The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 07.010 [Sequential No. 136]
30 September 2003

1) About this issue of TMR (ed.)
2) Dr. Seuss's _The Cat in the Hat_ in Yiddish. A Review (Naomi Kadar)
3) _Yiddish Literature in America 1870-2000_, ed.  E.S.  Goldsmith.  A
Review (ed.)

Date: 30 September 2003
From: Leonard Prager .
Subject: TMR Issue vol. 7, no. 10.

TMR enters the new year, TASHSAD with a crowded issue, though one that
reviews only two works, a children's book and a two-volume anthology.
The first, a translation by a young poet, augurs well for the future of
Yiddish; the second is a comprehensive anthology of American Yiddish
literature which can fortify the Yiddish bookshelf if used, cited,
argued over.  We will do our best in this quarter.

The children's classic newly Yiddished (by a TMR contributor -- see vol
5.006) is here reviewed by a newcomer to TMR, Naomi Kadar, a doctoral
candidate at Columbia investigating Yiddish children's literature.
Hopefully, we will be having more articles on this subject by Naomi
Kadar, one touched upon in past issues of TMR (see vol. 3.018).

TMR will strive to continue providing serious and solid studies of all
dimensions of Yiddish literature, language and folklore.

Date: 30 September 2003
From: Naomi Carol Prawer Kadar 
Subject: _Di kats der payats_:  Dr.  Seuss's _The Cat in the Hat_ in
Sholem Berger's Yiddish translation.

Reviewed by Naomi Carol Prawer Kadar

_Di kats der payats_ ['The Cat in the Hat'], tr.  Sholem Berger.  New
York: Twenty-Fourth Street Books / Farlag "Esrim ve'arba," 2003.  ISBN
0-9726939-0-4.  $15 plus postage and packing.  May be ordered through
internet at  PayPal is the authorized payment
processor for Twenty-Fourth Street Books.

_Di kats der payats_, Sholem Berger's Yiddish translation of Dr.
Seuss's _The Cat in the Hat_, is delightful.  Utilizing the same red,
white and black color scheme on a turquoise background and the very same
illustrations, published in a glossy hard-covered edition, the book, at
a glance, transports the spectator into the world of one of the most
popular childrenís classics in the collective memory of generations of
Americans since the original was published in 1957.  The book is a wild
foray into the childís imagination in which his fears and hopes are
expressed in the topsy-turvy narrative of a dreamlike fantasy.  Where an
adult might see an excursion into the machinations of the ego struggling
against the superego, the child is titillated in to enjoying the
energetic emotional tug-of-war between the self-centered Cat and the
fearful fish.  In spite of the madcap antics of the Cat and the worried
admonitions of his adversary, chaos is created so that order can
ultimately be restored.  Furtherm ore, it is restored through the
empowerment of the child as the young narrator chooses to take control
of the situation and, at least temporarily, opts for calm.

It is of course not only the content of the story but the sheer pleasure
of the words, the sound of the rhyme and the author's ear for rhythm
that endows the book with its special flavor.  Sholem Berger, a gifted
poet in his own right, is sensitive to rhy me and rhythm.  He transforms
the English to a fluent and idiomatic Yiddish that for the most part
both echoes the original English and contains the lilt of Yiddish as
well.  The original

So all we could do was to
                And we did not like it.
                Not one little bit.


 Azoy zikh gezesn --
 S'iz undz nisht tsum hartsn
 Es hot nit keyn tam!

The "fish in the pot," tossed into the teapot by the Cat is transformed
into "der tshaynikl-fish."  The Cat, who is ultimately sent away, goes
"with a sad kind of look," that is "an aropgelozter noz" and the "mess"
that the Cat has created is "a balagan."  The Yiddish edition has even
more in common with Theodore Geisel's original than immediately meets
the eye.  In 1954, Geisel, who wrote under the pseudonym of Dr.  Seuss,
saw an article in _Life Magazine_ that suggested that children were not
learning to read because the books that they were taught from were
boring.  He mentioned this to his publisher, who sent him the Dolch
vocabulary lists, a catalog of words divided according to grades that
elementary school children need to be able to recognize in order to read
independently.  These words are learned by rote and are meant to be
sight read rather than sounded out phonetically, thus enhancing the
child's ability to read fluently on her own.  Geisel took 220 words from
a list of 400 that were appropriate for young readers and composed _The
Cat in the Hat_ to demonstrate that even with a limited vocabulary it
was possible to write interesting and appealing books for children (NEA,
2003).  Though not explicitly evident, this children's classic was
created to educate as well as to entertain.  The Yiddish version shares
this quality, as is borne out by the notes included in the book.

_Di kats der payats_ is sponsored by Yugntruf, which defines itself as
"an organization of young people of every ideology and background
dedicated to Yiddish as a living language," and whose declared mission
is to create a series of children's books in Yiddish, "Leyenvarg far
kleynvarg."  Its educational focus is further clarified on the back
cover where it is noted that the text contains a "transliteration and
alphabet chart for those not yet proficient in Yiddish." This noble
purpose is, however, problematic to execute within the constraints of a
translation, where poetic license is necessary and choices must always
be made relating to priorities of meaning, rhyme, meter, register and
the transfer of idiomatic expressions from one language to another.  In
a translation of an illustrated children's book where the graphics must
also be taken into consideration to match the action of the text, the
task is even more complex.  As a learning tool, a translation is limited
by the original text and cannot be easily graded in the target
language.  Thus words which are out of the range of a beginner/learner
must nonetheless be included.  The reader who is familiar with the
original English may be led to erroneous assumptions, such as the
enthusiastic Yiddish student who asked, "What kind of a hat is a
_payats_?" Hence, in order to aid the learner who wants to go beyond
the music of the words to understanding some of the idiomatic Yiddish, a
short glossary or a qualifying introduction might be useful.

