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

Contents of Vol. 12.016 [Sequential No. 207]
Date: 27 August 2008

                          Text Box: Abraham Brumberg, 1926 - 2008

1) This issue of The Mendele Review
2) "The Jerusalem Conference: A Century Of Yiddish 1908-2008"
3) In memory of Abe Brumberg (1926-2008)
4) Paul Robeson, Itsik Fefer and Yiddish
5) "Zikhroynes fun a farshnitener teater heym" [Part Three – Yiddish Text]  (Avrom Karpinovitsh)
6) "Memories of a Lost Theater Home" (Part Three – English translation)
7) Yiddish Film Made in Israel; Hebrew Translation of a Bashevis Novel; Yung Yidish Calendar
8) Lyrics and Score of "Oy dortn, dortn" and "Shvartse karshelekh"
9) "Oy dortn, dortn" and "Shvartse karshelekh" sung by Abe Brumberg

Date: 27 August 2008
From: ed.
Subject: This issue of The Mendele Review

This issue of The Mendele Review honors the memory of Abe Brumberg who died early this year. One obituary from each side of the Atlantic is given as well as a representative Brumberg essay of Jewish concern. *** The report on the ongoing plans for "The Jerusalem Conference: A Century of Yiddish 1908-2008" (see 2. below) will interest Yiddish-lovers the world over. *** Israeli cultural events of Yiddish substance -- a film all in Yiddish, a new translation of a Bashevis novel and the current calendar of the dynamic Yung yidish group suggest the improved state of Israeli-Yiddish relations. *** A brief note in the Wikipedia entry on the Yiddish poet Itsik Feffer [Yiddish: Fefer] recounts a little known episode in the life of the great singer and actor Paul Robeson. *** The third and last part of the Karpinovitsh selection -- Yiddish and English translation -- appear in this issue (click to enlarge). *** Both lyrics and scores of two of Abe Brumberg's favorite Yiddish folk songs precede the concluding item -- Abe himself singing the two songs.

Date: 27 August 2008
From: Professor Yechiel Szeintuch
Subject: "The Jerusalem Conference: A Century Of Yiddish 1908-2008"

The Dov Sadan Project for Yiddish Studies was founded in 2002 to assist graduate students of Yiddish in planning and carrying out long-term projects in all branches of Yiddish culture. The most recent endeavor of the Project is organization of an international academic conference at the Hebrew University open to the general public and tentatively scheduled for Summer/Fall 2009. The organizing committee includes The Dov Sadan Project, The Institute of Contemporary Jewry and The Institute of Jewish Studies, all of the Hebrew University, whose tradition of Yiddish studies may be traced to 1951 when Professor Dov Sadan founded the Department of Yiddish as part of the Institute of Jewish Studies. Today, fifty-seven years later, a new generation of master and doctoral students of Yiddish will participate in the planned conference besides established scholars in the field.

The projected topics of the conference are:  1.  Modern Yiddish literature;  2.  International Yiddish press;  3.  Yiddish theater; 4.  Yiddish cultural history and creativity during the Holocaust;  5.  The postwar revival of Yiddish language and literature;  6.  Yiddish education in the Diaspora and in Israel;  7.  Research on Yiddish in academic institutions such as the Hebrew University, the YIVO Institute, and others;  8.  The significance of Yiddish and its culture for Jewish Studies.

The core members of the Dov Sadan Project are Hebrew University doctoral students in Yiddish language, literature and culture. They number native Israelis and those who "made aliya" from Canada, Argentina, United States, Lithuania, Germany, Tashkent, and Romania.

Date: 27 August 2008
From: ed.
Subject: In memory of Abe Brumberg (1926-2008)

To mark the  recent death of Abe Brumberg, accomplished scholar of the Soviet period, editor, writer and Yiddish-lover – he wore other hats as well -- we direct our readers to the interview he gave for the Polish-Jewish Midrasz and reprinted in The Mendele Review  vol. 7.13. We also point to two rightly appreciative obituaries, one in the Guardian (Feb. 2008) and another in the Forward (March 2008).

