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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No.
In this issue:
Yiddish Educator Seminar at VYI
In May 2005, the VYI will launch an annual intensive two-week Yiddish Educator Seminar. This specialized program in Yiddish Studies is intended for Yiddish educators and teachers-in-training internationally. Conducted entirely in Yiddish, it will enable participants to meet the culturally specific challenges of teaching an authentic Yiddish to new generations of students at various levels. The seminar will be taught by four widely acknowledged Yiddish instructors: Ms. Miriam Hoffman of Columbia University (New York); Professor Dovid Katz of Vilnius University; Professor Dov-Ber Kerler of Indiana University (Bloomington); and Professor Yitskhok Niborski of the Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Paris). The program will take place at Vilnius University from 8 to 20 May 2005. All qualified persons are invited to apply by sending a letter of application, a CV, and two recommendation letters to project coordinator Olga Bliumenzon at email@example.com.
The VYI's seventh annual Summer Program in Yiddish scored a ringing success. On 25 August, after four weeks of intensive study and cultural activities, seventy-five students from seventeen countries worldwide received their completion certificates. Beside contingents from the U.S.A, Israel, and Europe East and West, students hailed from as far off as Australia, Japan, and-a first ever!-China. Otherwise, too, diversity typified the highly motivated, lively group. Every age bracket, from high school to retirement years, and the most varied backgrounds, professions, interests, and talents were represented.
In 2004, we expanded both the faculty and course curriculum to include five levels of instruction. This allowed for more flexible placement in all courses and stronger focus on stylistics and literary discussion in the upper ones. Once more, too, we assembled a highly experienced teaching staff of international repute. Returning to Vilna were our veteran teachers Mr. Hanan Bordin (Hebrew University, Jerusalem), Prof. Yitskhok Niborski (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris), and Prof. Anna Verschik (Tallinn Pedagogical U., Estonia). They were complemented by Ms. Victoria Ash, Mr. Eliezer Niborski, and Ms. Miriam Trinh, who together had taught Yiddish extensively in England, France, Israel, and Germany.
As always, the lecture and cultural program brimmed over with notable events, many of a kind possible only in Vilna. Among our local speakers and guides to Litvak Jewry we counted Dr. Simon Alperovitch (Head, Lithuanian Jewish Community); Fira Bramson (Chief Judaica Librarian, Lithuanian National Library); Prof. Israel Lempert (historian, Vilnius University); Rachel Kostanian (Deputy Director, Jewish State Museum); Bluma Katz (student in Max Weinreich's prewar Teachers Seminar in Vilna); Fania Brantsovskaya and Rokhl Margolis (both Vilna ghetto survivors and former partisans). Further, we hosted Dr. Sara Lapitskaya (cultural historian, Israel), Hirsh Reles (Yiddish author and poet, Minsk, Belarus), and still others. (Sadly, this was Hirsh Reles's last visit to the program. A month after his two talks, he passed away at age 91. Please see the memorial article below.)
From opening day, the program resonated with Yiddish song and klezmer tunes. Enriching us yet again, in performance and with music and dance workshops, was Avishai Fisz, discoverer of all-but-forgotten Yiddish songs; and joining him was program student Polina Belilovsky, our very own Yiddish nightingale. Likewise in residence throughout the session was classical and folk artist Lloica Czackis, who treated us to "Tangele," the program of Yiddish tango songs that has won her praise throughout Europe and the U.S. We also heard and sang along with Vilna's multicultural folklorist and recorded artist Marija Krupoves, who devoted a stirring concert to songs from the ghettos of World War II. Further, acclaimed klezmer musician and documentary film-maker Yale Strom, author of The Book of Klezmer and director of The Last Klezmer, Carpati, and L'chayim, Comrade Stalin!, presented his films, taught, and performed.
Our weekly outings included a trip, with concert, to the Kovne (Kaunas) synagogue, where we were hosted by the local Jewish community, followed by a visit to the shtetl of Zhezhmer (Ziezmariai) and the remains of its old wooden synagogue. After a guided tour of the shtetl Svintsyan (Svencionys) and its Jewish cemetery, we gathered in the apartment of one of the town's last native-born Jewish dwellers Bluma Katz and listened spellbound to her recollections of the Jewish life that once was. We also travelled to Shoah memorial sites, one outside Svintsyan itself, another the Ninth Fort outside Kovne, and, near Vilna, the infamous Ponar. Amid this broadly varied schedule, we also indulged in pure relaxation, with swimming, boating, and music making at the idyllic lake resorts of Akmeniene and Trakai (Yiddish: Trok), the latter with its ancient castle and Karaite house of worship.
The 2004 Yiddish Film Festival, organized by our director Mendy Cahan, featured both full-length classics and documentaries. Beside the films of Yale Strom, we showed Rod Freedman's "Uncle Chatzkel," a moving tribute to Chatzkel Lemchen, venerated as one of Lithuania's greatest philologists and a noble human being. (For more on Lemchen, please see our June Newsletter! >>>>) Also screened was the nostalgic Czernovitz film "Herr Zwilling and Frau Zuckermann" by Berlin director Volker Koepp. As a complement to the films, we hosted a lecture by Dr. Violeta Davoliute (Univ. Of Toronto) on the uses of Yiddish in modern film making.
