The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 09.01  [Sequential No. 153]
Date: 30 January 2005

1) This issue (ed.).
2) Ordering information for _Yiddish After the Holocaust_ (ed.)
3) Ordering information for Ghil'ad Zuckermann's _ new book (ed.)
4) Next issue: "Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951" (R. Rojanski)
5) Coming issue: _Menke_, tr. Benjamin and Barbara Harshav (ed.)
6) Coming book reviews (ed.)
7) "The Literary Itinerary of Regine Robin" (Ben-Zion Shek)

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: This issue

This issue of TMR is an account of a writer most anglophones have not
been privileged to know. Ben- Zion Shek, Emeritus Professor of French
at the University of Toronto here sketches the remarkable career of
Regine Robin nee Rivke Ayzershteyn [my spelling -- LP]. Child of the
_khurbm_, hiding with her mother in an abandoned garage in Paris'
Belleville district, Robin's extraordinary life story includes
success and recognition as writer and professor. Yiddish occupies a
major place in the novelist's and the sociologist's life and work. No
account of Yiddish in contemporary North American life and letters
can now omit the name of Regine Robin / Rivke Ayzershteyn.

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Ordering information for _Yiddish After the Holocaust_

This essay originated as a paper read at an Oxford conference in
August 2003. It is included in the recently published _Yiddish After
the Holocaust_, edited by Joseph Sherman. We thank the editor and the
publisher for permission to reproduce the essay in TMR. The link http:
// leads to a mail-order source
for the book.

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 
Content: Ordering information for Ghil'ad Zuckermann's _ new book

Ghil'ad Zuckermann's _Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment  in
Israeli Hebrew_ may be ordered from Palgrave Macmillan: Houndmills,
Basingstroke , 2003. [1-4039-1723-X]. Priced at 55  pounds sterling.
For UK purchase orders (not inspection copies)  add 2 pounds postage.
For non-UK orders, add 2.50 pounds for  every book thereafter (
minimum charge 5 pounds). This book is  part of the Palgrave Series
in Language History and Language  Change series.

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: "The Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951" (R. Rojanski)

The next paper from  _Yiddish After the Holocaust_  (ed. Joseph
Sherman) to be given in TMR is Rachel Rojanski's carefully researched
"The Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951: An Overview."  This
paper  illuminates a subject often discussed in a rancorous manner.
It will appear in February.

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Coming issue:  _Menke_, tr. Benjamin and Barbara Harshav

An entire issue will be devoted to the compendious volume of Menke
Katz's   Yiddish verse translated into English by the celebrated
translator-team Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. _Menke. The Complete
Yiddish Poems_. Translated by  Benjamin and Barbara Harshav. Edited
by Dovid Katz and Harry Smith Maps by Giedre Beconyte. Published by
The Smith: New York 2005, 914 pp. For ordering information: artsend@

Date: 30 January 2005
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject: Coming reviews:  Dovid Katz's _Lithuanian Jewish Culture_
(Vilna:   Baltos  Lankos,  2004, 398 pp), will yet be reviewed in TMR,
as will be Nancy Sinkoff' s  _Out of the Shtetl_ (Providence: Brown
Judaic Studies, 2004).

Date: 30 January 2005 
From: Ben-Zion Shek 
Content:  The Literary Itinerary of Regine Robin

Pour L'amour du Yiddish: The Literary Itinerary of Regine Robin

Ben-Zion Shek

Regine Robin, _nee_ Rivka Ajzersztejn in Paris, France, in 1939, is a
brilliant writer with a dual citizenship, French and Canadian. She
has lived in Montreal, Quebec, since the end of the 1970s, and is a
professor of Sociology at the Universite du Quebec e Montreal.

Robin began her academic career as an historian, and in 1970
published her doctoral thesis on property relationships in Burgundy
on the eve of the French Revolution, followed by a second essay on
history and linguistics, in 1973. Since then, she has published ten
more books dealing with a wide variety of literary and philosophical
questions, two of which won prestigious literary prizes in Canada -
the Governor General's Award in 1987 for _Le Realisme socialiste: Une
esthetique impossible_ (1986), translated as _Socialist Realism: An
Impossible Aesthetic_ (1992), and the Grand Prix litteraire de la
Ville de Montreal in 2001 for her outstanding work, _Berlin chantiers.
Essai sur les passes fragiles_ (Berlin. Work-Sites. An Essay on
Fragile Pasts) on the willful `forgetfulness' on the part of
contemporary German historians of the Nazi plan to wipe out the
Jewish people. It appeared in German translation in 2002 under the
title, _Berlin: Gedaechtnis einer Stadt_.