Brumberg's position on matters Jewish is forthrightly presented in his Jewish Social Studies essay "Anniversaries in Conflict: On the Centenary of the Jewish Socialist Labor Bund" .  The recently published Yerusholaimer Almanakh 28 (2008) features a fine short essay (translated into Yiddish by the author himself), "Epizodn fun mayn sotsialistisher oysshulung" ('Episodes of  My Socialist Upbringing'), an extract from his autobiography (Journeys Through Vanishing Worlds, Washington, DC: Scarith/New Academia Pub., 2007).

Date: 27 August 2008
From: ed.
Subject:  Paul Robeson, Itsik Fefer and Yiddish

Continuing the tragic story of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee featured in the last issue of The Mendele Review (see  TMR vol 12.15), we reproduce a brief note from Wikipedia that tells us about a little known incident in the life of the great singer and actor Paul Robeson and his relationship to the complex Yiddish poet and public figure Itsik Fefer. On the famous partisan song mentioned here see The Mendele Review vol 12.5 .

Paul Robeson

"The American concert singer and actor Paul Robeson met Feffer on July 8, 1943 in New York during a Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee event chaired by Albert Einstein, the largest pro-Soviet rally ever held in the United States. After the rally, Essie and Paul Robeson entertained Feffer and Mikhoels."   "Six years later, in June 1949, during the 150th anniversary celebration of the birth of Alexander Pushkin, Robeson visited the Soviet Union to sing in concert. Concerned about the welfare of Jewish artists, Robeson insisted to Soviet officials that he meet with Feffer[3]. Forced to communicate through hand gestures and notes because the room was bugged, Feffer indicated that Mikhoels had been murdered in 1948 by the secret police. Feffer also indicated that many other Jewish artists had been arrested. Robeson responded publicly during his concert in Tchaikovsky Hall, June 14, 1949 by paying tribute to his friends Feffer and Mikhoels. He then sang the Vilnius partisan song "Zog Nit Keynmol" in both Russian and Yiddish in defiance of Soviet authorities."

[The above Paul Robeson note is reprinted here from Wikipedia at]

Date: 27 August 2008
From: Avrom Karpinovitsh [Abraham Karpinowitz]
Subject: "Zikhroynes fun a farshnitener teater heym" [Part Three -- Yiddish Text]

[ Part Three begins with third paragraph.]

(Left click on image to enlarge)

Date: 27 September 2008
From: Shimen Yofe [Shimon Joffe]
Subject: "Memories of a Lost Theater Home"  (Part Three – English translation)


My father now reached a critical point. He already had his own theater, the Palace Theater, and was well known in the theater world. Zelverish, the director of the Polish theater in Vilna, admired him for building up a theater with such modest means, and without government assistance. My mother, too, was content, because -- thank God -- the business was doing well. But my father was not satisfied. He was obsessed with the dream of building a theater where the gallery wouldn’t have fewer seats than the hall, so that ordinary folk could afford the cost of a ticket to see a performance. For what is a Jewish theater without the common folk? The Palace Theater had no gallery and my father missed it.

Actors wondered how father was able to write a box-office  report on the back of a pack of cigarettes, covering it with figures like tiny gnats and then showing the calculations to my mother. Rubbing his hands with glee, he said to her:  “Rachel, it’s gold. One evening‘s income from the gallery will cover a week's expenses."  Mother pushed away the improvised reckonings and groaned: "Oh Moyshe, you’re looking for trouble.”

My father surveyed Tsinizeli's former circus on Ludvisarske Gass, and decided that that was the right place to put up a theater. He chose the circus for an important reason -- it already had a gallery. This could be a gallery for the folk. He intended to turn the circus arena into a seating area.