Each Friday abundant food, drink, and traditional East European merriment awaited the group, visiting friends and family, and Jewish community guests at Mendy Cahan's high-spirited shabes tish. In addition, Mendy lectured informally on time-honored Jewish ways of learning (Talmud, Tsene rene, and more) and sang himself at a lakeside lunch, the final gala cabaret, and—the occasion permitting—as the spirit urged him.
To cap the cultural program, our students were invited to all events of the Second World Litvak Congress, which convened in Vilnius at the end of August. Along with Litvak Jews and their descendants from several continents, they attended lectures, festive book presentations, a Rafael Chwoles memorial art exhibition, and concerts by renowned soloists and ensembles. The high point for many was the world premiere of Vilnius composer Anatolijus Senderovas's orchestral song cycle "From a Songbook." Young Covent Garden mezzo-soprano Liora Grodnikaite, a Vilna native and graduate of the first Yiddish Summer Program in 1998, captivated an overflowing audience with the magic of her singing.
With Lithuania's entry into the European Union, students found much change and renewal in Vilnius, but also that the city retains its Old World charm and leisurely pace of life. In its nooks and corners—as well as in their courses—they discovered the Jewish Vilne that once was and gained insight into its unique spirit. Spurred by the success of this year's program, we are already looking forward to Yiddish in Vilnius in 2005.
On 17 September, Yiddish writer Hirsh Reles, a dear friend of the VYI, passed away in Minsk, in his native Belarus. Born in 1913 in Tshashnik, a shtetl in the Vitebsk region, Reles began publishing Yiddish poetry and prose in 1934. He was a member of the Belorussian Writers Union and taught Yiddish and Russian literature in Slutsk and Novogrudek. Although he published extensively in Russian and Belorusian after the war, he returned to being primarily a Yiddish writer as soon as the political situation allowed. He published three books in Yiddish: Iber vaysrusishe shtetlekh ("On Belorussian Shtetls"; 1983), Untern fridlekhn himl: rayze-bilder, noveln, dertseylungen ("Under the Peaceful Sky: Travel Sketches, Novellas, and Stories"; 1983), and, this past July, Di yidish-sovetishe shrayber fun vaysrusland ("The Yiddish-Soviet Writers of Belorussia"), which the Vilnius Yiddish Institute proudly helped publish. In this work, Reles shares his memories of writers such as Izzy Kharik and Moyshe Kulbak, as well as his general impressions of the Yiddish literary scene in Belorussia during Soviet times. Until his last days, Hirsh Reles contributed actively to Yiddish culture. In the month just prior to his death, he once again delivered two impassioned lectures at the Vilnius Yiddish Summer Program. As always, his readings were inspired by his lofty vision of the poet's calling.
We at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute were privileged to call Hirsh Reles a friend and will cherish his memory.
This fall saw the appearance of Professor Dovid Katz's Words on Fire, a cultural history of Yiddish eagerly awaited by scholars, students, and just plain lovers of Yiddish alike. Subtitled The Unfinished Story of Yiddish, at its end the book raises a voice against the long familiar predictions of the demise of Yiddish and its literary culture. Dovid Katz knows well both the just arguments advanced by the mourners of Yiddish and the unjust ones raised by its deprecators; and he himself is far from denying the tragic decline of Yiddish, above all in the wake of the Shoah. Yet he envisions a future for the language that extends deep into the 21st century. In his final chapter, he locates the preservers of Yiddish in the revived and now growing communities of Yiddish-speaking Hassidim worldwide. And he pins his hopes, too, on the many small, scattered islands of devoted Yiddish scholars and students that he himself—in his still young, but highly productive career— has long helped foster.
Dovid Katz's lifelong intimacy with the world of Yiddish pervades his book, as does equally, and in equally congenial manner, his vast erudition. Words on Fire sovereignly guides the reader through a three millennia-old history of Jewish linguistic and cultural inventiveness. It leads from the creation of biblical Hebrew as the first Jewish fusion language, to the second great product of this same creative genius, Jewish Aramaic; and then to the third: Yiddish and its thousand-year cultural history. Finally, Dovid Katz takes us to our own day and beyond it. Weaving a broad, richly colored historical tapestry, he portrays the evolution of Yiddish from folk idiom in Ashkenaz, where it emerged from a fusion of Hebraic and Germanic elements, to become both the vernacular and high literary language of an all-embracing Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe. Further, in his chapter "The Twentieth Century," he vividly evokes the fertile epoch of Yiddish cultural and literary activity in New York, along with the bitter language battles in prestate Israel, which saw Yiddish consigned to outlaw status.
