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

Contents of Vol. 12.010 [Sequential No. 201]
Date: 11 May 2008

1) This issue of TMR (ed).
Anniversary messages (continued) [See TMR 12.009]
    Professor Lawrence A. Rosenwald (Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA)
FRIDA (Grapa de) CIELAK (Mexico City, Mexico)
    Dr. Marcos Silber (Department of Jewish History, University of Haifa)
Boris Sandler, Ed./ Itsik Gottesman, Asst. Ed.,  Forverts (New York)
    The Yiddish Leyen-Krayz of Buffalo, New York
3) Review: Miriam Hoffman's Shlisl – a New Yiddish Textbook (Heather Valencia)
4) Review: Mirjam Gutschow's Inventory of Yiddish Publications From the Netherlands (c. 1650-cc.1950)
5) Uriel Birnbaum's "Yosele in Kheyder" and "Yankev Dinezon"
6) Dutch klezmer group play "Holland terkisher"

Date: 11 May 2008
From: ed.
This issue of TMR

Re past issues: ***The opening speech by Nosn Birnboym at Czernowitz in 1908 in Yiddish [see TMR 12.009] may be found in an English translation at From a member of the Buffalo leynkrayz we learn that the word tal queried in TMR 12.006 is 'a Russian term for TNT'. The discussion of khurbm and mentsh will be continued in the next issue of TMR; readers are invited to share their views on the romanization of these two terms.

Re this issue: ***A brief note on the editor's helpmate, Barbara, and a few more congratulatory messages on the TMR's anniversary (see TMR 12.009).

***Uriel Birnbaum (13 November, 1894 in Vienna – 9 December, 1956 in Amersfoort, Netherlands) was a painter, caricaturist, writer and poet. He was the middle son of Nathan Birnbaum.  The two Uriel Birnbaum pictures given here starkly portray Yankev Dinezon (1856?-1919) and illustrate his Yosele. The source is a five-part series entitled Finf niftorn  ('Five Deceased') that includes Sholem-Aleykhem, Y.-L. Perets, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sh.-Sh. Frug and Yankev Dinezon. The Dinezon volume [Vienna/Warsaw/Lemberg: Der kval, 1920] was edited and introduced by M. Ben-Yaakov, a pseudonym for Mendl Zinger (1890-1976).  See  Also see:

Date: 11 May 2008
From: ed.
Subject: Anniversary messages (continued) [See TMR 12.009]

Barbara M. Prager:

A glaring omission in my mini-biographical sketch in the anniversary issue TMR 12.009 was mention of my principal helper and support in my work, namely my very modest wife, Barbara, who preferred not being candidly praised and having her considerable achievements enumerated. But to sketch the minimal, she played the viola in the Haifa Symphony Orchestra for over thirty years, many of them as Principal Violist, has a first degree in music from Washington University (St. Louis) and a master's degree in music from Teacher's College, Columbia. She studied at the Royal College of Music in London and her first position in Israel was in the orchestra of the opera company in which Placido Domingo made his debut.  She is an avid chamber-music player and an enthusiastic student of local history. 


Congratulatory Messages:  

Professor Lawrence A. Rosenwald (Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, USA)

A very happy birthday to you, O now eleven-year-old Mendele Review! I had the honor to write an article for the very first Mendele Review;  when I look back at that issue, and that article, I'm both awed and delighted at how the Review has survived, grown, flourished , even transcended itself-- an astonishing success, and all honor to Leonard Prager for gently and irresistibly making it happen.  

