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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No. 11
In this issue:
Vilna Author Avrom Karpinovitsh (1913-2004)
The staff, students, and wider community of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute mourn the death of master Yiddish prose writer Avrom Karpinovitsh on 22 March 2004, some two months short of his 91st birthday. Beloved by readers and friends, in his works he depicted the everyday life of pre-war Vilna (then Polish Wilno; Yiddish always Vilne). Focusing on the poor, the disenfranchised, and the underworld, he offered a bold counterpicture to that of the pious scholars or revolutionary secularists found at the center of so many other Yiddish works.
Born in on 29 May 1913 in Vilna (then Tsarist Russia), Karpinovitsh was the son of Moyshe Karpinovitsh (1882-1941), founder of the Vilna Yiddish Folk Theater. In 1941, Moyshe Karpinovitsh perished in the Vilna Ghetto. Avrom himself escaped to Russia, and after a brief postwar sojourn in the ruins of Jewish Vilna, he settled in Israel in 1949. From 1952, he administered the Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. From 1947 until his death in 2004, he published countless short stories and critiques, along with memoirs, and was widely translated.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent Lithuania, Karpinovitsh became a frequent visitor to Vilna. There he would spend hours at the forlorn building on Ludwisarska Street (now Liejyklos), where he erected a plaque in Yiddish and Lithuanian in memory of his father.
Karpinovitsh was deeply gratified by the founding of the Yiddish Summer Program in Vilnius in 1998 and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in 2001. Whenever he could, he delighted in reading and lecturing before our students, who were often left in tears after his glowing recreations of a destroyed world. He also participated loyally in Israel's Yung Yiddish movement, appearing for the last time in public with a talk titled "My Vilne." On that occasion, only four days before his death, he was as exuberant and inspiring as ever. With lasting thanks in our hearts, we mourn the passing of a treasured writer and friend.
When the Vilnius Yiddish Institute was formally launched on 27 August 2001, preeminent among the guests was the last great pre-war Yiddish scholar resident in post-Soviet Vilnius, 97 year-old Chatzkel Lemchen (1904-2001). With deep emotion, the founders, faculty, and students of the new institution in the Lithuanian capital welcomed him to the event. For all who knew him, his presence symbolized that a grand old heritage was finally, at the twelfth hour, being transmitted to an eager new generation. Thereafter, sadly, he was to live only a few months.
To Lithuanians, who know him as Chackelis Lemchenas, he was a great Lithuanian lexicographer and the compiler of a series of authoritative Lithuanian-Russian dictionaries. But from his youth in interwar independent Lithuanian, Lemchen maintained an avid interest in Yiddish philology and literature. Before the war, he translated a number of Yiddish classics into Lithuanian, and during the Soviet period, he managed to publish a study of the impact of Lithuanian on Yiddish in western Lithuania. Published in Vilnius in 1970, it is the only book ever in the Lithuanian language dedicated to Yiddish. In the early 1990s, he prepared an enlarged version in Yiddish, which appeared in Oxford Yiddish III in 1995.
A native of the shtetl Popilan (Lithuanian: Papile) in northern Lithuania, Lemchen spent much of his youth in nearby Zhager (Zagare). He became a wunderkind of Lithuanian philology under the aegis of Professor Jonas Jablonskis (1860-1930), regarded as the father of modern literary Lithuanian.
Lemchen was beloved as an exceptionally modest, gentle, and kind personality, who embodied the love of learning for its own sake that is one of the hallmarks of the traditional Litvak.
During Lemchen's final years, his nephew Rod Freedman, a film director in Australia, discovered him and made the extraordinary documentary Uncle Chatzkel. The Vilnius Jewish Museum's Ruta Puishyte is near completion of a book on Lemchen for Lithuanian children to accompany the film. After Lemchen's death, Mr. Freedman appointed Jewish Vilnius tour guide Regina Kopilevich and the Jewish Museum's Jurate Razumiene to erect the gravestones for Chatzkel Lemchen and his late wife Ella. The Vilnius Yiddish Institute composed and oversaw the engraving of the Yiddish inscription.
Lemchen's legacy as a rare scholar and human being lives on. In Lithuania and far beyond, he is fondly remembered by many admirers and friends.
On 30 April 2004, New York's traditionalist Yiddish weekly, the Algemeyner zhurnal, began to carry a new column, Vilner igéreslakh, by the VYI's Dovid Katz, Vilnius University professor of Yiddish Studies. The formal translation of the title might be "Letters from Vilna" but igéresl, the Yiddish diminutive of igéres ("epistle" or "missive") conveys a certain cheery and intimate twist that has no exact English correlate. The first "igéresl" is dedicated to the incredible life story of Avrom Orlinsky of Mozer, Belarus, a dedicated Jew who lives in a house in which he is surrounded by crosses and crucifixes. He is just one among hundreds of precious characters encountered by Professor Katz during years of expeditions throughout Eastern Europe. The Algemeyner zhurnal (English spelling: Algemeiner Journal) can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: (+1718) 771-0400; fax: (+1718) 771-0308.
The VYI proudly welcomed Professor Pieter W. van der Horst of the University of Utrecht, Netherlands to Vilnius University in May. Professor van der Horst is the author of 25 books, most recently Philo's Flaccus: The First Pogrom (Leiden 2003). As part of the seminar series sponsored jointly by the Center for Stateless Cultures and the Institute, Professor van der Horst lectured on the origins of anti-Semitism, which he traced to first-century B.C. Alexandria in Egypt. Afterward, his daring thesis sparked sparked a lively discussion.