The significance of _Di kats der payats_ goes beyond the parameters of
translation of a story for children, and suggests an underlying subtext.
Usually translations function as a key to allow one culture to partake
of the literary treasures of another.  Today's "post-vernacular" Yiddish
culture, (Shandler, 2002) reverses that assumption.  We can safely
presume that, at least for American adult readers, the enthusiasm to
read _Di kats der payats_ does not stem from a need to understand the
contents of the tale, but rather from the desire to (re)capture
something ineffable and lost, and to infuse it into our present.  The
instantaneous reversion to the carefree fun of childhood expressed in an
animated, lively Yiddish tickles our fancy.  For many of the
learners/readers it places Yiddish in the context of their own personal
childhoods, where they wish it might have been.  For other readers, more
at home with Yiddish, it juxtaposes two familiar but separate strains,
happily melding them together.

_Di kats der payats_ is a wonderful addition to the field of children's
literature in Yiddish.  It's fun and it puts Yiddish on the map
alongside other languages into which Dr.  Seuss' masterpiece has been
translated.  While we appreciate the use of an American classic as a
conduit for bringing Yiddish language to a wider audience, we must not
overlook the past and its rich, and to a great extent undiscovered,
legacy of Yiddish literature for children; nor can we cease to develop
contemporary works as we look toward expanding the corpus of children's
literature in Yiddish in the future.  This is, of course, not a new
idea.  In 1999, the Dora Teitelboim Foundation put out finely
illustrated versions of two of Itzik Kipnis' works in Yiddish and in
translation.  Beyle Gottesman's _Mume Blume di makhsheyfe_, published
by the Yiddish Language Resource of the League for Yiddish in 2000 is a
charming example of a new and original work.  There are others that can
be added to this list.  It would be exciting to see poets and writers
like Sholem Berger who are thinking of the future of Yiddish try their
hand at an original piece for young readers.  For now, however, Berger
can rest on his laurels for having enhanced the realm of children's
literature in Yiddish with a vibrant and fresh offering.  Ken yirbu!
['May they multiply!']


NEA:  National Education Association's Read Across America. "Dr.
Seussís Biography." 10 Sept 2003.

Shandler, Jeffrey. "The State of Yiddish Studies:  Some Observations and
Thoughts." _Conservative Judaism_ 54.4 (Summer 2002) pp. 69-77.
Date: 30 September 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject:  _Di yidishe literatur in amerike, 1870-2000_ [antologye
redaktirt fun Emanuel S. Goldsmith].

_Di yidishe literatur in Amerike 1870-2000:  antologye in tsvey bend_ /
geklibn un tsunoyfgeshtelt Mendl-Sholem Goldsmit.  Nyu York:
Alveltlekher yidisher kultur-kongres, 1999-2002.  [Alternate title:
Yiddish literature in America 1870-2000] [Goldsmith, Emanuel S., ed.,
_Di yidishe literatur in amerike, 1870-2000_, 2 vols., foreword in
Yiddish and English; photographs of anthologized authors, illustrations,
New York:  Congress for Jewish Culture, 1999-2002.] Vol.  I:  Dovid
Edelshtat biz Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, 599 pp.  [ISBN 0-9724565-1-1],
$95, deluxe edition.  Vol.  II:  H. Leyvik biz Yitskhok Bashevis Zinger,
603 pp.  [ISBN 0-9724565-2-X], $95, deluxe edition.  Available from:
CYCO Books, 25 East 21st Street, 3rd Floor, New York City, NY 100
10 (Tel.  (212) 505-8305, Fax (212) 505-8044).  Price:  Single volume,
$95 plus $5.75 S & H; both volumes, $190 plus $8.  S & H. Library
discount available. Please make checks payable (in American dollars) to
CYCO Books.

Reviewed by Leonard Prager.

The speakers, a couple presumably, in H. Leyvik's poem "Yiddish" [vol.
2; pp. 22-25] hasten in the pre-dawn cold to reach the home of a dying
old Jewish relative or friend, afraid they will have arrived too late.
They encounter a sombre scene and hear a young American doctor talking
to the expiring patient and his wife -- in English, which they do not
understand.  Through a window in the sickroom the grey dawn is seen to
descend.  Suddenly, the "Yankee" doctor, in a warm and mellow Yiddish
says:  "Irt gezunt vern, zeyde, mirtseshem, biz peysekh."  ['God
willing, grandpa, you will be well by Passover.'] The poet describes the
old couple's response:

"Un ven er hot a zog geton di dozike yidishe verter,
Hot aza freyd zikh gegebn a gos iber ale khadorim,
Un di alte hobn derfilt aza laykhtkeyt in zikh,
Aza gringkeyt in di fis, khotsh heyb zikh oyf un fli."

['And when he spoke these Yiddish words,
A joyousness spread through all the rooms,
And the old couple felt so light and unburdened,
So limber in their limbs, they almost felt they could fly.']