Larry A. Rosenwald


FRIDA (Grapa de) CIELAK (Mexico City, Mexico)

200 hundert numern un 11 yor vos Yidish hot zikh modernizirt a dank MENDELE ONLINE, a vunderbarer kholem fun Noyekh Miller un fun ale zayne mithelfer un fraynd, a dank zayn akshoneshkeyt un Leonard Prager’s, tzu bavayzn der velt az Yidish lebt,  un itst iz a gute gelegenheyt az ale mitglider fun MENDELE, vos tseyln zikh shoyn in di toyznter, az mir zoln aykh vayter shtitsn un aykh ale opgebn a yasher koyekh un a derkenung far di vunderbare arbet in di elf yor, alevay vayter, mit vayterdike dergreykhungen un zol G__ aykh bentshn mit gezunt un hatslokhe! Mit fil anerkenung un hartsike grusn,

Freydl  Cielak (Meksike)


Dr. Marcos Silber (Department of Jewish History) University of Haifa

Biz hundert un tsvantsik! Lomir hobn nokh a sakh vertfule artiklen fun  Mendele Review!
Dr. Marcos Silber


Dr. Helen Beer (University College, University of London)

Dear Leonard,
It was a fargenign to read your biography (short version) and to see the photos and have them explained.
You have done much to assure Mendele's success and global impact and you are still the person who has most seriously and comprehensively investigated der gantser inyen of Yiddish in England. Tsu lange yorn,



Forverts (New York)

Der "Forverts" bagrist Leonard Prager tsum 200stn numer funem Mendele Review.
A yasher-koyekh far ayer vikhtiker kultur-arbet letoyves undzer yidish-velt!

Boris Sandler, shef-redaktor; Itzik Gottesman, shtel-fartreter farn redaktor, Forverts (New York)


The Yiddish Leyen-Krayz of Buffalo, New York

The Yiddish Leyen-Krayz of Buffalo, New York sends greetings and congratulations to The Mendele Review on the occasion of its 200th issue. TMR has been a rich source of Yiddish reading material for our group members, as well as a source of inspiration and hope for the future of Yiddish. We relish each issue and its unique graphic and audio elements. We look forward to many more years of traditional, creative Yiddish content in this contemporary medium.

Jack Freer, Itsik Goldenberg, Floyd Green, Amy Eglowstein, Velvel Fleischman, Irving Massey, Harvey Rogers, Regina Grol, Harvey Lichtblau, Milton Weiser, Charlotte Wolpin, Allen Podet, Steven Schwartz, Sam Kaiser, Esther Bates, Marianne Goldstein, Anne Wolfish, Cameron Freer, Tova Moonay


Date: 11 May 2008
From: Heather Valencia
Subject: Review of Miriam Hoffman's Shlisl – A new Yiddish textbook

Miriam Hoffman, Shlisl tsu yidish/Key to Yiddish. Lernbukh far onheyber. (Florida: National Center for Jewish Cultural Arts Press), 2007. 666 p. ISBN 978-1-60461-152-6

Yiddish teachers never stop searching for the perfect course-book. During the past twenty-five years, various new publications have built on the pioneering work of Yudl Mark and Uriel Weinreich: Mordkhe Schaechter's Yidish tsvey,   Sheva Zucker's Yiddish. An Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture, Volumes 1 and 2, Marion Aptroot and Holger Nath's course for German-speaking students Yiddische Sprache und Kultur, David Goldberg's Yidish af Yidish, and Zuckerman and Herbst's Learning Yiddish in Easy Stages are all widely used and each has its strengths and weaknesses, depending on the type and nationality of student and the particular learning situation. The latest  work to join this pantheon is Shlisl tsu Yidish/ Key to Yiddish by Miriam Hoffman of Columbia University, New York.

The author, who is well-known to many Mendele readers, has a long and distinguished career in Yiddish. She is a native speaker whose parents came from Lodz. She graduated from the Yiddish Teachers' Seminary in New York and gained a Master's Degree from Columbia University, where she has taught Yiddish for fifteen years. She is a playwright who has also adapted Yiddish works and translated material for the stage into and from Yiddish, and is a regular columnist for the Forverts, writing lively articles on social and cultural matters. Over the years she has built up a prodigious collection of teaching materials, and Shlisl tsu yidish is the fruit of this experience.

