The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
(A Companion to MENDELE)

Contents of Vol. 11.002 [Sequential No. 179]
27 February 2007

1) This issue of TMR (ed). 
2) Reb Mordkhe,  ò
 Outstanding Yiddish Scholar and Activist (ed.)
3) Helena Frank's Anglo-Jewish Yiddish Literary Society (Israel Abrahams)
4) Israel Abraham's Attitude to Helena Frank and to Yiddish
5) Y.-L. Perets' "Oyb nisht nokh hekher" in Helena Frank's Century-Old English Translation
6) "Di svetshap" (Moris Roznfeld)
7) "In the Factory" (translation of "Di svetshap" [The Sweatshop] by Helena Frank and Rose Pastor Stokes
Newly published United Kingdom libraries yisker-bukh guide



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Date: 27 February 2007
From: ed.
Subject:  This issue of TMR.

*In this issue of TMR we mark the passing of an outstanding scholar of Yiddish, Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, noting a few titles of his important books. * Israel Abrahams (1858-1925), a Judaica scholar (author of Jewish Life in the Middle Ages and other notable  works) was also a publicist and could write with a light touch on weighty subjects.  In a typically relaxed manner, he talks about the remarkable Helena Frank, a non-Jewess who studied Hebrew and Russian in order to translate Yiddish.* Like so many acclimated British Jews of his day, Abrahams has little sympathy for the Yiddish language. *At least by the time Uriel Weinreich published his "Guide to Peretz Translations" (in The Field of Yiddish 1 [1954, pp. 295-6]), there were more translations of the sentimental neo-hasidic "Oyb nisht hekher" ('If Not Higher') than of any other story by Perets. Frank was among the first to publish translations from Yiddish in English. * (The Yiddish text and Sara Retter's reading of it may be found at * Moris Roznfeld's "proletarian" poem "Di svetshap" [The Sweatshop] is given in Yiddish and in the English translation by Helena Frank and Rose Pastor Stokes. This poem is included in Songs of Labor and Other Poems by Morris Rosenfeld [Yiddish: Moris Roznfeld] and translated by Frank and Stokes. See Project Gutenberg Release #6859 (November 2004). Present-day readers are likely to find this poem bathetic. *An announcement from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB) of a newly published guide to yisker-bikher in United Kingdom libraries.


Date: 27 February 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Reb Mordkhe,
Outstanding Yiddish Scholar and Activist (ed.)

Mordkhe Schaechter (1927-2007)     ò"ä

Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, in addition to being a researcher, editor and author, was active in the crucial areas of language maintenance and language teaching. As a teacher of Yiddish language at Columbia University and at the Yivo-sponsored Uriel Weinreich Summer Programs, Dr. Schaechter influenced many individuals who went on to become active professionally and otherwise in Yiddish-language activities. The Yiddishist youth movement Yugntruf was largely his creation, and a number of his young disciples continue to this day to devote themselves to Yiddish-language interests, the finest expression one can imagine of recognition of their mentor's unique contribution to Yiddish life in the not always encouraging (for minority cultures) context of post World War II America.     

Some of Dr. Schaechter's language maintenance projects, such as lexicons of botanical terminology and of neologisms may have been  over-ambitious in an era of gradual Yiddishist retreat, but they were a part of his intense devotion to the survival and continuous growth and development of Yiddish. His drive to preserve older terms while he ingeniously carved out new ones was tireless. Perhaps most significant of his many practical contributions was Yidishe ortografisher vegvayzer (1961) [with Max Weinreich] and the more recent Der eynheytlekher yidisher oysleg (1999), which contained both the sixth edition of the invaluable Takones fun yidishn oysleg and the long essay Fun folkshprakh tsu kulturshprakh. While there is still a minority of writers and publishers "vos makhn shabes far zikh," most publications today follow the Standardized Yiddish Orthography [SYO]. No one individual deserves more credit for this achievement than does Mordkhe Schaechter.     