The dying man grasps the doctor's hand, holds it hard and pulls it to
himself "vi men tsit di hant / Fun a farlorenem un nor vos
tsurikgefunenem zun" ['as one presses the hand / Of a lost son who has
just returned'].  The dawn has grown brighter and the flowers in the
room release their fragrance.  Those standing about the bed feel "az der
yontef aleyn kumt,/ az der yontef iz shoyn gekumen, aribergetrotn di
shvel..."  ['that the holiday is coming, that the holiday has already
arrived, has crossed the threshold...'].  In the last three lines of
this poem of meeting and parting, the mourners stand about the deathbed
and grieve; Reb Shmuel has stopped breathing, but his lips "hobn
geshmeykhlt, geshmeykhlt, geshmeykhlt" ['his lips smiled, smiled,

"Yidish" dramatizes an experience many of us have known -- the sudden
transforming power of a shared tongue to tear down the barriers which
insulate humans from one another; Yiddish here leaps across a
generational divide and embraces interlocutors almost as intimates.
Leyvik's realistic fable evokes a complex of emotions suggesting the
almost numinous potency of Yiddish in certain contexts.

This peculiar power may be seen as the principal subject of a grand
exhibition of Yiddish literary creativity in America:  the Congress of
Jewish Culture (familiarly known as CYCO) has capped a long career of
quality publishing of Yiddish books with an anthology edited and
selected by Emanuel S. Goldsmith.  This two-volume deluxe edition is one
of the most ambitious ventures in American Yiddish publishing, comparing
favorably with such landmark anthologies as M. Basin's 1917 _Five
Hundred Years of Yiddish Poetry_ .

Goldsmith is the curator of this public showing, choosing the artists
and the selections.  Other editors would doubtless have chosen
differently, the possibilities being endless.  But all editors would
surely have concurred with Goldsmith's introductions in stressing the
theme of continuity.  Yiddish has been too vital an element in Jewish
life in the past millenium to be allowed to expire; it must at all cost
be sustained and nourished.

The works displayed in the capacious Goldsmith collection are the
creation of immigrants.  Their century has now passed and present-day
Yiddish-lovers must find new modes of cultural continuity.  Leyvik's
poem "Yiddish" may be read allegorically to suggest that the young,
sophisticates in science, have it in their power to make the decline
of Yiddish-language culture less stark and less painful.

What American Jews Did For Yiddish and What Yiddish Did For Them

In one of the most illuminating excerpts in the Goldsmith anthology, the
lively critic and essayist Shloyme Bikl succinctly characterizes the
relationship of the immigrant Yiddish-speaking masses to their
vernacular.  He writes:  "Der amerikaner yid, der pedler, der man fun
shap, der man fun stor, der fabrikant un der profesyonal hobn yidish
nisht tsu fil getsatsket.  Keyn groyse, un afile veyniker vi groyse,
shprakh-hakhnoses hot yidish fun zey nisht gehat.  Ober yeder fun zey
hot in ale tsaytn un bay ale gelegnheytn getsoygn fun yidish mer
neshomedike khiyune vi s'iz im gekumen loyt zayn aktivn kheylek in der

['The American Jew, the pedler, the worker, the storekeeper, the
factory-owner and the professional did not fuss much over Yiddish and
Yiddish enjoyed no substantial returns from them.  But in all periods
and in all conditions, every one of them drew from Yiddish more
spiritual sustenance than was due them for their contribution to the

Bikl goes on to say that, on the other hand, what Yiddish gave to
"klal-yisroel" ['the Jewish people'] was quite extraordinary -- "zi hot
dergraykht tsu a gvaldovnem farnem fun tsdoke gedoyle, zi hot zoykhe
geven tsu zayn der shtadlen, der baal-hashpoediker firsprekh, farn
geroydeftn un geyogtn folk Yisroel, un ve'al-kulom hot zi in der
yidisher eybikeyt arayngebroyzt a nisimdike mos fun origineler

['It achieved enormous philanthropic goals, was the influential
spokesman for a persecuted people, and most important of all eternally
effervesced Jewish life with a miraculous measure of original

And Bikl concludes:  "Far alts in eynem, vos yidish hot geton tsum
yidishn yokhid un tsum yidishn klal in amerike, volt men gedarft a
gantse hagode oyf tsu dertseyln un oyf tsu mern dertseyln ir loyb un ir

['All in all, to detail all that Yiddish did for the individual Jew and
the Jewish community in America would require an entire Hagada'.] [Sh.
Bikl "Yidish in amerike" 2: 181]

The Goldsmith anthology is itself such a Hagada whose great topics
include the rupture from the Old World, the struggle in the New World,
the discovery of a spiritual home in one's often despised vernacular,
the creation of strong, substantial literary works, especially in verse,
and especially in response to the Shoa and the crisis of Yiddish itself.
In what is to my mind the central essay of the entire antholgy, Yankev
Glatshteyn [2:245-250] says simply that Yiddish literature in America is
a miracle.  Always aware of the Damocles sword of linguistic
assimilation hanging over them, Yiddish writers nonetheless forged a
marvelously plastic medium and created deathless works.

Earlier Days

Yiddish may have been looked down upon by assimilated and assimilating
Jews but people's poets like Moris Rozenfeld a century ago could
jauntily write:

Ir fregt oyb yidish iz a shprakh,
Gramatisch un negidish, --
Ikh kon aykh zogn nor eyn zakh,
Dem yidns shprakh iz yidish.