Nearly all of Robin's writing during the last quarter of a century,
both non-fiction and fiction, is permeated by reflections on Yiddish
language and culture, and is replete with Yiddish phrases, sayings,
songs, poems, and titles of Yiddish books and newspapers. This has
been the case right up until, and including, _La Memoire saturee_
(Saturated Memory, 2003), more than a third of which discusses issues
related to the historical and aesthetic representation of the
Holocaust at a time when direct witnesses to its horrors are
dwindling rapidly. Robin prefers to use the term _khurbm_ for that
grisly phenomenon, although wrongly identifying it as a uniquely
Yiddish word.

She has, of course, devoted an entire volume to a study of the
evolution of Yiddish language and literature in _L'Amour du Yiddish:
ecriture juive et sentiment de la langue, 1830-1930_ (The Love of
Yiddish: Jewish Writing and Perception of the Language, 1830-1930),
from which I have borrowed, slightly altered, the first part of my
paper's title. It would take an entire other paper, at least, to sum
up the content and thrust of this work which, among others, traces
the emergence of Yiddish as a distinct written form in eleventh-
century Germany; the origins of modern Yiddish literature in
nineteenth-century Russia; the further development of literary
modernism, and its early flowering in the Soviet Union before brutal
repression and growing assimilation, in complex combination, brought
it to a near demise. She discusses, too, the denigration of Yiddish
by the _maskilim_, who called it a language of poor down-and-out
pariahs, or associated it with Indians and Gypsies (today commonly
called Roma), comparing it to the oral-centred _patois_ of France and

In _L'Amour du Yiddish_ and her next essay, _Kafka_ (1989), Robin
showed the fascinating links between the celebrated Czech author and
the Yiddish language which he never mastered, but which he admired as
a vehicle of _Gemeinschaft_, romantically seeing in the Hasidic Jews
of Russia a `model' of community which he, torn between several
languages, was never able to experience. In 1989, too, came the
publication of Robin's signal theoretical work, _Le Roman memoriel:
de l'Histoire e l'ecriture du hors-lieu_ (The Novel of Memory: From
History to the Writing of an Ambiguous Space), a reflection on her
literary practice in her first two novels, _Le Cheval blanc de Lenine
ou l'Histoire autre_ (Lenin's White Horse or History with a
Difference, 1979), and _La Quebecoite_ (The Silent Quebecoise, 1983),
translated as _The Wanderer_ in 1999. I shall turn to these books
shortly, as well as to her important collection of short stories,
_L'Immense Fatigue des pierres_ (The Immense Fatigue of the Stones,
1996), and concentrate on them in the rest of my paper.

With the deaths of her father and mother in 1975 and 1977
respectively, came a realization that she must retrieve her first
tongue, truly her _mameloshn_ in the full sense of the word, since
she spent the entire wartime period hiding with her mother in an
abandoned garage in the Paris district of Belleville, where the two,
in hushed tones, engaged in conversations and sang lullabies in
Yiddish. Robin's parents were Yiddish-speakers from Kaluszyn, near
Warsaw, who moved to Paris in 1932. She herself abandoned Yiddish
first out of a desire for conformity in her early school years, and
then because of a need to pursue her secondary and university studies
and carve out a career as a history teacher. She also became a social
activist in the general radical left in her native France. The
painful loss of her parents, though, brought home to her that after
some thirty years, she should retrieve and develop her interest in
her first tongue.

Robin's renewed passion for Yiddish towards the end of the 1970s was
concomitant with her turning to a personal form of fiction which,
after French writers Serge Doubrovsky and Jean Ricardou, she called
'autofiction' or 'biofiction', a hybrid form combining a
reconstruction of aspects of her parents' lives, imaginary elements,
and self-reflexive passages on the experimental writing she is
engaged in. She frequently uses therein the conditional mode which,
she maintains, clearly indicates _le caractere de simulation, d'
experimentation du texte_, 'the simulated, experimental character of
the text' (Robin, _Le Roman_, 1989, p.134).