Although Dovid Katz's portrayal is informed by three decades of linguistic research and scholarly writing, the lay reader, too, will find Words on Fire thoroughly accessible, enlightening, and—not least— engrossing from start to finish. In salutary contrast to the pop culturalists who feed off the false sentimentality that has attached itself to Yiddish, Dovid Katz tells his "unfinished story" profoundly and penetratingly. To the encompassing knowledge he brings to his subject, he adds his deepest care, respect, and, yes, love for it. Throughout his 430-page landmark book, the qualities of his own personal Yiddishkeyt abound and, together with his scholarship, afford the reader profit and pleasure of a rare kind.
Dovid Katz. Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish. New York. Basic Books. 2004. 430 pages.
A delegation of Yiddish scholars from Germany spent a week in Vilnius finalizing a new cooperative agreement with the VYI. Together, the Foerderverein fuer Jiddische Sprache und Kultur, an international association based in Duesseldorf, Germany, and the VYI, will transcribe tapes from the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. The latter is a major project conceived in the 1950s and first directed by the great Yiddish linguist Uriel Weinreich (1926— 1967).
Led by Foerderverein board members Dr. Ulrike Kiefer and Robert Neumann, and Florian Frank, vice president of the binational Association for the Promotion of Yiddish Language and Culture in Moldavia, the association and the Institute resolved to launch practical and productive cooperation without delay.
The Foerderverein created and maintains the EYDES project, which is geared to generate worldwide electronic access to the archival tapes of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ). The archive enables researchers and students of Yiddish to hear the magnificent variety of rich Yiddish dialects recorded by the LCAAJ and research them with computer support and a variety of new methods.
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute is supplying transcribers to key in sound files of the Atlas as special text files with links to the original sound. Thus, a transcription in Standard Yiddish actually leads to the totally genuine local dialect form on the original tape. Although the interviews were carried out during the Cold War—of necessity, then, with emigre informants, mostly in the United States and Israel—all the tapes faithfully reflect pre-1939 European Yiddish.
There are a number of happy historic and scholarly confluences here. The grand Atlas was first envisioned by Uriel Weinreich's father, Max Weinreich (1894— 1969), during his years in Vilna (then Wilno, Poland), and is mentioned in one of his works from the early 1920s. The elder Weinreich was, of course, the principal founder of the Yivo in Vilna in 1925 (now the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the world center for academic Yiddish studies). These many years later, it is surely fitting that some part of the work emanating from his son Uriel's fulfillment of that dream has returned to Vilna. Further, in the late 1970s, Dr. Kiefer and Vilnius University professor of Yiddish Studies Dovid Katz studied Yiddish dialectology together at Columbia University (New York), and now they have helped forge the new institutional link between Germany and Lithuania.
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute warmly welcomes Fulbright Fellow Hannah Pollin (U.S.A.), who will be studying here for one year. Ms. Pollin, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Slavic Honor Society Dobro Slovo, was graduated from Columbia College (New York) last May with a B.A. in Yiddish Studies and English Literature. She plans to study Vilna's Jewish cultural history through the biographies of current community members and has begun her research by conducting intensive interviews. Beside her studies, Ms. Pollin is volunteering with children and the elderly at the Vilna kehile. We look forward to sharing the results of Ms. Pollin's work as the year progresses.
Readers are cordially invited to visit two just-launched websites. One is a dedicated site describing the VYI's pioneering Yiddish Educator Seminar. This is an advanced intensive teacher-training course, which the Institute will offer this spring, from 8 to 20 May 2005. Taught entirely in Yiddish, in several respects the course will be the first of its kind. For full details, please see www.yiddisheducator.com.
The second website is Professor Dovid Katz's own, at www.dovidkatz.net. In response to many requests, it contains a provisional bibliography of Professor Katz's scholarly and creative fiction publications. Also included is a detailed table of contents for his just published book, Words on Fire: The Unfinished History of Yiddish (New York: Basic Books, 2004).
In addition, we are pleased to announce a third website, initiated by students after the 2003 Summer Program. The website provides a forum for the more than 500 students, faculty, and staff worldwide who have taken part in the Summer Program since its start in 1998. Keep up your Vilna ties by joining the Yiddish Program Yahoo group at firstname.lastname@example.org!
On 22 August, the VYI's Dr. Marija Krupoves sang on center stage at the 30th annual "Yiddish Festival in the Park" in Cote St. Luc (Canada). This year, the festival memorialized its founder and producer, Warsaw-born Sara Rosenfeld, who had devoted her life to preserving the Yiddish cultural heritage. Marija and Sara had first met in May, 2003, when Marija was touring Canada. On hearing Marija's CD "Songs of the Vilna Ghetto," Rosenfeld quickly arranged a concert for her. Before Marija performed, however, Rosenfeld had her sing each song twice—such was her dedication to her mission! Then, just before her death in January at age 83, Rosenfeld personally named Marija as featured festival performer for 2004. Fittingly, Marija was accompanied by Sara Rosenfeld's nephew, renowned Yiddish musician Zalmen Mlotek, along with the Deborah Strauss - Jeff Warschauer duo.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
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