The seminar was jointly chaired by Professor Sharunas Liekis and Mr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas.
Professor Dovid Katz, Research Director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, has just completed an intensive two-week expedition to eastern Ukraine. The aim was to seek out, record, and provide assistance to the oldest Yiddish-speaking survivors in a broad swath of that region. Supported by a grant from the Shoah Foundation in Paris, the expedition covered nineteen towns and cities. It started in Pereyaslav, Sholem Aleichem's birthplace, swung southward to Kherson at the Black Sea, then back up north along a more easterly route to Sumy near the Russian border, and wound up at Borispol, a suburb of Kiev. The humanitarian component of the mission was enabled by the On-Site Survivor Support Project based in Los Angeles. Its founder is Mr. Chic Wolk, whose late father was a native of Pereyaslav.
The 1449 mile (2332 kilometer) expedition visited the following locations (given in their current Ukrainian form; Yiddish forms follow when appreciably different): (1) Pereiaslav-Khmel'nits'kyi (Pereyaslav); (2) Lubny (Luben); (3) Myrhorod (Mirgorod); (4) Poltava; (5) Krementshuk; (6) Kryvyi Rih (Kriverog); (7) Kherson; (8) Nikopol; (9) Zaporozhe; (10) Dnipropetrovsk (Yakaterinoslav; Katerineslev); (11) Hadyatsh (Haditsh); (12) Konotop; (13) Glukhov; (14) Sumy (Sume); (15) Romny (Romen); (16) Pryluky (Priluk); (17) Berezan; (18) Yagotin; (19) Boryspil (Borispol).
One of the scholarly goals of the expedition was to help establish the rapidly vanishing border between Northeastern (Lithuanian) Yiddish and Southeastern (Ukrainian) Yiddish, the latter itself a subvariety of Southern East European Yiddish (often called "Polish" or "Galician" in popular parlance).
Twenty-eight extensive interviews, conducted entirely in Yiddish, were recorded on professional digital video equipment. The oldest informant was Ester-Henye Krasnikov of Konotop, who is 97 years-old. The second oldest was Hertz Brusilovsky of Kherson, who is 91. Nearly all the others were in their 80's. While the informants were encouraged to speak freely in Yiddish without time restrictions, further dialectological and folkloric data were elicited through a standardized questionnaire. With this methodology, the VYI is creating an audiovisual archive of the last genuine local native Yiddish speakers and their dialects for students and researchers— today and in the future.
On the journey, Professor Katz encountered a number of younger and middle-aged Ukrainian Jews deeply interested in Yiddish. Several of them ardently wish to enroll in the VYI's annual Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish, held each August. But this wish can be realized only if scholarship assistance becomes available. Readers who can identify funding sources for these worthy applicants are asked to contact the Institute as soon as possible.
In addition to Professor Katz, the team included filmmaker and videographer Pawel Figurski of Poland, and coordinator Ludmilla Makedonskaya of Belarus. The home-base coordinating team at the VYI comprised executive director Professor Sharunas Liekis, office manager Loreta Paukshtyte, and development officer Olga Bliumenzon.
Because of the advanced age of the remaining Yiddish speakers, time is rapidly running out for the VYI expedition project. For this urgent reason, we hope that support for further expeditions will be forthcoming quickly.
Itche Goldberg, the master Yiddish editor, educator, scholar, and writer, was honored at a gala banquet in New York City on 25 April marking his 100th birthday. Held at the Habonim Synagogue in Manhattan, the event attracted hundreds of leading figures of modern Yiddish culture from around the globe. Born in Apt (Opatow), Poland in 1904, Goldberg was raised in Warsaw, emigrated to Canada in 1920, and moved some years later to New York. There he became head of the left-wing Yiddish Ordn schools, and, from 1937 to 1951, editor of the young people's magazine Yungvarg. Over the decades he grew as an innovative literary researcher and a beloved teacher of Yiddish language and literature, from elementary school level to the university. In 1970 he was appointed Professor of Yiddish at New York's Queen's College. But he is best known as the tireless editor of Yidishe kultur, widely hailed as the world's finest journal of modern Yiddish literature. He assumed the editorship in 1964, and continues to publish the journal from his offices at Broadway and 26th Street.
In honor of the occasion, Vilnius University issued a special certificate of recognition in Yiddish. On behalf of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, it was presented to Professor Goldberg at the banquet by Yiddish teacher and poet Troim Handler.
The Conference on the Future of the Jewish Heritage in Europe was held in Prague from 24 to 27 April and attended by 150 leaders in the fields of cultural preservation, education, and protection of the Jewish heritage in Europe. It resulted in a number of specific proposals to enhance Jewish life, culture, and education in the new Europe. Representing the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, Professor Dovid Katz read a paper in which he argued that the elderly survivors are living treasure troves of language, culture, folklore, and oral history and themselves a precious Jewish legacy in today's Europe. Professor Katz illustrated his paper with video clips from a number of his expeditions to Belarus.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Hanadiv Foundation in London, the VYI has been able to digitize older recording formats and thus enrich its scholarly archives.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
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