_Le Cheval blanc de Lenine_ is an insufficiently aestheticized
transposition of aspects of family history, which would find a
striking form in her much-discussed second work of fiction, _La
Quebecoite_, the title of which is a neologism she created through a
playful and ironic transformation of the common term, _Quebecoise_ -
a woman of Quebec, where Robin lives and teaches a good part of the
year - into `the silent woman' of that same socio-cultural region,
who feels intimidated by a certain narrow Francophone nationalist
discourse which she perceives as denigrating her and other
practitioners of what she has called _l'ecriture migrante_, the
writing of migrants, and this despite the various distinctions she
has been awarded there. Let us note, too, that _L'Immense Fatigue des
pierres_ had already been short-listed in 1996 for the Grand Prix
litteraire de la Ville de Montreal, which she would win five years
later for _Berlin chantiers_.

As for her first work of fiction, _Le Cheval blanc de Lenine ou
l'Histoire autre_, its principal title derived from a childhood memory
recorded by Kafka, one of Robin's favourite authors, and especially
from a story with numerous variations told to Robin by her father,
Shmil, about his alleged meeting when only sixteen with the Bolshevik
leader mounted on a white steed, as the Red Army pushed deep into
Poland in the early months of the Russian Revolution.

In Robin's two novels, the Yiddish language is inextricably linked to
the Holocaust, during which her family lost more than fifty relatives
living in Poland, plus twenty-two others, following the notorious
roundup, on 16 July 1942, of Parisian Jews who were imprisoned in the
Drancy concentration camp, then transferred to Auschwitz, from which
few returned. Yiddish, the language of these victims, thus takes on
for her the image of a _langue de mort_, a language of death. Robin
expanded this expression in _La Quebecoite_ thus: _Un langage sang,
mort, blessure, un langage pogrom et peur, un langage memoire_, 'a
language of blood, death, wounds; a language of pogroms and fear; a
language of memory' (Robin, 1993, p.135). In a play on the words
_lettres_ ( letters of the alphabet) and the implied word _etres_
(human beings), she visualized her task as a writer in these terms:
_Ecrire avec les six millions de lettres [etres?
] de l'alphabet juif_,
'To write with the six million letters of the Jewish alphabet' (Robin,
1993, p.19). She evokes the _shtetlekh_ of Central and Eastern Europe
with their pointed roofs where, she writes, the moon used to trace
the first four letters of the Yiddish alphabet, which she in fact
inserts in their printed form right into the printed page (Robin,
1993, p. 89). Indeed, for her there is one single tongue that has a
central place in her psyche, and that is Yiddish, thus making it, too,
_une langue de vie_, a language of life (Robin, 1993, p.139). As she

    _Dans le fond, tu as toujours habite un langage et aucun autre
    d'ailleurs - ces petites taches noires sur le papier qu'on lit de
    droite a gauche, ces lettres finement dessinees_. (_Idem_, p.139)

    Essentially, you have always lived within one single language, and
    none other - the one with the little black marks on paper that one
    reads from right to left, those finely-formed letters.

In _Le Cheval blanc de Lenine_, she also implicitly plays on the
dialectical opposition between _langue de vie_ and _langue de mort_
as in this remark: _Je suis une morte vivante, morte quelque part en
Europe centrale et miraculeusement restee en vie e Paris_, 'I am a
woman dead and alive at the same time, for I died somewhere in
Central Europe, and remained miraculously alive in Paris' (Robin,
1979, p.25). In fact, Robin did survive miraculously. Her care-giver,
Juliette, used to take her to drinking parties where the young woman
fraternized with Nazi officers during the Occupation, as is told in
the short story, 'Gratok, langue de vie et langue de mort' ('Gratok,
a language of life, a language of death', in _L'Immense Fatigue des
pierres_), and confirmed in her recent essay, _La Memoire saturee_:

   _Il y a aussi des souvenirs plus anciens: les hommes en `uniforme'
   chez Juliette, ma gardienne, qui me cachait. Je trouvais curieux
   de comprendre ce qu'ils disaient dans une langue proche de la
   mienne. Pourtant, je savais qu'il me fallait me mefier d'eux_.
   (Robin, 2003, p.15)

   There are also more distant memories: the men in `uniform' at
   Juliette's, my care-giver, who was hiding me. I found it strange
   that I understood what they were saying in a language close to my
   own. Yet I knew that I must beware of them.