Professor Rakhmiel Pelz, who was instrumental in bringing her to Columbia as a Yiddish teacher and has been her colleague there since the beginning, honours her  teaching ability in his preface to the book. He particularly stresses the way in which she inspires enthusiasm in her students, by teaching Yiddish, not as a dead academic subject, but as a living language with a “pulsirndik lebn”: “Zi firt [di studentn] arayn in dem dramatishn puls funem lebn”.  The materials which she has used successfully over the years to this end are gathered together in this book, so that, as Pelz puts it,  “yidish-lerers fun iber der velt veln kenen nashn fun Miryam Hofmans khidushim.”

There is indeed much from which to “nash”. The book comprises 666 A4 pages. This format with its large, clear print and generously spaced layout make it easy for students to read, but the downside of this is that the book weighs in at almost two and a half kilos, and is therefore very heavy and unwieldy for them to carry around! It is divided into fourteen chapters, which vary in length from 12 pages to 37 pages.  From the point of view of subject matter, most of the later chapters have a specific unifying theme: (such as chapter 9: “Der khurbm,” chapter 11: “folksmayses,” and chapter 14: “Fun der yidisher literatur”), while the earlier ones are a pot-pourri of different short texts and activities.

The material which Miriam Hoffmann introduces to the reader is truly impressive. The book is packed with interesting and lively texts: proverbs, Yiddish sayings, folksongs, folktales, poetry, depictions of the various Jewish holidays and traditional Ashkenazic customs, satirical texts, and comic anecdotes. The texts are wide-ranging and authentic: as well as lively dialogues written by the author herself, there are letters from the famous bintl briv in the Forverts  from the early twentieth century, material on Yiddish dialects, on the relationship between Yiddish and loshn koydesh, on Zionism and Israel, on the khurbm. The main emphasis is on  traditional folk material, with much humour, but a wide range of Yiddish writers are represented, either in short pieces or, in the final chapter, with longer complete texts, accompanied by photographs and short characterisations of the writers. Hoffmann does not weight the range of authors too heavily towards the American writers but provides samplings of most of the well-known names – and some lesser known ones – from all the centres of Yiddish literature. The earliest text is an extract from the memoirs of Glikl Hamel, but , as could be expected,  most of the texts are from the twentieth century. From the point of view of both student and teacher, the gathering together of all this material is of immense value, and from the beginning the learner has the opportunity of absorbing not only the language, but also the rich traditions of Ashkenazic life and Yiddish literature.

The texts present the student with a wide range of style and register, and the language Hoffman herself uses when addressing the reader and in the exercises and activities is humorous, pithy and idiomatic. The activities for developing conversational skills, and the exercises to practise grammar points are on the whole well thought out (though see my reservations below) and form an excellent resource for teachers. There is a good selection of cumulative rhymes and dialogues for classroom use, which enable even the beginner to contribute and feel involved.

Another attractive feature is the wealth of illustration. The chapters are sprinkled with little black and white drawings and cartoons, the majority, as the author tells us, from the satirical journal Der groyser kundes, but some also by the modern artist Tsirl Waletsky. The  illustrations do not necessarily bear any relation to the particular content of the chapters, but they add to the varied picture of Jewish  life during the twentieth century which the book as a whole conveys, and provide excellent stimulus for discussion.

As with all the other Yiddish course books with which I am familiar, Shlisl tsu yidish begins by teaching the Yiddish alphabet, which is very clearly set out. However, this introductory section does not stand alone: certain aspects are not specifically explained: the vowels and dipthongs which are preceded by the shtumer alef, the use of the melupm vov and khirek yud, or the function of yud as vowel or consonant. Here and in the pronunciation and meaning of the large numbers of words which are introduced at the very beginning, fairly intensive input from the teacher would be necessary. 

