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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No.
In this issue:
Post-Doctoral Advancement for VYI's Dr. Sharunas Liekis
On 30 June, our executive director and associate professor Dr. Sharunas Liekis successfully completed the requirements for habilitation at Vilnius University. As one part of this demanding process, Dr. Liekis produced a study on "The Integration of the Jewish Minority into Lithuanian Political Life in 1918-1940 and its Impact on the Ethnic Conflicts during the Second World War." In its method, the work bridges Dr. Liekis's teaching areas of political science and history.
With the required thirty-five members from the Departments of History and Philology in attendance, Dr. Liekis gave a public lecture and fielded questions on his subject. Thereupon, the eight members who comprised his narrower review committee held forth individually on his study and the lecture before adjourning to vote. Now, with his habilitation secured, Dr. Liekis—who earned his Ph.D. at Brandeis University—has become eligible for promotion to full professor. We at the VYI join his History Department and Mykolas Romeris University colleagues in congratulating him on this significant step in his career.
The VYI is pleased to announce the reappointment to its faculty of Vilnius University lecturer in Yiddish, Dr. Francesco Zamblera. Last academic year, Francesco's first, all seven of his winter semester students in Beginning Yiddish passed the rigorous final examination. In spring semester, the course saw further success, with university credit for all participants.
Francesco's path to Yiddish was unusual. A native of Livorno, Italy and a graduate student at the University of Pisa, he came to Vilnius three years ago in order to conduct research on his now completed doctoral thesis. His topic: the Belorussian dialects of Southern Lithuania. But Yiddish was still another of his varied linguistic interests, and after pursuing courses in Vilnius University's Yiddish Institute, in 2004 he completed the highest level of the Intensive Summer Yiddish program. Meanwhile, he has been writing a Yiddish grammar for Lithuanian speakers. That he himself acquired fluent Lithuanian in a relatively short time speaks for his exceptional linguistic gifts and enables him to meet the challenges of teaching Yiddish at Vilnius University as few "outsiders" could.
With special pleasure, Francesco reports that in addition to his regular university students his Yiddish class was joined by several older members of the local Jewish community. Having been unable to speak their native Yiddish during fifty years of Communist suppression, they were now eager to reacquire the mame loshen in Francesco's class. We are delighted that through his teaching we can contribute to this heartening revival.
In May, Columbia University graduate Hannah Pollin returned to the U.S. after ten months as a Fulbright Fellow in Lithuania. During her stay, Hannah was hosted by the VYI, with Professor Dovid Katz as her "welcoming and resourceful adviser," as Hannah gratefully described him. While she had arrived in Vilnius aiming to conduct research on Yiddish literature in the Vilna Ghetto, she soon found a new interest: the present-day lives of Litvaks born before WW II and still living in Lithuania.
With Professor Katz's help, Hannah drew on community contacts to locate sixty such Jewish informants in different regions of Lithuania. Through one-on-one interviews, she sought information about the return of Jewish refugees to Lithuania after the Second World War, the revival and redefining of Lithuanian Jewish life in the Soviet years, and how these elderly Litvaks understand questions of ethnicity.
Through the interviews, Hannah gained intimate knowledge of those subjects, and also a unique chance to use Yiddish as her language of communication. It turned out that Yiddish served her both as a research tool and a means of forging unforgettable friendships. She became closely involved with many of her informants as individuals, and also with the Lithuanian Jewish community as a whole.
Hannah has delivered lectures on her research at the Institute for Stateless Cultures in Vilnius and at the National Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. Further, she was invited to attend sessions of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania. Beside academic articles, in the coming years Hannah plans to write a memoir of her Fulbright experience and to incorporate her findings into graduate studies.
Hannah has just begun work in Los Angeles as Director of Education for Yiddishkayt LA's new venture, Take Yiddish. Funded by the Righteous Persons Foundation, this is an innovative program to teach Yiddish in three different Jewish day schools. For each of them, Hannah has created a new, age-appropriate curriculum. As a teacher, she hopes to share with her pupils all that she learned as a Fulbright Fellow in Vilna; at the same time, she will be awakening them to the kinds of exploration the study of Yiddish can make possible.
The VYI notes with pride that Hannah attended the Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish in 2002 and 2004. Now, as she embarks on her new, challenging pursuit, we wish her success and reward of every kind.
Since Dovid Katz's cultural history of Yiddish Words on Fire appeared last summer, it has garnered major reviews in both scholarly and popular periodicals. That Professor Katz published a second landmark book during the same period is an extraordinary achievement. Lithuanian Jewish Culture, his monumental work on Jewish history and culture in the old Litvak lands, appeared with Baltos Lankos Press in Vilnius and surely will soon become the focus of broad critical attention.