['You ask if Yiddish is a language
That's grammatical and hyfalutin, --
One thing I can tell you,
The Jew's language is Yiddish']

Concluding in the eighth quatrain:

Es megn gibn undzere "pney"
Far undzer shprakh a groshn,
Mir lakhn zikh ale oys fun zey
Un reydn mame-loshn!

['The uptown crowd may hoot
At the language that we speak,
But we lean back and laugh
And go on talking Yiddish!']     [Moris Rozenfeld, "Yidish"   1:90]

Indeed, the very popular Avrom-Mikhl Sharkanski in his famous "A briv
tsu der mame" ['A Letter to Mama'] discovers a refinement in the
immigrant tenement dweller absent in aristocrats:

Zet nor, zet dem oremen pedler
Mit der langer bord,
Oyf nemones -- er iz eydeler
Fun dem faynstn lord.

['Look at that poor pedler
With the long beard,
Indeed, he is more refined
Than the finest lord.']                ["A briv tsu der mame" 1:50]

Yiddish up until the Shoa was a passport to the world, as so many
poems in the Goldsmith anthology testify.  Avrom Reyzn sings:

Neyn, keyn fremder ergets nit,
Mit mayn  yidish vort un lid;
Mit mayn tsaytungblat un bukh
For ikh ale lender durkh!...

['No, nowhere a stranger,
With my Yiddish word or song;
With my newspaper and book
I travel through all lands!...']      [Avrom Reyzn, "Yidish" , I:170]

A more lyrical expression of this same sense of belonging attributed to
Yiddish is found in the poet A. Almi's "Yidish" dated 1930, a date which
tells us a great deal:

An imperye fun tsevorfene, sheyn bliendike indzlen
Iz di yidishe kultur.
Ire shpilevdike taykhlekh un taykhn
Shnaydn durkh di groyse okeanen
Fun ale felker un kulturn
Un ir shprakh -- dos sheyne, tsarte, zingevdike yidish,
Klingt shtolts in khor fun ale shprakhn.

['An empire of scattered, lovely, blossoming islands
Is Yiddish* culture.      [*may also be translated 'Jewish']
Her playful rivers and rivulets
Cut across the great oceans
Of all peoples and cultures
And her language -- lovely, tender, singable Yiddish,
Rings proudly in the chorus of all tongues.']  ["Yidish," 2:367]

When exposed to a heightened Yiddish style, to the rhetorically rich
Yiddish of distinguished orators like Khayim Zhitlovski or esteemed
itinerant preachers like Maslianski, the immigrant Jew allowed himself
to be stirred.  Who would not be affected by the rhythmic prose of
Tsvi-Hirsh Maslianski on "Koheles"?:

"Mit a shreklekhn yiesh un moyredike sfeykes iz ongefilt der seyfer
koheles fun onfang bizn sof.  Er iz beemes a kval fun pesimizm,
oysgemisht mit kfire in alts.  Er leyknt in der velt vi in yener velt.
Er kukt mit fintstere blikn oyf di glikn fun "oylem-haze" azoy vi oyf
"oylem-habe."  Er tseshnaydt dem gantsn lebn mit ale zayne fargenigns
oyf shtiker, un shlaydert zey arunter in dem shreklekhn opgrunt fun
tseshterung un farnikhtung."

['The Book of Ecclesiastes is full of terrible anguish and fearful
doubts from beginning to end.  It is truly a source of pessimism, mixed
with atheistic denial.  It denies this world as well as the next.  It
scorns the allurements of this world and of the world to come.  It
slashes to pieces all of life's enjoyments and hurls them down into the
abyss of dissolution and destruction.']         [1: 146, lines 1-4]

Looking Back

It is through Yiddish that many immigrant writers gave expression to the
trauma of displacement, looking back with sentiment -- and sometimes
with bitterness -- to their shtetls or towns.  We have the gnawing and
unappeasable nostalgia of a Moyshe Nadir singing of Narayev ["Shtet"
1:497], Eliezer Greenberg of Lipkan ["Heym mayne, Lipkan" 2:285-6], as
contrasted with the brilliant Moyshe-Leyb Halpern's icy lashing of his
(fictional?)  Zlotshov grandfather [Zlotshov, mayn heym" 1:584].

Here is the association-rich last stanza of Ruvn Ayzland's "Tarnov"

Es shmekt fun zafran, negelekh un englishn gevirts,
Mit ziser tsukervarg un sharfn kiml,
Mit reykhes fun gevantn un fun rostn fun ayzn
Un mit der kelt fun lange shtabes shtol.
Es shmekt fun zek un tsugefoyltn shtroy,
Mit koyshn, shakhtlen un mit kastns, vos dertseylen
Fun vayte shtet un fremde mentshn,
Un mer fun alts fun yener shtot,
Vos iz far mir der toyer fun der groyser velt geven,
Mayn shenster kinder-kholem -- Tarnov.

['It smells of safran, cloves and English spice,
Of sugar confectionary and sharp caraway seeds,
Of the smell of cloths and the rust of iron
And of the cold of long steel bars.
It smells of sacks and rotting straw,
Of baskets, boxes, crates that speak
Of distant places and strange persons,
And more than all of that town
That was the gate to the wide world for me,
My loveliest childhood-dream -- Tarnov.']

The mass immigration from Eastern Europe left innumerable shtetlekh
desolate.  Here is a vivid picture from Leon Kobrin's "Dos shtetl
velkt" ['The Village Withers', 1: 120].