In the English version of her introduction, the author notes: “Instead of the usual glossary,  the English translation follows immediately after the Hebrew element words, as well as phrases and idioms. Hopefully each student will acquire a Yiddish-English/English-Yiddish Dictionary and use it whenever necessary.” In fact far more than just the Hebrew element vocabulary and some phrases and idioms are glossed in this way in the texts: in the songs and poems, a parallel fairly literal translation is provided on the left of the page, which is quite satisfactory, whereas many of the prose texts are peppered with English glosses in brackets. It certainly enables the students to read more easily when they have  the pronunciation of Hebrew-origin words immediately after their occurrence, but the effectiveness of the strategy as a whole could be questioned. On the one hand, the student has the satisfaction of being able to go through a text without pausing to look up words (assuming the glossed words are the only one he/she needs) but there are, to my mind, other negative effects. . The translations are not always literal, and in a phrase containing various components, including, for example, the past participle of a previously unknown verb, the student may not be clear which component is which or enabled to learn the new verb. The presence of these glosses within the text could also be a disincentive for the lazier student to learn the words whose meaning has been handed to him/her on a plate!  Conversely, they may be an irritation to the student who already knows the words, whereas with a word list after the passage, the student need only look up items with which he/she is unfamiliar. Furthermore, these interspersed words and phrases interrupt the flow and structure of the Yiddish sentence, which impedes reading fluency.  It could be argued that the more traditional method - an uninterrupted passage of Yiddish followed by a vocabulary list - is more productive. The example reproduced below may help readers to decide on the efficacy of Hoffman's strategy.  

(click on image to enlarge)

The author believes in teaching grammar with a light hand, and one can welcome the fact that she has eschewed the long descriptive grammar sections in English which feature in more traditional language courses. Instead, her grammar sections are short and pithy, focusing on one point with a short explanation – usually in Yiddish but with English translation of all or part of the explanation in order to ensure understanding -  followed by examples and exercises to reinforce the point. There is no apparent pattern to the occurrence of grammar sections within the chapters – which, as I have already said, are of widely varying length.  They seem to appear at random, so that some chapters contain as many as twelve new grammatical topics, while others are mainly made up of texts, with very little or no grammatical input. All the main basic aspects are, however, covered, and a particularly nice feature are frequent little sections explaining pairs of elements like visn/kenen, rikhtik/gerekht, forn/geyn, in/keyn and so on.

There are, however, some unfortunate errors and inconsistencies in the teaching of the grammatical points. Terminology is sometimes misleading or confusing: the section on the present tense of the verb is entitled “Pronomen in der itstiker tsayt (Declension of Personal Pronouns in the Present Tense)” and is followed, not by the declension of pronouns, but by the conjugation of the verbs geyn, kumen, shraybn, leyenen and farshteyn. (Although this section uses the infinitive of the verb, the concept of the infinitive and the rules for  the -n or -en endings are not dealt with until chapter two, p.73.) There are unfortunate mistakes: under the heading of “Sentences with an object” the sentences “zi iz a mentsh,” “Es iz an epl” are given as examples. In the same section “Ikh shrayb a bukh” and “Du trinkst kave” are given among the examples of plural sentences. At a more advanced level,  the conditional tense is introduced in chapter 11 (p.535) under the heading “Der bading-hilfsverb “volt”, which is explained as follows: “Der bading-verb “volt” vert genutst in beyde teylzatsn. Der bading-verb muz genutst vern mit der fargangener tsayt. [sic]. (Italics in original. This is translated as “past participle” in the English version of this explanation). However ALL the example sentences she gives follow the pattern “Ven er veyst vos er tut, volt er efsher fardint”, as do all the conditional questions in the exercise for classroom discussion on p.537, e.g: “Ven a fish ken redn, vos volt er gezogt?”. In the whole section there is not one example of “volt” being used in both sentence-halves.