Intense as he was regarding spelling standards, Mordkhe Schaechter was the leading theorist in the Yiddish educational milieu to defend regional dialects (e.g. Southern Yiddish, mainly "Polish") against the sometimes monolithic-seeming litvish-based "Yivo Yiddish." One of the instruments for this approach was the remarkable product of multiple revisions and sixteen years  of field testing – Yidish tsvey, a lernbukh far mitndike un vaythalters (1993).

Two decades ago, in his Foreword to Mordkhe Schaechter's Laytesh mame-loshn; observatsyes un rekomendatsyes [English title: Authentic Yiddish; Observations and Recommendations] (1986); Dorem-yidish: Latish mame-lushn] our leading Yiddish sociolinguist Shikl Fishman wrote: "Mordkhe Schaechter's works breathe with confidence, a keen language-sense, and much learning. At a time when others have doubts regarding the future of Yiddish, Schaechter's neologisms and "langonizmen" tell us that Yiddish is no widower." [translation mine –LP] Until his final years Schaechter manifested the same energy and optimism observed here. In one of the finest among many appreciative obituaries which have appeared, Zachary Sholem Berger's concluding sentence is wholly apposite: "Anyone who speaks, reads or writes Yiddish, and wishes to do so with care and elegance, can learn from Mordkhe Schaechter’s example. His words live."   (Forward, 20 February 2007)


Date: 27 February 2007
From: ed.
"Helena Frank's Anglo-Jewish Yiddish Literary Society" (Israel Abrahams)

[Israel Abraham's book of essays  The Book of Delight and Other Papers - A Handful of Curiosities. Philadelpia: Jewish Publicaton Society of America, 1912, from which the following essay is taken, is in the public domain and may be found as an e-book at].

The Anglo-Jewish Yiddish Literary Society

The founder and moving spirit of this unique little Society is Miss Helena Frank, whose sympathy with Yiddish literature has been shown in several ways. Her article in the Nineteenth Century ("The Land of Jargon," October, 1904) was as forcible as it was dainty. Her rendering of the stories of Perez, too, is more than a literary feat. Her knowledge of Yiddish is not merely intellectual; though not herself a Jewess, she evidently enters into the heart of the people who express their lives and aspirations in Yiddish terms. Young as she is, Miss Frank is, indeed, a remarkable linguist; Hebrew and Russian are among her accomplishments. But it is a wonderful fact that she has set herself to acquire these other languages only to help her to understand Yiddish, which latter she knows through and through.

Miss Frank not long ago founded a Society called by the title that heads this note. The Society did not interest itself directly in the preservation of Yiddish as a spoken language. It was rather the somewhat grotesque fear that the rôle of Yiddish as a living language may cease that appealed to Miss Frank. The idea was to collect a Yiddish library, encourage the translation of Yiddish books into English, and provide a sufficient supply of Yiddish books and papers for the patients in the London and other Hospitals who are unable to read any other language. The weekly Yiddishe Gazetten (New York) was sent regularly to the London Hospital, where it has been very welcome.

In the Society’s first report, which I was permitted to see, Miss Frank explained why an American Yiddish paper was the first choice. In the first place, it was a good paper, with an established reputation, and at once conservative and free from prejudice. America is, moreover, “intensely interesting to the Polish Yid. For him it is the free country par excellence. Besides, he is sure to have a son, uncle, or brother there–or to be going there himself. ’Vin shterben in vin Amerika kän sich keener nisht araus drehn!’ (’From dying and from going to America, there is no escape!’)” Miss Frank has a keen sense of humor. How could she love Yiddish were it not so? She cites some of the Yiddishe Gazetten’s answers to correspondents. This is funny: “The woman has the right to take her clothes and ornaments away with her when she leaves her husband. But it is a question if she ought to leave him.” Then we have the following from an article by Dr. Goidorof. He compares the Yiddish language to persons whose passports are not in order–the one has no grammar, the others have no land.

And both the Jewish language and the Jewish nation hide their faulty passports in their wallets, and disappear from the register of nations and languages–no land, no grammar!

