on Israel Bercovici (Dr.  Elvira

Elvira Groezinger, _Yiddish Culture in the Shadow of Dictatorships_.
Israil Bercovici - Life and Work, Berlin:  Philo Verlag, 2002, 545 pp.
[ISBN:  3-8257-0313-4].  Price:  98 EUR.  (May be ordered from the PHILO
Verlag, Berlin (e-mail: ).


In Germany, research on the history of the Yiddish theatre is still in
its beginnings.  Therefore it was very fortunate that the University of
Potsdam could purchase in 1997 the Yiddish library and archives of the
Yiddish poet, theatre historian and ex-literary secretary, head
dramatic adviser and stage director of the Jewish State Theatre of
Bucharest (Romania), Israil Bercovici (1921-1988).  Romania is
considered to be the cradle of the Yiddish stage, founded there by
Abraham Goldfaden in 1876.

In 2002, a monograph on Bercovici and Yiddish culture behind the Iron
Curtain was published (in German) by Elvira Groezinger, academic
researcher in Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam.  She was the
first to file the documents of Bercovici's archives, which are in
several languages (mainly Yiddish and Romanian).  The archives disclose
a picture of the life of Jewish intellectuals in post-World War II
Communist Romania as survivors of Nazi camps, at first under the
Stalinist regime of Gheorghiu-Dej and later of Ceausescu -- the
cultural impact and the complicated means of existence of a minority,
not free from compromises and self-abnegation, under dictatorships.

Bercovici, born in a poor tailor's family in Botosani in 1921, survived
five forced labour camps and was freed by the Red Army.  He was able to
finish high school and study literature at a Stalinist college.  This
made him grateful to the regime which rewar ded him in turn.  As a
member of the Jewish Communist party group and the Romanian cultural
organization Ykuf, he was the chief editor of the Romanian Jewish
Stalinist newspaper _Ykuf bleter_ until it was closed after Stalin's
death in March 1953.  At this time, Bercovici lent his voice to
pro-Stalinist and anti-Zionist propaganda, in which he was accompanied
by the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Moses Rosen, whose dubious role in
post-war Romanian society is now being investigated.

Bercovici also worked for the Romanian Yiddish broadcasting programme
and from 1955 to 1982 at the State Jewish Theatre in Bucharest.  He also
edited the Yiddish pages of the official weekly of Romanian Jewry, the
_Tsaytshrift_, and for a while helped to e dit the Hebrew part of this
paper, _Ktav-et_.

As a Yiddish poet, he published three books of poetry for which he
received Romanian and American awards.  He became famous throughout the
Jewish world as the author of a history of the Yiddish theatre in
Romania which he published in Yiddish in 1976 (_Hundert yor yidish
teater in Rumenye_) and which was also translated into Romanian.  He was
also a relatively frequent guest outside Romania where he visited
progressive Jewish circles in the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil,
Australia, France and Belgium and h eld lectures on Jewish cultural

With his theatre, Bercovici, who moved away from the earlier militant
anti-Zionist position, visited Israel in 1968, USA and Canada in 1972
and East Berlin in 1977.  Seeing himself as the heir to Abraham
Goldfaden, he particularly enjoyed putting Jewish musical folklore on
stage and toured abroad successfully with his two such programs "The
Pearl Necklace" and "The Golden Thread". They were very well received
by the Jewish public; one spectator, Arthur Rainer, wrote in 1972 in
_The Village VOICE_, "I heard my mother singing."

The book presents much unknown material and draws a multi-faceted
picture of Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe, especially in Romania.

                          Publications Received

Date:  31 May 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: _Mit groys fargenign_, ed. Heather Valencia

_Mit groys fargenign; hundert yor yidishe literatur_ tsunoyfgeshtelt fun
hether valensya.  Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies / Part of the
London Jewish Cultural Centre / 2003.  ISBN 1 877909-76-9 [English title
page:  _With Great Pleasure; A Century of Yiddish Writing_ / Compiled
and Edited by Heather Valencia.  Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies /
Part of the London Jewish Cultural Centre / 2003]