The order of teaching various grammatical items can be confusing: apart from the above example of the infinitives, we see for example on p. 78 that the student is expected to do an exercise involving the verb “ton”, but the conjugation of this irregular verb is not taught until p. 80. The teaching of the past tense is particularly confusing. In chapter one, having only just dealt with the present tense, and the verbs zayn and hobn, the author has  a section (p.48) on intransitive verbs, headed “Yiddish has some twenty intransitive verbs that have no object. Intransitive verbs use the verb to be, zayn, in the Past Tense.” There follows a list of these verbs in the past tense – without any prior discussion of the formation of the past tense with zayn/hobn, the form of the past participle, or the concept of transitive and intransitive verbs. Immediately after this, there is an exercise to change present tense of “zayn” verbs to past tense (in which the first sentence is “Du farshteyst a sakh”!), and an exercise with a mixture of  both “zayn” and “hobn” verbs, though the latter category has not even been mentioned. The past tense is not formally taught until chapter four, p.116. Here it is stated that “Only a limited amount of verbs use “zayn” in the past tense” with the verb “zayn” as the example, and no reference back to the list of intransitive verbs in chapter  one.

These and other inconsistencies in the grammatical sections are potentially bewildering  for new students and would, I feel, need to be remedied for a later edition (as would the irritating profusion of misprints in the English text). However, the weaknesses which I have mentioned undoubtedly stem largely from the fact that the book is a collection of the teaching materials which Miriam Hoffman has developed and successfully used with her students throughout the years, rather than a course conceived ab initio and systematically planned. In the classroom situation, the teacher using these materials would be able to smooth out any misunderstandings and amplify explanations where necessary. Thus Shlisl tsu yidish should perhaps not be considered as a tool for self-study. Its great strength is primarily as a source of invigorating materials for classroom teaching, and it will certainly stimulate lively participation and the students' understanding of and engagement with the authentic Yiddish language and culture. It is a valuable addition to the stock of modern Yiddish textbooks.

4) -------------------------------------
Date: 11 May 2008
From: ed.
Subject: Review of Mirjam Gutschow's Inventory of Yiddish Publications From the Netherlands (c. 1650-cc.1950)

[A Hebrew version of this review will appear in Volume 11 of Khulyot]

Mirjam Gutschow's Inventory of Yiddish Publications from the Netherlands c.1650-c.1950 (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007) is an exemplary production that no one interested in the socio-cultural history of Dutch Jewry, the development of Jewish printing, the history of Yiddish and other related subject areas can afford not to know, use and treasure. We also need to remember, as the author explains from the very outset in her succinct "Introduction", that it is a reference work wholly constructed from secondary as distinct from original sources. Seeing is not necessarily believing, but for the discipline of bibliography actual examination of texts is a prime desideratum.

Gutschow with full candor writes: "As a first step towards a comprehensive bibliography of Yiddish texts printed in the Netherlands, this inventory is based on information extracted from secondary literature and is therefore subject to the limitations of these sources..."(1) Her principal source, she tells us, is Vinograd's Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book "despite its limitations."(2) In dealing with her multiple sources she has had to contend with "widespread differences in orthography, pagination, format, printers, and even the year of printing."(3) Regrettably, she was unable to consult all catalogues of libraries having Yiddish books, and especially the magnificent holdings of Yivo and the New York Public Library. She regrets, too, omission of most of the pseudo-Amsterdam printings and of calendars and rightly recognizes the need for studying these subjects further. However, viewing her project as a whole, one must conclude that its omissions and shortcomings are dwarfed by what it does achieve. (4)

Ashkenazim began arriving in the Netherlands from Germany and East Europe in the early seventeenth century and in that same century already outnumbered the Portuguese Jews. They fled German territories following the series of wars called the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Poland after the Chmelnitski Cossack savagery (1648/1649) and other East-European lands in the disruptions typified by the Polish-Lithuanian Thirteen Years' War (1654-67). They established their first Netherlands congregation in 1635 and began to print Yiddish books in the 1640s, almost exclusively in Amsterdam, where a prosperous trade of printing Hebrew and Yiddish books developed. The Yiddish books were aimed at a popular audience and often had a secular character. Written in a distinct literary dialect of Western Yiddish well into the eighteenth century, the Dutch-printed Yiddish works were not merely for local consumption but reached all corners of the diaspora. Gutschow lists 565 such imprints and rightly believes this figure will grow. (5)