Here, the richness of Lithuanian Jewish Culture can only be hinted at. Lavishly produced, with over 300 rare photographs and 26 original maps and charts, it is the most comprehensive religious and secular history of Litvak Jewry ever to appear in English. With the rise of Lithuanian Jewry as background, Professor Katz first surveys the traditional rabbinic culture of Ashkenazic Jewry. Within this framework, he then treats specifically Lithuanian rabbinic and kabalistic traditions, along with the momentous Hasidic-Misnagdic conflict. Further, he portrays the modernist secular movements of Yiddishism, Hebraism, Zionism, Socialism, Jewish Art, and still others. Additional focal points are Litvak life in the interwar East European republics and in the emigration centers of the Americas, Israel, and elsewhere. The remaining Litvak Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe, among whom Katz has done extensive research, add still another significant theme to his wide-ranging portrayal.
Professor Katz's chapter on Lithuanian Jewry's most famous scholar, rabbi Eliyohu ben Shloyme-Zalmen, revered as the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797), merits special note. It contains the first-ever English translation of the Gaon's biography, which was penned by his two sons shortly after their father's death.
We heartily congratulates research director and Professor of Judaic Studies at Vilnius University Dovid Katz on the completion and publication of this second major work within a single year.
Inquiries may be addressed to email@example.com. For details, please see the bottom of this Newsletter.
On 1 September, the VYI welcomed Ruta Puisyte to its staff as Assistant Executive Director. From the start of her studies, Ruta, a native of Shilute in western Lithuania, has devoted herself to Holocaust research and education. In 1997, she earned her B.A. degree in History at Vilnius University with a thesis titled “The Holocaust in the Lithuanian Provinces: Jurbarkas.” (See: www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/Yurburg/bathesis.html It is also available in her English translation of “The Memorial Book for the Jewish Community of Yurburg, Lithuania", 2003.) In 1999, she gained the M.A., writing again on the Holocaust in Lithuania, but now focusing on the behavior and mentality of the local perpetrators.
In 1997, while still a student, Ruta began work at the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum. During eight years there, she continued her archival research on the history of Lithuanian Jewry, with the main focus on the Holocaust. Through personal experience, she soon realized the importance of bringing her knowledge to Lithuanian society, both to adults and the young. Educational projects on Holocaust history, stressing tolerance and human rights, became one of her keys to reaching people, in Lithuania as well as abroad. Thus, Ruta turned to organizing and curating the educational activities of the Jewish Museum. Two major projects—accomplished in cooperation with other Lithuanian and foreign organizations—were the travelling exhibitions “Anne Frank—History for Today” (with catalog and video film) and “Jewish Life in Lithuania” (Jewish history from the 13th century to the present, with video films, teacher training seminars, and public presentations, for which she also coauthored the exhibition and catalog). Further, she authored “Uncle Chatzkel” (film booklet on the life of the Lithuanian-Jewish philologist and Holocaust survivor Chatzkel Lemchen).
Among the documentary films on whose production she worked as either manager, consultant, interviewer, or translator—or all four together—are Surviving Ostland (on five Holocaust survivors in Lithuania); So They Came and Asked for Help (on a family that saved eight Jews from Kaunas); Miriam’s Story (the rescue story of Miriam Schneider from Pasvitinis); and Keepers of Memory: Stories of Hidden Children, a feature film on child survivors. In addition, Ruta performed archival research in Vilnius on Holocaust perpetrators for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Amid all she gained from her work at the Vilnius Jewish Museum, Ruta treasures most her close ties to persons of the Holocaust generation, to her former colleagues at the museum and her other project partners—as well as the changes in attitude she helped bring about among her Lithuanian audiences.
At the VYI, Ruta will be responsible for the further development of the Institute’s programs, initiation and implementation of new projects, and cooperation with local and foreign partners and friends of the Institute. In addition to her native Lithuanian, fluent Russian and English, she will bring to our work all of her amply proven expertise, dedication, and creative energy. We are deeply pleased that she has joined us as a colleague.
In November 2004 , veteran Summer Program faculty member Professor Jerold Frakes added yet another distinguished book publication to his scholarly record: Early Yiddish Texts 1100-1750 (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press). With Professor Frakes's introduction and commentary, this is the first comprehensive anthology of early Yiddish literature in more than a century. Its 130 texts, printed in Hebrew characters, span a wide range of genres: Arthurian romance, biblical/midrashic epic, devotional literature, biblical translations, medicine, magic, legal texts, legends, travelogue, fables, riddles, and still more. All have been edited anew from the earliest preserved sources, with detailed introductory headnotes on author, literary provenance, the research literature, and the place of the text in the early Yiddish literary tradition. With this book, Professor Frakes has opened broad new possibilites for university courses and advanced scholarship in the field of Yiddish. We congratulate him and look forward to his return to the Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish in 2006.