Indeed, both her parents, too, were saved by most unusual
circumstances. Robin's mother escaped by a hair's breadth being sent
to Drancy and Auschwitz during _la grande rafle_ (roundup) of 16 July
1942 - a nightmarish day that echoes throughout much of Robin's
corpus - thanks to a desperate brainwave that led her to show a
document confirming her husband's prisoner-of-war status to a Vichy
policeman loading Jews onto a bus going to the Parisian
_Umschlagplatz_, the Velodrome d'hiver. In one of those rarest of
cases, the officer told her to get off the bus and run away as fast
as she could. Her father had Gallicized his name in Belgium, where he
worked before the war, from Ajzersztejn to Azertin. He was called up
into the French army, then taken prisoner, and ended up in Germany in
the Stalag 11 prison camp as a tree-cutter for the rest of the war.

Let us return for a moment to _Le Cheval blanc de Lenine_. The
narrator of that novel recalls reading an account in the New York
_Forverts_ about a shoemaker, one of the rare survivors of Kaluszyn,
her parents' birthplace, who returned there after the war to learn
how the town was engulfed by flames in the final days of the conflict.
This brings memories to the narrator of her mother's singing of
Mordkhe Gebirtig's celebrated and prescient song of 1938, _Es brent!_
Without naming the piece, she cites the entire French translation by
poet and editor Charles Dobzynski, from a 1971 anthology published by
Gallimard in Paris. Near the end of the novel, she fantasizes about
Yiddish-speaking Soviet cavalrymen liberating Kaluszyn and singing
the words of what is clearly Hirsh Glick's stirring song of Jewish
anti-fascist resistance, _Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg_,
again without naming the title but from which she cites in French
translation some of the most memorable lines, probably taken from
that same anthology: _Ne dis jamais que tu vas de ton dernier pas [ .]
Il fut ecrit ce chant par le sang, par le feu [.] Tel un appel dage
en age soit notre chant [.]_, 'Never say that you have reached the
very end [.] This song was writ with blood and not with lead [.] Then
let our warning ring from age to age [.]' ( Robin, 1979, pp.138-140.)
And she imagines on a red banner the defiant closing words, _Nous
sommes la!, Mir zaynen do!_ She also beautifully characterizes
Yiddish in that first novel as _notre eternelle bien-aimee_, `our
eternal beloved'. (Robin, 1979, p.46). But, says Rivka (ostensibly
the major character, but clearly identified with the narrator and the
author, whose original name she carries), _le jeune cavalier sur le
cheval blanc, c'est mon pere et l'armee derriere, ce que tu prenais
pour une armee, c'est le shtetl qui revient_, `the young horseman is
my father and the army, or what you took to be an army, is the
resuscitated shtetl' ( Robin, 1979, p.139).

Robin's third work of fiction, _L'Immense Fatigue des pierres_, still
untranslated, is subtitled _Biofictions_ ( fiction based on
autobiographical elements.) One of the most striking stories therein,
'Gratok, langue de vie et langue de mort', has already been referred
to. We recognize in the second part of the title the dichotomy noted
earlier as a recurring motif of Robin's writing vis-e-vis Yiddish.
The word _gratok_, I have been told, comes from the Polish _grat_,
meaning a piece of junk, with the suffix, slightly changed, denoting
the diminutive (_gratek_ in correct Polish.). _Gratok_ is the name of
a rather worn plush doll that a woman narrator recalls having as a
constant companion in an abandoned garage in Belleville during the
Occupation, some fifty years earlier. We recognize here biographical
elements of the author's own life, previously mentioned. Untrue to
its name, the doll was anything but a piece of junk for the little
girl, who was five at the time. _On ne parlait que yiddish dans ce
garage_, 'only Yiddish was spoken in that garage', we are told. The
narrator remembers that the inhabitants of the French capital at that
time could be divided into two groups:

  _Ainsi, a Paris, il y avait deux vies, deux mondes qui ne se
  rencontraient que dans des moments furtifs [.] Le monde de ceux qui
  parlaient yiddish, et le monde de ceux qui buvaient du champagne [.]
  Elle avait appris a separer les deux mondes, celui de la mort, et
  celui de la vie_. (Robin, 1999, p. 90)

  Thus, in Paris, there were two ways of life, two worlds that met
  only in the briefest of moments[.] The world of those who spoke
  Yiddish, and the world of those who drank champagne [.] She had
  learned to separate the two worlds, that of death and that of life.

Again, we already know that the sharp division just described was in
fact the one that little Rivka encountered, as between her hiding
place with her mother, and the haunts of Nazi officers frequented by
her guardian, Juliette.