Items in Inventory are given according to chronology and titles are in Hebrew characters. The usefulness of the work is augmented by a liberal supply of indexes: List of Libraries and Collections, Bibliography (very comprehensive) (6), Indexes of Titles, Authors (includes translators), Printers and Genres. Beneath each item, Gutschow has placed a genre identification. Beside Judaic categories such as "Bible", "Kabbalah", "Liturgy", "Musar", we have the more frequent secular ones such as "Geography", "History", "Humor", "Narrative Prose", "Popular Medicine". YidNet 176 [the suggested system of citation--LP] is an adaptation of Boccacio's Decameron! The book's last section is a skillfully photographed collection of forty plates of title pages (or representative ones) of items listed in the Inventory. The plates give the item number and the items give the plate number. (Plates No. 1 and No. 16 are given here below. Click on images to enlarge)


The state fought hard against Yiddish and for Dutch; most Jews shifted to Dutch (not always free of Yiddish elements) by the end of the nineteenth century. A score or so of Jewish periodicals in Dutch were published in the nineteenth century (e.g. in Rotterdam in 1869 Vereeniging  ter Beoefening Der Joodsche Wetenschappen, in 1895-6 an Amsterdam weekly Het Vrije Woord. (7) Today (2008) a bilingual Yiddish-Dutch quarterly Grine Medine is published in a Netherlands where Yiddish enjoys its greatest vitality in the academy.(8)

1. Inventory... Page 3.
2  Vinograd, Otsar …..
3. Inventory...Page 3.
4. I would  have been happier if a simple Key to Abbreviations had straightaway informed me what C, F, R, and Z stand for. (They are catalogues by authors whose names start with these initials.) And small f. ('leaf") < Latin folium will be foreign to many users -- IDC and others use leaves.
5. Shlomo Berger's important essay "An Invitation to Buy and Read; Paratexts of Yiddish Books in Amsterdam, 1650-1800," Book History 7 (2004), 31-61 needs to be included, as does (despite its limitations) Karina Sonnenberg-Stern, Emancipation and Poverty: The Ashkenazi Jews of Amsterdam, 1796-1850. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 
6. A title list of "Yiddish Publications from the Netherlands" in microfiche may be downloaded from the IDC internet site: There are full-text Amsterdam imprints in the marvelous online Yiddish collection at the Universitaetsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main -- e.g. #8 Pardo 1771/2 corresponds to Gutschow's YidNet 403 (Gutschow indicates this by her code FFM in her "copies" section). 
7. See the Dutch items at: 
8.  See The Mendele Review  05.001 [4d] (31 January 2001) and

Date: 11 May 2008
From: ed.
Subject: Uriel Birnbaum's "Yosele in Kheyder" and "Yankev Dinezon"

Uriel Birnbaum's portrait of Yankev Dinezon

(click on image to enlarge)

Uriel Birnbaum's "Yosele in Kheyder"


Time: 11 May 2008
From: Robert Goldenberg
Subject: Dutch klezmer group plays "Holland Terkisher"

The SALOMON KLEZMORIM group was founded by the Amsterdam clarinetist Marcel Salomon in 1988. This song, "Holland Terkisher," is from their CD "FIRST KLEZ" (SYNCOOP  RECORDS 5752 CD 136) released in 1991. SYNCOOP PRODUKTIES, Slot Assumburgpad 54, 3123 RR Schiedam, Netherlands.

Click on the gramophone to hear the Salomon Klezmorim group play "Holland Terkisher"



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End of The Mendele Review  Issue 12.010
Editor, Leonard Prager
Editorial Associate, Robert Goldenberg

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