This new reader compiled and edited by Heather Valencia is dedicated to
the veteran Yiddish activist, song writer and group leader, Majer
Bogdanski, who has continued the London tradition of the "literarish
shabes nokhmitog" since the death of its passionate founder and leader,
Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl.  This is but one small sign of the British
flavour of this attractive chrestomathy.  The twenty-one writers
represented stretch across an entire century and encompass Eastern
Europe, North America, Israel -- a nd Britain.  No fewer than six of the
anthologized figures -- among them Sholem-Aleykhem and Itsik Manger --
lived in Britain for extended periods.  The proportion of women's
voices, too, is far greater than that in any other anthology or reader
that I know of:  -- there are five woman writers here.  Four of the
contributors -- ad meye ve'esrim!  -- are alive at this time, and the
youngest of them has decades of productivity ahead of her.  A
thirty-page glossary and numerous explanatory notes at the bottom of
clearly printed pages make this a learning tool that is pleasant to use.
Moreover, eight compact disks accompany the printed texts; experienced
Yidd ish speakers Helen Beer, Pesakh Fiszman, Barry Davis and Jeremy
Grant read a score of stories (the lengthy Bergelson piece "Tsvishn
emigrantn" is not recorded).  The book and eight CDs are available from:
The Jewish Book Center of the Workmen1s Circle, 45 East 33rd Street, New
York, NY 10016 / tel:  (1) 212-889-6800 x 285 / fax:  (1) 212-889-8519.
email: /
Price:$38.00 plus $7.00 for domestic US purchase or plus $11.00 for
international surface shipping.

Date:  31 May 2003
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject:  _Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish; A European Heritage_ (Brussels,

Nathan Weinstock, Haim-Vidal Sephiha with Anita Barrera-Schoonheere.
_Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish; A European Heritage_.  Brussels:  European
Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages, 1997, 41 pp.  [ISBN 90-74851-46-0].

This attractively printed and illustrated pamphlet may serve the general
public as an introduction to both Yiddish and Judezmo.  The latter is
here called "Judeo-Spanish," a name rejected by many scholars.  (A
popular name for Judezmo, one which persists despite its rejection by
scholars is "Ladino," which properly applies only to the liturgical
variant of the language, the Sephardic parallel to "Ivre-Taytsh.")  The
"double bill" of this brochure may suggest to some readers that the
publisher is cautiously giving "equal time" to Ashkenazic and Sephardic
culture.  No matter.  The reading lists alone are a fair guide to deeper
knowledge -- though I would not recommend Leo Rosten's _The Joys of
Yiddish_ (1974).  Some of Weinstock's assertions need testing.  We do
not know for certain that among the ultra-orthodox "the language
survives in an impoverished form because those who speak it have little
interest in modern Yiddish culture" (p. 19).  Weinstock, who is best
known as the author of _Zionism:  False Messiah (1969 - 1979)_, is not a
Yiddish linguist.  Sephiha has written widely on Judezmo.

Date:  31 May 2003
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject:  _Jiddistik Mitteilungen; Jiddistik in Deutschsprachigen
laendern_ Nr. 29 (April 2003)

_Jiddistik Mitteilungen; Jiddistik in Deutschsprachigen laendern_ Nr. 29
(April 2003), 36 pp.  [ISBN 0947-6091].

This German-language publication is issued bi-annually by the Yiddish
studies division of the University of Trier [Jiddistik der Universitaet
Trier].  In addition to several substantial essays (e.g.  "Lilith und
der Artusritter" by Wulf Otto Dreessen) and succinct yet analytic book
reviews (e.g.  Ingedore Ruedlin on _Unter Emigranten.  Jiddische
Literatur aus Berlin_, compiled by Andrej Jendrusch), we find in this
very useful publication listings of Yiddish courses, lectures,
conferences in the German-speaking lands as well as books and essays
recently published in German.  Rosemary Kosche of Frankfurt briefly
describes the 200 mainly 20th-centuryYiddish books in the Oldenburg
National Library [Landesbibliothek].  We learn that these books are not
yet searchable on the online catalog, but presumably eventually will be

_Jiddistik Mitteilungen_ can be ordered for 3 Euros per single copy from
FB II Jiddistik -- Sparkasse Trier, BLZ 585 501 30, Kto.  Nr. 248 78 17.
End of The Mendele Review 07.005

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