Egle Bendikaite (Vilnius, '00, '01) completed her doctorate at Kaunas University in 2004 with a dissertation titled "The Thought and Politics of the Zionist Movement in Lithuania from 1906 to 1940." During her research, Egle consulted Yiddish materials archived at YIVO (N.Y), where she held an A. and R. Melezin Faculty Research Fellowship. We heartily congratulate Egle on the award of the Ph.D. degree. We also note with satisfaction and thanks that, as a Judaic Studies faculty member, she was the first Lithuanian in the history of her country to teach Yiddish at the university level.
Joanna Lisek (Wroclaw, '01) presented a paper titled "The Jewish and Polish Literary Environment: Relations Between theYung Vilne Group and the Zagary Group" at the World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, July-August 2005. Dr. Lisek is lecturer in Yiddish language and culture at the University of Wroclaw.
Harriet Murav (Urbana/Illinois, '00) has published her third book since 1992, Identity Thief : The Jew In Imperial Russia and the Case of Avraam Uri Kovner (2004). Known today chiefly for his correspondence with Dostoevsky in protest against the Russian novelist's antisemitism, Vilna-born Kovner wrote prodigiously in both Hebrew and Russian. Professor Murav, who heads the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), drew on rare Yiddish sources in writing her important book. In preparation for it, she found it necessary to attain a mature grasp of the language she had first encountered as a child at home. "I turned to textbooks," she writes in the Forverts of 24 June 2005, "and I had the good fortune to attend the Vilnius Summer Program, where I studied with Dovid Katz and Andrey Bredshteyn."
Hilde Pach (Amsterdam, '01) presented the following talks based on her on-going doctoral research at Amsterdam University: "Moushe’s Choices. Was the Compositor of the Oldest Yiddish Newspaper (Amsterdam 1686-1687) a Creator or an Epigone?," European Association for Jewish Studies, Oxford, July 2004; "Di Wokhentlikhe Berikhtn (Amsterdam, den 10-tn yanuar 1781). Eyn numer, a sakh retenishn." VII. Symposium für Jiddische Studien in Deutschland, Düsseldorf, October 2004; '"In Hamburg a High German Jew Was Murdered': The Representation of Foreign Jews in the Dinstagishe un Fraytagishe Kuranten (Amsterdam, 1686-1687)," Symposium on the History of the Jews in the Netherlands, Jerusalem, November 2004; and "The Sort-Lived Blossoming of the Yiddish Press in the Netherlands," World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, July-August 2005.
Karolina Szymaniak (Krakow, '01, '02) is centrally involved in various projects aimed at acquainting Polish readers with modern Yiddish literature. Together with Natalia Krynicka (Paris), she presented a Yiddish seminar at the Maison de la Culture Yiddish - Bibliothèque Medem in Paris. Her topic was Avrom Sutskever and Polish literature. At Warsaw University, she also took part in a multimedia enactment of texts from the Ringelblum Archive (some translated from Yiddish and published in Polish for the first time). The event was titled "A. Ring I/1015. An Experimental Reading."
As chief project editor for the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, Karolina will soon publish a Yiddish-Polish anthology of expressionist Yiddish literature, mainly by authors of the Khaliastre group. The goal of the project is to reclaim these works from oblivion and make this legacy of Polish-Jewish culture known to a broader public, and especially to the youngest generation of Polish readers.
Alex Hartov (Lebanon/New Hampshire, '03), in collaboration with his Dartmouth University colleague Professor Lewis Glinert, has created the online Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive. This vast collection of recordings in several languages (among them English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian) includes all that is germane to Jewish history and culture (e.g., Yiddish radio programs, readings, humor, field recordings, and much more). With 3,600 tracks already available for teaching and research purposes, another 11,000 tracks are ready to be added. Still awaiting processing are more than 10,000 additional recordings of all types. Anyone wishing to further this invaluable project is encouraged to contact Professor Hartov at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth University.
Please note: If you are a Summer Program graduate and actively employing your Yiddish, either academically or professionally, please write us. We look forward to announcing news of your degree progress, teaching, research, or other Yiddish-related undertakings.