“A pretty conclusion the savants have come to!” (began the Jewish nation). “You are nothing but a collection of words, and I am nothing but a collection of people, and there’s an end to both of us!”

“And Jargon, besides, they said–to which of us did they refer? To me or to you?” (asks the Jewish language, the word jargon being unknown to it).

“To you!” (answers the Jewish nation).

“No, to you!” (protests the Jewish language).

“Well, then, to both of us!” (allows the Jewish nation). “It seems we are both a kind of Jargon. Mercy on us, what shall we do without a grammar and without a land?”

“Unless the Zionists purchase a grammar of the Sultan!” (romances the Jewish language).

“Or at all events a land!” (sighs the Jewish nation).

“You think that the easier of the two?” (asks the Jewish language, wittily).

And at the same moment they look at one another and laugh loudly and merrily.

This is genuine Heinesque humor.


The Anglo-Jewish Yiddish Literary Society

The question raised as to the preservation of Yiddish is not unimportant at this juncture. It is clear that the old struggle between Hebrew and Yiddish for predominance as the Jewish language must become more and more severe as Hebrew advances towards general acceptance as a living language.

Probably the struggle will end in compromise. Hebrew might become one of the two languages spoken by Jews, irrespective of what the other language might happen to be.

27 Feb 2007
From: ed.
Israel Abraham's Attitude to Helena Frank and to Yiddish

Israel Abraham's Attitude to Helena Frank and to Yiddish

In 1972, Yankev Glatshteyn [Jacob Gladstone], a major American Yiddish poet, devised the rubric "Geshtaltn vos zukhn tikn" [Neglected Figures (literally: figures that seek correction)] for a group of essays in his  In der velt mit yidish [In the World With Yiddish]. An essay on Helena Frank (1872-1954) headed this gathering of pieces which within the compass of Yiddish literature could only be viewed as eccentric. One could say that such a partial tikn came a few years later, in 1975, when three astute Jewish intellectuals (Irving Howe, Arthur Goren and Moses Rischin) deemed Helena Frank's 1912 Jewish Publication Society anthology Yiddish Tales worthy of  reprinting in their series "The Modern Jewish Experience".

In addition to her pioneering book of Perets translations (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1906) – one of which is included in this issue of TMR -- and the above-mentioned Yiddish Tales (1912), Frank translated the poems of the most important of the Yiddish "proletarian" poets, Moris Roznfeld, together with the notorious socialist-activist married-to-a-millionaire Rose Pastor Stokes (who worked in a cigarette factory in the East End of London before emigrating to America). Their collaborative effort, Songs of Labor (Boston, 1914), is today an e-book!

Israel Abrahams obviously admired and respected Helena Frank, a  woman with unusual interests and talents. Abrahams regards Helena Frank's concern for the survival of Yiddish as "grotesque". He associates Yiddish with humor in the same stereotypic tradition that continues to plague us. His lengthy citation of a certain Dr. Goidorof encapsulates the hoary fallacy that Yiddish "has no grammar." Abrahams the Cambridge professor was an anglophilic anti-Zionist whose lack of sympathy for Yiddish – the language of the poor Jews of Whitechapel -- was not unusual in his circles. But the New York Yiddish poet Yankev Glatshteyn  regards Helena Frank and her relation to Yiddish as a neglected corner of Yiddish history and calls for a tikn.


Date: 27 Feb 2007
From: ed.
Subject: Y.-L. Perets' "Oyb nisht nokh hekher" in Helena Frank's Century-Old English Translation.
Yiddish text and audio see: *








27 February 2007
From: ed.
Subject: "Di svetshap" (Moris Roznfeld)


Date: 27 February 2007–02–26
From: ed.
Subject: "In the Factory" (translation of "Di svetshap" [The Sweatshop] by Helena Frank and Rose Pastor Stokes)

In the Factory

Oh, here in the shop the machines roar so wildly,
That oft, unaware that I am, or have been,
I sink and am lost in the terrible tumult;
And void is my soul... I am but a machine.
I work and I work and I work, never ceasing;
Create and create things from morning till e’en;
For what?—and for whom—Oh, I know not! Oh, ask not!
Who ever has heard of a conscious machine?