"Do un dort shteyt oyfn mark a tsugemakhte kreml, vi a matseyve nokh di
menshtn vos hobn yorn lang dort gelebt un gezorgt.  Untern veterdakh
kegn di kremlekh iz nito Rashke di almone mit ir tishl nasheray, Yokhe
di soldatke mit ire beygl, Beyle di karnose mit ir kvas -- zey ale
zaynen bay zeyere kinder in Amerike.  Veynik kinder zet men oyf di gasn.
....  Er tut a zifts, kukt zikh um oyf ale zaytn, oyfn himl un oyf der
erd, azoy vi er volt dos gantse shtetl in zikh gevolt aynzoygn un
mitnemen....  Ikh hob nit gevolt, nit gevolt forn.  Es iz azoy shver
zikh optsuraysn fun der heym.  Emes, keyn honik, borekh hashem, keyn
mol nit gelekt, ober a heym iz fort a heym.  Mayn elter-zeyde nokh iz
do inem shtetl geboyrn gevorn."

['Here and there in the marketplace is a closed shop, standing like a
monument to those who lived and struggled here for years.  Under the
eaves opposite the shops we fail to find Rashke the Widow with her tray
of sweets, Yoshke the Trooper with her bagels, Beyle the Snub-nosed
with her kvass -- they have all joined their children in America.  You
hardly ever see children outside...  He sighs, looks about on all sides,
up at the sky and on the ground as though he wanted to imbibe the whole
shtetl and take it with him....'  I didn't want to leave.  It is so hard
to pull yourself away from home.  True, bless God, we haven't always had
an easy time of it, but home is still home.  My great-grandfather was
born in this shtetl'.]

The opening stanza of Menakhem Boreysho's noteworthy long poem "Der
geyer" ['The Wayfarer', 2:  53], beginning with the words "Fun
Shnipishok ergets," both illustrates salient qualities of the work, such
as prosodic virtuosity, and is itself a unified whole.  This epic is
the culmination of a life of earnest questioning together with the
ripening of poetic control and though not American in subject matter, it
was created in (and not uninfluenced by) America.

"Fun Shnipishok ergets, fun di vilner mekoymes,
Hot in maltsher yeshive a bokher farblondzhet
Un gekrogn a 'tog' bay a yidn r' shloyme.
Un gelebt hot baym yidn a shvester, a yesoyme,
Mit krumlekhe oygn un a tsop a blondn."

['From somewhere around Shnipishok, in the Vilna region,
A young man wandered into the Maltsher Yeshiva
And a Mr. Solomon granted him a day's board per week.
The donor's sister, an orphan, lived with him;
She was cross-eyed and had a golden braid.']

With this romantic preface begins a nine-part 500-page verse classic
that took its author a decade to compose.  Such selections may send at
least some readers back to the complete work, one which critics have
insisted is a "seyfer" rather than a "bukh', so dense is its Judaic
content.  Likewise, the somewhat neglected writer Sh.  Miller's lively
prose is illustrated in the fascinating Cleveland-related section of
that writer's _Dor hafloge_ ['Generation of Separation'] which Goldsmith
carves out for us.  Yankev Glatshteyn [Jacob Gladstein], perceptive
critic as well as distiguished poet, has written that "Men vet tsu
Millers dertseylungen tsurikkumen zeyer oft un in zey gefinen alts mer
kinstlerishe iberrashungen..."  ['We will return to Miller's stories
frequently and we will continue to uncover artistic surprizes in them.']
[_Nayer leksikon fun der yidisher literatur_ 5:633].  Here is how the
anthology fragment begins:

"Yoske fun der Torhovitse hot men im gerufn bloyz tsulib "sheynkeyt",
der emeser nomen zayner iz geven Yoske der ferd ganef, vayl oyf der
torhovitse hot er nit eyn mol farkoyft oder gekoyft a geganvet ferd, un
er iz oykh nit avekgeforn keyn Amerike, er iz, rikhtiker, antlofn, un
take tsulib a miskher oyf der torhovitse."

['They called him Horse-Market Yoske to be nice, though his real name
was Yoske the Horse-Thief, since more than once had he sold or bought a
stolen horse at the Horse Market.  And he didn't emigrate to America;
the truth is he escaped to America -- in the wake of a "deal" at the
Horse Market'.]

Yoske found himself in Cleveland, Ohio and in the course of time sent
his wife, Gnendl, a ship's ticket to join him.

"Nokh ot der shifskart iz Klivland, Ohayo, gevorn a teyl fun Amerike, un
az a Khushtivker iz geforn keyn Amerike iz er nit geforn keyn Nyu York,
Boston oder Filadelfye, nor keyn Klivland.  Un ven mit yorn shpeter hot
Dovid Pinye Etye-Dvoyres badarft avekforn keyn Amerike iz er oykh
geforn keyn Klivland."

['After receipt of that ship's passage, Cleveland, Ohio became a part of
America, and when someone from Khushtivke sailed for America, their
destination was not New York, Boston or Philadelphia, but Cleveland.
And when, years later, Dovid Pinye, the cantor's son, had to go to
America, he too went to Cleveland'.] ["Der ershter vos iz avekgeforn fun
Khushtivke keyn Amerike iz geven Yoske fun der Torhovitse," 2:53]

Sh.  Miller was a regular contributor to the Cleveland daily, _Idishe
velt_ from 1918-1921, which helps explain his Cleveland interests and
also reminds us that Yiddish in America for some decades thrived in
provincial centers as well as in New York City.