My father consulted Rudin the carpenter on what needed to be done and how to go about doing it. Rudin had spent all his life in the theater. He knew where to set backdrops between acts, and how to hammer in huge nails (heard throughout the theater). His voice sounded angry, straight out of his belly: "I’m not about to crawl around on the circus rafters. I don’t want to spend my last years with broken legs. For this sort of work, find yourself some gentiles..."

My father did just that. He went to Nowy Swiat, a suburb where the Starovyern lived. They were the so called 'Old-Believers' who had broken from the Russian Orthodox Church). They were carpenters, builders in wood, famous throughout the area for constructing wooden buildings.  The carpenters, bearded Russians, sat in the circus and worked with axes sharp as razors shaping beams for the theater. My father, as was his habit, stroked his beard, wandered about among the fresh wood, and tried to teach the carpenters their trade....

That’s how my father built the folk theater.

Great shows were put on there. A live horse even appeared on  the stage. It was most unusual to spend money on such effects in the Yiddish theater; but Rudolf Zaslavski playing Tevye the Dairyman insisted that he come onto the stage with horse and cart, exactly as Sholem-Aleichem wrote. My father justified him, and in memory of his beloved author went to the lumber market and bought a horse and cart.

Moris Lyampe  put on The Longing of the Heart. Women were so taken with this drama that they came early in the day to buy cheap tickets. The gallery filled, and my father strode about the theater like a victor on a battle field.

On  Saturday evenings, the gallery was filled with spectators. Once, a woman fainted during a scene in The Longing of the Heart in which two children sang a sad song with the refrain “I’ll remember you, I’ll long  for you.” Women left the theater with red, swollen eyes, cursing the seducer with deadly curses, and deriving a moral lesson for themselves. Men looked aside and secretly wiped away a tear. That’s how my father gave the people to whom he was devoted a theater. The theater tickets of this audience did not lie in lacquered purses, but in baskets with some greens, a piece of cheap meat and a  miserable little fish for the Sabbath.

One day, my father returned from the theater and instead of  fussing over his collection of  lighters (he had a weakness for all sorts of lighters), he sat down on the edge of the sofa and started to rub his right eyebrow. He had a habit of stroking his right eyebrow with a finger when in deep thought. It was an old habit, probably from his yeshiva days. Usually, my father sat like this in the evenings, after the performances. But this time it was midday.  My mother came out of the kitchen with a plate of sliced herring and saw my father rubbing his eyebrow, and felt a pain in her heart. Father's posture denoted something was not right. . He was undoubtedly thinking of some new innovation for the theater. His few earned pennies weree burning a hole in his pocket. 

And that’s what it was. While at the table, my father spoke out, "You know what, Rachel? I was talking to people. There are complaints about the theater."  My mother didn’t ask what complaints, she just looked at him with the grey eyes he so loved.  “The complaints are that the intellectual public goes to the Polish theater, and we have to wean them away. “ My mother sliced the Spanish onions, my father's favorite appetizer, and grumbled: “Intellectuals, bah, much income we get from them.”

My father left for Warsaw to engage the  famous ‘Vilner Troupe’ to put in a guest season  in Vilna, and thus to satisfy the city’s intellectuals. The expenses were great. The ‘Troupe’ made heavy demands. My father also knew that the honor of the visit will not be his, but rather go to the credit of the ‘Troupe’ director, Maza. But none of this diminished his determination to enable Vilna to see the ‘Troupe’ which bore its name.

Maza took all the honours. He was at the entrance to greet all the high-born personages who came to the gala premiere. Maza also gave interviews to journalists at the banquets. But my father too had his moments of joy. In intervals between the acts, the ‘cream’ of Vilna paraded in the foyer of the Folk Theater and -- with Jewish enthusiasm -- lauded the performance in Polish.