Even though the watchword in the garage was near-total silence, the
little girl's mother continued to sing her lullabies in Yiddish and
Polish. _Il y etait question de routes enneigees et d' un pere
colporteur qui ne reviendrait que pour le sabbat, de terres
lointaines ou les chevres parlaient yiddish et ou les papillons les
comprenaient_, 'the songs spoke of snow-covered roads; of a father, a
peddler, who came home only for the Sabbath; of distant places where
goats spoke Yiddish and were understood by the butterflies', she adds,
in a moving, if oblique, reference to Avrom Goldfadn's beloved
setting of the folksong _Rozhinkes mit mandlen_, thus suggesting that
Yiddish kept up the spirits of both mother and daughter during the
dreadful years of the Occupation. At the very end of the story, the
narrator tells of her mother's delirious `searches' along the main
street of Belleville for her brothers and sisters in Poland, _tous
disparus a Treblinka_, 'all of them snuffed out in Treblinka', all
the while talking to herself and reciting their names. And she
continued to sing to her child the beloved lullabies in which _les
chevres parlent Yiddish et ou les papillons les comprennent_ (Robin,
1999, p. 93).

Years later, Robin became a translator of Soviet-Yiddish writers -
she has rendered into French two of  Dovid Bergelson's short stories
as well as Moyshe Kulbak's novel _Zelmenyaner_, and has co-
translated Bergelson's major novel _Nokh alemen_ as _Une tragedie
provinciale_. While engaging in this new pursuit, she relived the
anxiety of her years in hiding, and became temporarily dyslexic. But
she soon arrived at a vital conclusion:

   _Traduire des romanciers et poetes de langue yiddish, c'etait a la
   fois passer du royaume des morts a celui des vivants. Ils
   ressuscitaient dans l'autre langue bien vivante, mais les traduire,
   c'etait aussi descendre chaque fois aux enfers [.]En travaillant
   sur cette langue, elle les [les auteurs] rendaient a la vie, mais
   elle se retrouvait a chaque virgule, a chaque paragraphe a
   Birkenau._ (Robin, 1999, p.96)

   To translate Yiddish-language novelists and poets meant moving at
   one and the same time from the kingdom of the dead to the kingdom
   of the living. They revived in the other language, one that was
   very much alive. But translating them meant descending into Hell
   each time [.] While working on that language, she brought these
   authors back to life, but with each comma and each paragraph, she
   felt she returned to Birkenau.

She then thought of dropping her work on translations and, instead,
writing directly in French, with a view to making Yiddish resonate
through that language, _d'imiter sa prosodie, son rythme, sa propre
respiration_, 'to imitate its prosody, its rhythm, its unique
breathing'. And she asked herself, _langue de vie contre langue de
morte_, `A language of death versus a language of life' And concluded:

   Il etait temps d'oublier la langue de mort, de la refouler au plus
   profond. Un jour, peut-etre, on pourra de nouveau lui trouver une
   place sans que cela fasse mal, sans qu'on se retrouve sur la rampe
   de Birkenau_. (Ibid.)

   It was time to forget the language of death, to repress it to the
   furthest depths. One day, perhaps, we will find a new place for it,
   one that doesn't hurt us, one that doesn't take us back to the
   ramp at Birkenau.

In the second part of her recent book, _La Memoire saturee_, entitled
_Une memoire menacee: la Shoah_, some brief but significant
references to Yiddish also appear. The section begins with a resume
of the bizarre `Wilkomirski case' of the mid-1990s. Robin first
refers to the publication of a powerful work of fiction, Zvi Kolitz's
novel, entitled in its French translation, _Yosl Rakower s'adresse a
Dieu_  (Yosl Rakower addresses God, 1998). This text had originally
appeared in Yiddish in Buenos Aires more than fifty years earlier in
the _Yiddische Zeitung_ [sic]. The author was a Lithuanian-born Jew
who settled in Palestine in 1937 and became an active member of the
_Irgun Tzvai Leumi_. According to Robin, this wholly fictional work
was reprinted in its original Yiddish in the Israeli literary journal,
_Di goldene keyt_, a few years after its first appearance in
Argentina - she gives no precise date - as an anonymous text,
believed to be the personal account of a witness to the wartime
tragedy in Europe. But stranger still was the publication of Benjamin
Wilkomirski's fabricated 'childhood memoir', _Fragments. Une enfance.
1939-1948_ ( Fragments of a Childhood, 1939-1948, 1997), translated
and published in French two years after the original German edition.
In this book, the author wrote:

   Je n'ai pas de langue maternelle, ni de langue paternelle. J'ai,
   pour racines linguistiques, le yiddish de mon frere aine,
   Mordechai, additionne du sabir babelien appris en Pologne, dans
   diverses baraques d'enfants de ces camps ou les nazis enfermaient
   les juifs. ( sic, cited in Robin, 2003, p.227)

   I have no mother-tongue, or father-tongue. My linguistic roots are
   the Yiddish of my older brother, Mordechai, added to the Babel-
   like pidgin I learned in Poland in various children's barracks in
   the camps where the Nazis locked up the Jews.