No, here is no feeling, no thought and no reason;
This life-crushing labor has ever supprest
The noblest and finest, the truest and richest,
The deepest, the highest and humanly best.
The seconds, the minutes, they pass out forever,
They vanish, swift fleeting like straws in a gale.
I drive the wheel madly as tho’ to o’ertake them,—
Give chase without wisdom, or wit, or avail.

The clock in the workshop,—it rests not a moment;
It points on, and ticks on: Eternity—Time;
And once someone told me the clock had a meaning,—
Its pointing and ticking had reason and rhyme.
And this too he told me,—or had I been dreaming,—
The clock wakened life in one, forces unseen,
And something besides;... I forget what; Oh, ask not!
I know not, I know not, I am a machine.

At times, when I listen, I hear the clock plainly;—
The reason of old—the old meaning—is gone!
The maddening pendulum urges me forward
To labor and labor and still labor on.
The tick of the clock is the Boss in his anger!
The face of the clock has the eyes of a foe;
The clock—Oh, I shudder—dost hear how it drives me?
It calls me “Machine!” and it cries to me “Sew!”

At noon, when about me the wild tumult ceases,
And gone is the master, and I sit apart,
And dawn in my brain is beginning to glimmer,
The wound comes agape at the core of my heart;
And tears, bitter tears flow; ay, tears that are scalding;
They moisten my dinner—my dry crust of bread;
They choke me,—I cannot eat;—no, no, I cannot!
Oh, horrible toil I born of Need and of Dread.

The sweatshop at mid-day—I’ll draw you the picture:
A battlefield bloody; the conflict at rest;
Around and about me the corpses are lying;
The blood cries aloud from the earth’s gory breast.
A moment... and hark! The loud signal is sounded,
The dead rise again and renewed is the fight...
They struggle, these corpses; for strangers, for strangers!
They struggle, they fall, and they sink into night.

I gaze on the battle in bitterest anger,
And pain, hellish pain wakes the rebel in me!
The clock—now I hear it aright!—It is crying:
“An end to this bondage! An end there must be!”
It quickens my reason, each feeling within me;
It shows me how precious the moments that fly.
Oh, worthless my life if I longer am silent,
And lost to the world if in silence I die.

The man in me sleeping begins to awaken;
The thing that was slave into slumber has passed:
Now; up with the man in me! Up and be doing!
No misery more! Here is freedom at last!
When sudden: a whistle!—the Boss—an alarum!—
I sink in the slime of the stagnant routine;—
There’s tumult, they struggle, oh, lost is my ego;—
I know not, I care not, I am a machine!

(Translation by Helena Frank and Rose Pastor Stokes of Morris Rosenfeld's "Di svetshap" [The Sweatshop]).


Date: 27 February 2007–02–24
rom: Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB) [registered charity No. 1022738]
Subject: Newly published
United Kingdom libraries yisker-bukh guide

Cyril Fox & Saul Issroff, eds. Jewish Memorial (Yizkor) Books in UK - Destroyed European Communities. London: Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain,   2006,188 pages. [ISBN 0-9537669-5-0]. UK: £19-50 + p & p £2. Orders may be placed at

This book lists approximately 1000 yizkor (Yiddish: yisker) books and memorbuecher. Copies are in 32 academic libraries in the United Kingdom, at the British Library and the Library of Congress. A list of books translated or partly translated into English (mainly on JewishGen Translation website) is given. Localities such as country or place names are listed alphabetically. The language(s) of each book is(are) noted. Bibliographic details about each entry, including the geographical co-ordinates of specific towns or villages are given (because many places have similar or even identical names). Smaller places, mentioned in yizkor books but not in the title of the book are listed. A detailed introduction explains the historical origins, the significance and structure of yizkor books, the methods of  compilation and the value to historians and genealogists.

End of The Mendele Review Vol. 11.002

Editor, Leonard Prager

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