Discovering America

Rich strands of the fabric displayed in the Goldsmith anthology are
poems of place, patriotic verse, salvos in praise of the Manhattan
colossus, meditations on freedom.  Yoyl Slonim celebrates New York with
Whitmanian zeal in "Undzer nyu-york," which ends [1:372]:

"Iz zing ikh fun dir, du nyu-york, mit gloybn,
Amerike un du teyln keyn mol zikh op;
Tsi lebn, tsi toyt -- ikh gey um do derhoybn
Un fray iz mayn harts un gehoybn mayn kop.

['So I sing of you, New York, with faith,
You and America will never part;
For life or death here I walk proudly
With a free heart and a head held high.

The Anxiety of the Poets

Beneath this seeming confidence could be discerned a gnawing
disappointment felt by writers and intelligentsia at the linguistic
indifference of the masses.  Often they are preached to, as in the
hortatory lines of Eliezer Greenberg's "Oyf an aseyfe fun leshoynes"
['At a Convention of Languages', 2:  297].  The speaker's bad dream is
an admonishing lecture:

"A folk darf neren zayne eygene giter.
Un ir lozt ayere vortgertner oyf hefker.
Ir vilt nisht zayn zeyere getraye hiter!
-- Loshn iz gayst, a nitsets fun gots eybikeyt,
A festung kegn der eybik fardarbndiker tsayt!'

['A people must mind its estates.
And you let your word-gardens fester.
You don't want to care for them!
-- Language is spirit, a spark of God's eternity,
A fortress against ever-corrupting Time!']

[Eliezer Grinberg,  "Oyf an aseyfe fun leshoynes," 2: 297]

And we hear one of the gravest voices in American Yiddish poetry, H.
Leyvik, lamenting:

Az ikh trakht vegn undz -- yidishe poetn,
Aza tsaar khapt mikh arum,
Es vilt zikh shrayen tsu zikh aleyn, betn, --
Un demolt grod vern verter shtum,

['When I think of us -- of us Yiddish poets,
Sadness overcomes me,
And I want to shout to myself, to plead, --
And it is then that I am speechless.']

[H. Leyvik, "Yidishe poetn"  2:21; 1st and last (6th) stanza]

But as Meyer Shtiker makes plain in his "Blotes" ['Mud'], one does not
choose to be a Yiddish poet -- it chooses you:

Ikh veys nit vos der untersheyd iz
Fun mir biz mayne beyde zeydes.
Di zelbe tunkl-broyne oygn,
Di zelbe noz, a bisl oysgeboygn,
Di zelbe pleytse un der zelber shtern,
Di zelbe lipn -- ful vi mandelkern.

Ikh toptshe in di zelbe blotes
Fun libshaftn un fun kharotes
Un vi zey -- in okovit,
Bin ikh farlibt in yidish lid.

['I don't know what the difference is
Between me and my two grandfathers.
The same dark-brown eyes,
The same nose, somehat crooked,
The same shoulder and the same forehead,
The same lips -- full as almonds.

I trudge in the same morass
Of love affairs and deep regrets
And as they were with the bitter drop,
Am I in love with Yiddish verse.             [2:477]

National and Universal Themes

For many Yiddish poets in America, Yiddish literature fulfilled many
roles which might be regarded as extra-literary, ideological or
political. Yoyl Entin in his essay "Der vert fun der yidisher
literatur" is by no means a lone voice in declaring:

"Di yidishe shprakh-literatur iz undzer pantser, undzer festung kegn der
asimilatsye, der langzamer oysshmadung-oysshtarbung.  In der yidisher
literatur iz ayngefleysht, es in in ir shpigldik fiksirt undzer lebn.
Di yidishe literatur restavrirt undzere traditsyes, undzer gloybn."

['Yiddish literature is our armor, our fortress against assimilation,
slow conversion-death. Our life is embodied in and reflected by Yiddish
literature. Yiddish literature restores our traditions, our beliefs.']

[fun der esey "Der natsyonaliziridiker koyekh fun der yidisher
literatur," 1:184]

But much of Yiddish poetry in America centers on the same range of
subjects that we find in American literature generally, including
philosophic verse that confronts the most momentous themes,such as the
nature of humankind.  Arn Tseytlin in "Der sod: mentsh" [2:401] writes:

Zog mir nisht, az mentsh iz khaye.
Kegn mentsh iz khaye -- malekh.
Boyt a khaye krementoryes?
Shlaydert zi in fayer kinder?
Iz zi zikh mit mord mekhaye?
Zog mir nisht, az mentsh iz khaye.

Zog mir nisht, az mentsh iz khaye.
Er iz alts nokh mer vi malekh.
Er iz vort fun a Yeshaye,
Er iz monung fun a Iyuv.
Er bagert tsu veltn naye.

Zog mir nisht, az mentsh iz khaye.

['Do not tell me man is beast.
Beast compared to man is -- angel.
Does a beast build crematoria?
Shovel children into fire?
Revel in murder?
Do not tell me man is beast.

Do not tell me man is beast.
He is higher than the angels.
He is the voice of an Isaiah,
The cry of a Job.
He aspires to new worlds.

Do not tell me man is beast.