This book struck readers immediately by its powerful rendering of a
child's experiences of the Holocaust, and won a number of literary
prizes in Paris, London and New York.  But in an inversion of the
Kolitz case, in which a work of fiction was taken to be a memoir, the
Wilkomirski volume pretended to be a series of factual reminiscences.
The author was really a Swiss of French origin, by name Bruno
Grosjean. Abandoned by his unwed mother and mistreated by his
adoptive German-speaking parents, he began to identify completely
with the traumatized Jewish children who had survived untold
suffering in Poland during the war and beyond, after reading every
work concerning the Shoah that he could lay his hands on, and seeing
every film treating that subject. The truth finally came out in 1998,
and henceforth the book has been published with an introductory
resume giving the true facts. Grosjean fell into a deep depression
when his true identity was revealed.

Robin does mention several authentic accounts of the grim years that
have been translated from their original Yiddish, like Simha
Guterman's _Le Livre retrouve_ (The Rediscovered Book, 1991), found in
a bottle in 1978 in Radom by two Poles, and containing numbered strips
of paper chronicling events between January and May 1942. Robin
herself, during a visit to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw,
was able to photocopy the contents of a packet containing Yiddish-
language chronicles of life and death in Nazi-occupied Poland,
including her parents' birthplace, Kaluszyn, that remain to be
translated. She notes that no historian has yet consulted this
material which, for her, constitutes layers of material traces of the
Shoah. We can expect her to delve into these for future writings.

Before concluding by looking briefly at Regine Robin's views about
the future of Yiddish, I should like to open a parenthesis on one
problematic area of her citing of actual Yiddish words and phrases in
the body of her writing. As noted, Robin's literary output during the
last thirty-five years, especially her fiction, is replete with
Yiddish expressions. But a major difficulty arises when she attempts
to transliterate these within the phonetic and orthographic systems
of another language, in this case, French. Only rarely does she give
the equivalent in the vehicular language of a word or saying, quoted
in Yiddish, as in this phrase: _ce Finstere[r] Donerschtig [sic. and
resic.] / ce jeudi sinistre [.]_', referring to the fatal date of 16
July 1942. (Robin,1993, p.166). But given the absence of French
accents, plus her use of a Germanic _sch_ spelling for _donershtik_,
the purportedly Yiddish words are unpronounceable for most French
readers. There are thus some strange transliterations in her books -
frequent Germanisms, some Russianisms, and those arising from
problems of rendering the Yiddish _hey_, and the guttural _khes_ or
_khof_ - sounds that do not exist in French. In the first group,
there are _stroudle_ ( for _chtroudeul_), _schreiben_ (for _chraebn_),
_spieler_ (as in _purim spieler_, for _chpilere_), _knedle_ (for
_kneideul_), _Zukunft_ (for _tsoukounftt_), _Zeitung_ for
_tsaetoungue)_) - the latter two with Germanic capital letters at the
beginning of the word. In the second group there is _verste_ (a
Russian measurement) for _viorst_. Robin's transliteration of words
with guttural sounds is certainly a creative one, but is inconsistent.
For example, _khale_ becomes _rele_; _kreplekh_, _creplar_; and
_Mortkhe_, _Mortre_. But _lailekh_ is written with the current _kh_,
as in standard Yiddish transliterations. We do find _Khaim_, (Khaim)
but also _Chaim_, both of which, again, in a French text, would yield
a pronunciation totally different from the Yiddish original.

While one cannot fault Robin for transliterating some words in the
Polish- Jewish dialect with which she grew up, inconsistent respect
for the French phonetic and orthographic systems, as we have seen, as
well as just plain inconsistencies, create major difficulties for the
French reader. Robin writes Shulem Ash (ach, in a French text), but
also Sholem Aleichem (_Cholem aleemm or aleremm_ in a French text);
Mime Yente, a major character in _La Quebecoite_, but an
unpronounceable name for non-Yiddish-speaking readers; _payes_ for
earlocks (_paeess_) _shaigets_ (_chaeguetz_), again causing
pronunciation problems for Francophones; and the expression, _dooroys,
doorain_ (_douroesse, douraene_), and so on. I hope that as her books
reappear in new editions, she will take greater cognizance of these
inconsistencies and use a more unified and meaningful approach to the
difficult problems involved in transliteration.