Vilnius native Olga Bliumenzon joined the VYI staff in 2003 as special projects manager. Shortly afterward, she completed her B.A. in English Philology at Vilnius University. Her thesis, in the field of semantics, was titled "On the Epistemic Stance Adverbials of Certainty in a Cross-Linguistic Perspective." Now, after a year devoted solely to VYI projects, she has begun studies toward an M.A. in international communications. Among her courses are ones in public and international relations, world communications, and social research, all areas in which her native Russian along with equally fluent Lithuanian and near-native English will stand her in good stead—as they have in her work at the VYI.
As projects manager, Olga initiates contacts with diverse foundations, introducing the VYI and describing the activities for which we seek financial support. Once interest is determined, she submits applications, writes detailed project descriptions, and formulates our basic needs. Currently focused on expanding our library, she has garnered book contributions from Aaron Lansky's Yiddish Book Center (U.S.A.) and generous funding from a guest of the VYI—with whom she cemented both a friendship with the Institute and herself personally. With the aid of her VYI colleagues Olga, has also begun formulating plans for a "Yiddish Culture Week" in Vilnius.
As a result of Olga's communications with the local and international press and radio, the VYI was visited by a number of interviewers from Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere. This past year, too, she was also busy with administering the Institute's first Yiddish Educator Program and received high grades from the course's thirty international participants for her daily efforts in their behalf. Most recently, she has been assisting 2006 Yiddish Summer Program director Prof. Sidney Rosenfeld as program coordinator.
What with her university studies and her fulltime position at the VYI, Olga's days are packed to the brim. But she finds the challenges stimulating, the rewards gratifying, and invites visitors to Vilnius to stop by at her desk. She will gladly acquaint them with the Institute and its work and, in addition, do all she can to enhance their stay in her hometown.
However, my studies do not disturb me from my work as I have classes after the working hours, i. e. they start every day from 6:00 PM. Usually I come home, thus, only after 9:00 PM which makes my day very full and busy but it helps me stay alive, and develop myself in greater speed.
Basically, I was in touch with a number of foundations for receiving primary contacts, describing us, introducing the projects that we need the support for (which Richard later received the funds from). I am still busy trying to find various foundations that would be interested in supporting us.
Further on once I see that we have a possibility to receive support I I also trying to generate new ideas on projects, let's say the idea of having a "Yiddish culture week" project (who, what, were and how), of course not alone, but with the help of all my colleagues.
So basically I am the "Project manager" and the "Summer Course Coordinator",if we receive the grant for the Educator Course again, then I will also be the Yiddish Educator Course Coordinator.
Judaic Studies faculty member at Vilnius University Dr. Marija Krupoves has recorded her second CD. Titled "Without a Country," it features the song traditions of several Eastern European stateless cultures, almost all of which also found a home in Marija's native Lithuania. In addition to songs of the Roma (gypsies), Tatars, Karaites, Belarusians, and Russian Old Believers, all performed in the original languages, Marija sings two Yiddish songs (a genre she has intensively researched on field trips) and, in Ashkenazic Hebrew, her own setting of a selection from the biblical "Song of Songs." Moving further east, she has also included two songs from the Sephardic tradition in Ladino. Marija, on guitar, is accompanied by the virtuoso mandolinist (and '02 Summer Program student) Joey Weisenberg and the bassist Travis DiRuzza. Marija's concert of these songs, performed during the May Yiddish Educator Course, was enthusiastically acclaimed. For further details on the CD, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The July 2005 issue of the London quarterly Jewish Renaissance features a section on "The Jews of Lithuania," in which the VYI draws prominent attention. Summer Program graduate Nicole Taylor ('03, '04) describes the diversity of the program's student body, her walking tours of one-time Jewish Vilna, guided by the Institute's Fania Brantsovsky and Rokhel Margolis, and her intense experience of the Jewish past that was obliterated. In a side-piece to Nicole's article, writer Norma Cohen portrays our librarian Fania's wartime ordeal as a Vilna ghetto fighter and forest partisan; and a fullpage interview with Fania on her childhood and teenager years in prewar Vilnius helps to round out the portrait. In yet another piece, Norma Cohen speaks with the Lithuanian-Jewish prose author Markas Zingeris, who acquainted the 2003 Summer Program group with the Jewish past and present of his hometown of Kaunas (Kovne) during the group's visit there; and our director of research Professor Dovid Katz tops off the isuue with an instructive, humorous commentary on the question of who is a Litvak. (The website of Jewish Renaissance can be accessed at www.jewishrenaissance.org.uk.)
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
|2005 VILNIUS YIDDISH INSTITUTE. Solution: Neosymmetria|