They put on Shakespeare’s Shylock (i.e. The Merchant of Venice). Vayslits acted Shylock, and Yankev Mansdorf  acted Bassanio. Mansdorf walked limberly about the stage in short plush trousers, hose covering his young muscular legs and a  velvet jacket thrown over his powerful shoulders. The costumer Zakovitsh put a belt around his hips and hung a rapier from it. Mansdorf smiled widely with full lips and a mouthful of white teeth. The audience enjoyed the fresh new tone which the ‘Vilner Troupe’ brought to the Yiddish theater.


What became of it all?

The Germans converted the theater into a depot for tanks. They tore down the gallery. Before retreating from the city in 1944, they tore down the theater and leveled it to the ground. Not a beam was left in the building that my father had built with such love. He went to his death in Ponar together with his audience, the loyal Vilna theater-goers.

My father walked the last road alone, without mother, the love of his young years. She was murdered earlier by the Germans together with my sister Dvora, a talented stage actress. Dvora's husband, the actor Leyb Vayner, also went with them. My father's dream of the theater, actors, performances, decorations, stage effects -- the colourful world in which he had lived -- was destroyed.

The ashes of that dream live on in my memories of a destroyed home.

Date: 27 August 2008
From: ed.
Subject:  Yiddish Film Made in Israel;  Hebrew Translation of a Bashevis Novel;  Yung Yidish Calendar

a. A full-length film, Bet-Avi ('My Father's House') wholly in Yiddish, directed by Dani Rozenberg, and starring Iti Titan and Miki Leon has been produced in Israel. The actors were instructed by Moshe Sakhar to speak Lodz Yiddish. It will be interesting to see if this linguistic goal has been reached and if the film resists the stereotypic use of Yiddish for comic relief. In any event, the bare fact of producing an imaginative Yiddish film in Israel is encouraging. For a newspaper review that takes the film seriously and uncovers significant political motifs, see Yotam Feldman, "Be-yidish ze nire yoter tov" ('In Yiddish It Looks Bertter'), Musaf Ha-Aretz 15/8/2008, pp. 64. This title is of course a play on the widespread Israeli saying, "In Yiddish it sounds better."

b. Natan Cohen in his review of Bilha Rubinstein's Hebrew translation of Yitskhok Bashevis's [Isaac Bashevis Zinger's] Der kuntsnmakher fun Lublin ('The Magician of Lublin') [see Khatsi treysar parashot ahavim ('A Half-Dozen Love Affairs') [Ha-Aretz 22.8.2008] summarizes the novel's plot, congratulates the translator for working from the Yiddish in contrast to most Bashevis translators who translate from the English and -- principally -- pinpoints a goodly number of embarrassing mistranslations. In the latter area our critic is a veritable sharpshooter, mercilessly finding egregious errors. For instance, the translator reads afere 'affair' as opera 'opera' and speaks of Praga, the unwholesome Warsaw quarter east of the Vistula River as 'Praga Street'. Cohen's eagle eye is praiseworthy, but the reader would also be grateful to learn about the translator's stylistic range, ability to capture dialogue, mastery of tonal gradations, ability to echo the original Yiddish -- principal  ingredients of a translation.

c. Yung yidish calendar:   YUNG YiDiSH Events in August & September 
Program in Yiddish and Hebrew:     info: (03) 6874433

Date: 27 August 2008
From: Eleanor Mlotek
Subject: Lyrics and Score of "Oy dortn, dortn" and "Shvartse karshelekh"

(click on image to enlarge)







Date: 27 August 2008
From: Robert Goldenberg
Subject: "Oy dortn, dortn" and "Shvartse karshelekh" sung by Abe Brumberg (From his album "Lovers, Dreamers and Thieves")


Click on the gramophone to hear Oy dortn, dortn


Click on the gramophone to hear Shvartse karshelekh


The album "Lovers, Dreamers and Thieves, Yiddish Folk Songs from Eastern Europe", released, in 1977, by Troubadour Music Inc., 1346 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036.  Record # TR-8.


End of The Mendele Review  Issue 12.016
Editor,  Leonard Prager
Editorial Associate, Robert Goldenberg

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