We have seen that for Robin, her first tongue, Yiddish, is both a
_langue de mort_ and a _langue de vie_. In _L'Amour du Yiddish_,
which Robin dedicated to her daughter Anny, the conclusion is
entitled, 'Kaddish pour le Yiddishe?' There she writes:

   _Et maintenant? Faut-il considerer le yiddish comme une langue
   morte, comme une langue sacree? L'etudier comme on etudiait
   autrefois le grec et le latin dans la poussiere des oeuvres mortes?

   And now, should we consider Yiddish a dead language, a sacred
   tongue? Should it be studied the way one used to study Greek and
   Latin, in dusty old volumes?

Noting the rising interest in Yiddish language and culture in a
number of countries in recent years, she asks, again: _Nostalgies de
quelques intellectuels en mal d'identite?_ 'Is this a nostalgic
search of some intellectuals for an identity?' It is not possible to
know what will become of Yiddish in the future, she says, but adds:

   _Ce que je sais, en revanche, avec force, avec determination,
   c'est qu'une culture ne disparait que lorsque la memoire disparait,
   memoire historique, memoire populaire, memoire culturelle, voire
   nationale. La memoire du Yiddishland, lorsque nos aines auront
   disparus [.] nous sommes un certain nombre e la maintenir vivante,
   e la transmettre-ne fut-ce qu'a travers d'autres langues - aux
   nouvelles generations. Cette memoire tremble comme une flamme
   fragile, mais elle vit_.

   What I do know, on the other hand, forcefully, determinedly, is
   that a culture never disappears unless one's memory of it
   disappears, whether it be an historic memory, a people's memory, a
   cultural and, indeed, a national memory. When our older generation
   will have passed on, a certain number of us will still keep the
   memory of Yiddishland alive, and transmit it to the new
   generations, if only through other languages. This memory lives
   and trembles like a fragile flame, but it lives none the less.

And she concludes her book thus: _Tant qu'il y aura memoire du
yiddish, desir et amour du yiddish, alors, j'en suis sure, le yiddish
vivra en nous et au-dele de nous_, (Robin, 1984, p.285). 'As long as
there will be a _memory_ of Yiddish, a desire for Yiddish, and a
_love_ of Yiddish, then, I am convinced, Yiddish will live in us and
beyond us' (Idem).

Today, nearly twenty years later, she seems less optimistic. In _La
Memoire saturee_, she quotes a recent article by Rachel Ertel, 'Le
yiddish. La langue de la crypte', thus:

   _Aujourd'hui, le yiddish n'est la langue maternelle de personne ou
   de presque personne. Mais cette parole aneantie, asphyxiee, partie
   en fumee, n'est pas une simple absence. Elle ne peut ne pas avoir
   ete [.] Aujourd'hui, ce n'est pas le yiddish qui se transmet. C'
   est son absence. Et cette absence est hereditaire. Elle semble se
   perpetuer de generation en generation. Expulsee du monde, elle
   cherche son bien. Reduite au neant, elle s'est muee en `bloc de
   realite' [.] Un bloc de realite dense, opaque. Les mots secrets,
   inaudibles, indicibles, illisibles, les mots en quete de sepulture
   viennent s'enfouir au fond de l'etre, en un caveau tenebreux, avec
   tout leur poids de morts. Ils y creusent une crypte [.]_ (Rachel
   Ertel, cited in Robin, 2003, pp. 342-343)

   Today Yiddish is not the mother tongue of anyone, or practically
   anyone. But this language, wiped out, asphyxiated, gone up in
   smoke, is not simply absent. It cannot not have existed [.] Today,
   it is not Yiddish that is transmitted, but its absence. And this
   absence seems hereditary, and seems to be perpetuated from
   generation to generation. Banished from the earth, it hunts for
   its treasure. Reduced to nothingness, it has transformed itself
   into a 'block of reality', one that is compact and opaque. The
   secret words, inaudible, indecipherable, illegible, words in
   search of a sepulchre, are eventually buried in the depths of
   being, in a dark vault, bearing their entire deadly weight. They
   dig a crypt therein [.]