The Physical Volumes

The Goldsmith volumes are crafted mainly for the reader as distinct from
the researcher, though they of course have considerable reference value
(they give basic facts on a large body of writers and also their
photographs).  They are oriented to serve the general reader, to give
him maximum pleasure in reading poems and stories printed in a
well-designed manner on good quality paper in sturdily bound books.  The
physical pleasure is meant to augment the literary _fargenign_
['satisfaction'].  The volumes appeal to the eye and give a sense of
amplitude.  Folio-sized with liberal apportionment of space on the
printed page, they are the antithesis of the print-saturated pages of
rabbinic works where borders on all sides are zealously claimed for more
and yet more commentary.  The Goldsmith anthology gives us clear large
fonts -- especially appreciated by many older readers.  The introduction
is a deeply personal reading of major moments in modern Yiddish
creativity, one tied to the author's religious hopes and convictions.
As both rabbi and scholar of Yiddish secularism, Goldsmith has somehow
integrated seemingly conflicting spheres, finding religious threads
throughout modern Yiddish writing.  His arguments are intuitional rather
than logical and they are sealed with the characteristically intense
feeling tone of the genuine Yiddish-lover.

Editing Problems

The editor's largest problems were 1) what writers to include, 2) what
selections and how much space to give each writer, and 3) how to
organize the work as a whole -- order of authors, of selections,
reference informaton, user's aids, illustrative material (author's
photos, book illustrations).  The editor made these difficult strategic
decisions without explaining or apologizing.  This may have been a good
idea, though all readers will not agree.  A challenge facing
anthologists is how to fit as much material as possible into a limited
space.  When, as in this instance, unclogged space is an integral
element of design, the editor must wield a slashing sword and be
prepared to be criticized for both his inclusions and his exclusions.
Compromises are inevitable.  Some popular figures get omitted as do
famous works by some of those who are admitted.  Footnotes are easily
sacrificed, as are lengthy bibliographies.  It has been said that
agreement on three-fourths of the selectees is easily reached -- the
last quarter is the hard part.  Over a thousand writers, including
journalists, wrote in Yiddish in North America in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries.  (The 1961 _Ykuf Almanakh_ prints an avowedly
incomplete list of over 700 names.)  Nowhere do we find the normal
users' aids for navigating reference texts -- biographies, footnotes,
indices, reference lists.

Choice of authors

Inclusion in an anthology is often felt to be a kind of canonization,
recognition of stature or representativeness.  In contemporary America,
feminists in particular have raised important issues regarding
anthologies.  Without elaborating on this issue it can be said that
there are Yiddish critics and readers who feel, for instance, that an
entire school of "proletpen" authors have been unjustly ignored.  The
omission, to name but one name out of many, of Menke Katz, will
doubtless be commented upon.  The work of reassessment should go on
constantly and authors who have been undeservedly forgotten -- or never
paid attention to in the first place -- should be rescued from oblivion.
A second hundred of talented, interesting writers can be listed
following the one hundred (97 to be exact) figures anthologized by
Goldsmith. A two-volume collection including all of them would not have
left enough space to represent any of them adequately.

The Goldsmith anthology is obviously extensive rather than intensive.  A
good example of an intensive anthology is the beautifully designed
bilingual _American Yiddish Poetry_ (1986) edited by Benjamin and
Barbara Harshav which focuses on 7 poets (A.  Leyeles, Yankev
Glatshteyn, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Y.-L.  Teler, Malke Kheyfets-Tuzman,
Berish Vaynshteyn and H. Leyvik).  The 97 authors -- poets, prose
fiction writers, playwrights, essayists -- included in the Goldsmith
anthology are, with some exceptions, the most visible, the most
published, and -- yes -- the best Yiddish writers who lived for an
extended period and wrote in North America.  There are prominent
Canadians -- e.g.  Meylekh Ravitsh, Y.-Y.  Sigal -- in the collection
and thus the "America" in the title is actually to be read as "North

Given the cataclysmic dislocations of Jewish life in the twentieth
century, it is not surprising that a significant number of authors
featured in the Goldsmith anthology also appear in anthologies of other
geographical entities.  _Yidish literatur in medinas-yisroel; antologye_
(Tel-Aviv:  H. Leyvik Farlag, 1991) includes the important figures
Dovid Pinski, A.-M.  Fuks, Meylekh Ravitsh, Sholem Ash, Efroyim Oyerbakh
and Itsik Manger, as well as a number of American writers not included
in the Goldman collection (Abe Gordin, Frid Vayninger, Yudl Mark).  This
overlapping feature reflects the migratory lives of numerous Yiddish
writers.  The Israeli anthology attempts to be as full as possible and
it includes virtually every Yiddish writer who lived for an extended
period in Israel and published at least a minimal amount of work.  Most
of the academics involved in Yiddish research and teaching are
represented even though their writing could not be considered "belles
lettres."  The Israeli 1991 anthology is like Goldsmith 2000/2003 1) in
being extensive rather than intensive, 2) in consisting of two volumes
of approximately 600 pages each, 3) in providing photographs of every
writer, 4) in being illustrated by known Jewish book illustrators, 5) in
appearing at a time of acute decline of the Yiddish cultural enterprise.
The octavo Israeli production is sober and functional; it lacks the
glamour of the American folio edition with its full page photographs and
illustrations by distinguised illustrators.  Tel-Aviv crowds its pages;
New York stretches out, not to be in any way confined in this
celebratory moment.  Both works are ritual objects to some degree, meant
to inspire as well as be read.  The Israeli collection is bound in dark
blue with title stamped on gold; the American bindings are cheerfully
white and blue with red printed letters.