Robin then comments critically, sardonically, on what has been called
Yiddish renewal: _A la surface, en Europe centrale et orientale, on
assiste a un revival de la culture juive, et du yiddish. A la surface,
encore, la mode est 'aux juifs [sic] [ ...] A Berlin comme ailleurs,
c'est le succes de la musique klezmer, du theatre yiddish, de la
cuisine folklorique, des berceuses et de tout ce qui peut evoquer une
culture 'violon sur le toit' [.] C'est une image nostalgique et
completement folklorisee qui est donnee. Le revival, c'est l'illusion
de l'absence de tragique.[.] La nostalgie de ce qu'on n'a pas connu
peut faire place a du neuf sous la forme du pseudo, du simulacre. [.]
Est-ce possible, est-ce souhaitable?_ (Robin, 2003, pp.343-44)

On the surface, in Central and Eastern Europe, we are witnessing a
revival of Jewish culture and of Yiddish. On the surface, things
`Jewish' have become fashionable [.] In Berlin and elsewhere, there
is the growing success of klezmer music, of Yiddish theatre, of
traditional cuisine, of lullabies and of everything that evokes a
`fiddler-on-the- roof' culture. This creates an image of nostalgia
that is completely folkloric The revival creates the illusion of the
absence of the tragic [.] Nostalgia for what one did not experience
can become something new wrapped in a false and imitative form [.] Is
this possible? Is it desirable?'

And she ends these reflections thus: _Cette langue perdue, ces
espaces perdus en Europe centrale, cette culture perdue, ces morts
n'ont pas fini de nous hanter. Mais comment representer ce manque,
cette absence?_, 'This lost language, these lost spaces in Central
Europe, those who died, haunt us yet. But how can one represent this
blank, this absencee' (Robin, 2003, p.344) she asks rhetorically,
repeating one of the main preoccupations of  _La Memoire saturee_.

These thoughts bring to mind the statistics cited by Norman
Berdichevsky in his article, 'Hebrew vs. Yiddish -The Worldwide
Rivalry', which appeared in _Midstream_ magazine's special 'Memorial
Issue: Yiddish Culture, Language, and Literature' (July-August 2002.)
There Berdichevsky points out that by 1945, the pre-war world
population of more than ten million Yiddish speakers had been reduced
by more than half. He calls an estimate, made in 1982, that there
were still one million Yiddish-speakers an 'optimistic view', saying
that 'there are no more than one million American Jews with knowledge
of the language, and 200,000 in Israel', and there remained only 154,
000 in the former Soviet Union, according to the 1989 census, taken
almost fifteen years ago. In the United States in 1970, 'Yiddish
still stood as the sixth most common mother-tongue foreign language',
with about one and a half million claimants. But by 1990, Yiddish had
fallen to sixteenth place in the above category, with barely 213,000
speakers' ( Berdichevsky, 2002, pp.16-17.) Whatever one may think of
Robin / Ajzersztejn's recent sombre thoughts on the present and future
of Yiddish, as she pondered issues which preoccupy everyone concerned
with the preservation of the language, I am convinced that she has
made a significant contribution towards keeping `the fragile flame'
of that language and culture from being snuffed out, at least in the
short term.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (texts cited, consulted)

Berdichevsky, Norman, 'Hebrew vs. Yiddish - The Worldwide Rivalry',
_Midstream_. A Monthly Jewish Review, 38:5 (July/August, 2002), 12-17.

Robin, Regine, _L'Amour du yiddish: ecriture juive et sentiment de la
langue, 1830-1930_ (Paris: Editions du Sorbier, 1984).

--, _Berlin chantiers. Essai sur les passes fragiles_ (Paris: Stock.

--, _Le Cheval blanc de Lenine ou l'Histoire autre_ (Bruxelles:
Complexe, 1979).

--, _L'Immense Fatigue des pierres. Biofictions_ (Montreal: XYZ, 1996;
repr. 1999).

--, _Kafka_ (Paris: Les Dossiers Belfond, 1989).

--, _La Memoire saturee_ (Paris: Stock, 2003).

--, _La Quebecoite_ (Montreal: Quebec-Amerique, 1983; repr. 1993,

--, _Le Realisme socialiste: une esthetique impossible_ (Paris: Payot,

--, _Le Roman memoriel: de l'Histoire e l'ecriture du hors-lieu_
(Montreal: Le Preambule, 1989).
End of The Mendele Review Vol. 09.01
Editor, Leonard Prager

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