Nokhem Yud, Berl Lapin , M. Basin, Zishe Vaynper and A. Berger are
omitted from Goldsmith but occupy important places in  M. Basin's
_Amerikaner yidishe poezye_ [American Yiddish Poetry] ( New York,
1940).  More importantly Aba Shtoltsenberg and Gabriel Preil are omitted
from Goldsmith, though given honored place in the generally critically
astute _Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse_ (Penguin Books, 1987)
edited by Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk. This
bilingual anthology is directed to third-generation readers with
much weaker Yiddish than their parents and grandparents but much better
general education and often influenced by contemporary literary
fashions.  Arn Tseytlin is missing from Basin's 1940 anthology because
he only arrived in the USA in 1939, having been invited by Maurice
Schwartz to direct his play _Esterke_ -- and forced to remain because
of the war.

The Order of Writers

Goldsmith, again in keeping with his Do and Don't Explain approach,
tells us nothing about the order in which he has placed his writers, but
he has obviously arrayed them in a loosely chronological manner.  The
1870 date in the title, as far as I can tell, is an extrapolated one
which loosely places the beginning of American Yiddish literature in
time.  Volume One begins with the near-mythical Edelshtadt, the only one
of the 97 authors in the Goldsmith anthology to have died in the
nineteenth century (he died in 1892); Volume Two ends with the famous
Nobel Prize recipient, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who died in 1991, giving
us a complete century of activity.  The earliest birth date of any of
the writers included in the anthology is 1836, the year in which the
wedding bard and great rhyme improviser Elyakum Tsunzer was born.  With
a dozen or so exceptions the selected writers were born in the
nineteenth century; all four who are still alive at this moment
(September 30, 2003) have reached "gvurot" ['the honored state of
reaching the age of 80'], and the very youngest of them was born in
1923.  The most productive period of modern Yiddish literature the world
over was the first four decades of the explosively creative yet
horrendously barbaric twentieth century . To find a writer one must scan
the entire unalphabetically arranged tables of contents at the heads of
both volumes.  For a complete list of all the writers in both volumes,
one needs to consult the biographical entries at the end of Volume Two.
With a lit tle practice one learns to navigate in both the volumes.

M. Basin in the Introduction to his anthology _Amerikaner yidishe
poezye_ says that his basis of selection was aesthetic and he ordered
the poets according to their age -- the oldest first.  This would
presumably provide a gradation from the less to the more sophisticated,
and from the traditional to the individualistic.  He writes that his
earlier _Antolgye: Finf hundert yohr idishe poezye (New York, 1917, 2
vols.)considered Yiddish verse from a mainly historical perspective.


The editor and his assistants are to be congratulated for standardizing
the spellings of all selections, many of which first appeared in
atrociously obsolete orthography.  Giving all items in the Standard
Yiddish Orthography is especially important for tea ching purposes.  The
proofreaders of the Goldsmith anthology missed a number of conspicuous
misspellings, but as a proportion of the total work these are trivial --
though some are unfortunately conspicuous.  At the very beginning of the
first volume, on page 23, the reader is told he can find "biogafishe and
bibliogafishe" information in the _Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur_
and Kagan's _Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers_ -- an important
announcement.  Other embarassing typos include birth and death dates (in
the concise biographical entries at the end of the second volume) that
err by a century -- a single digit having been entered, say, a 9, where
it should have been 8 -- see the items under Vintshevski, Koralnik,
Raboy, etc.).

Author's Photos and Artists' Illustrations

The most thorough photo gallery of Yiddish writers who lived and worked
in America that we possess is a conspicuous feature of the Goldsmith
collection.  The photos are full size and most of them have clarity and
sharpness, often representing their subjects at the peak of their
public careers or shortly after and thus assuming an iconic quality.
Graphic art (including Marc Chagall's stunning drawing for Avrom
Lyesin's "Yidish," a moving poem of filial love and love of mame loshn)
contributes to the anth ology's success.  Basin in 1917 employed Y.
Likhtenshtein and Z. Maud to illustrate his two volumes.  The Harshavs
were excitingly inventive in enlisting the work of outstanding American
Jewish artists for their 1986 anthology.  One can say that Yiddish
anthologies in America have considerably advanced Yiddish book
illustration.  The oeuvre of the great reformer of the Yiddish stage in
America, Jacob Gordin, is minimally represented in Goldsmith's anthology
by a fragment of the third act of the deathless me lodrama _Mirele
Efros_, but Jacob Epstein's drawing "In the Yiddish Theatre" helps to
expand it.


The appearance of this major anthology raises many questions which
cannot be dealt with in the scope of a review.  Will it widen the
existing canon or narrow it?  Does the fact that prose writers are
largely represented by fragments of larger works weaken their impact?
Will some prospective buyers/readers be put off by the anthology's
physical form, disturbed by the luxury edition itself as sharp contrast
with the unhappy situation of Yiddish generally?  The large print serves
the elderly, but the books are heavy and not easily moved about.  Are
they "coffee-table books" -- more for show than for use?  Who will use
them and what are their recommended uses?  Is there not a danger that
the anthology will be hallowed, treated like a shrine?  Largely
displaced by Ivrit, some will argue, Yiddish is now _yidesh-kodesh_ and
has already been enshrined.
End of The Mendele Review
Editor, Leonard Prager
Associate Editor, Joseph Sherman

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