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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No. 3
Interview with Dr. Maria Krupoves
Dr. Maria Krupoves recently returned to Vilnius after her New York concerts at YIVO and the Kraft Center. She is full of enthusiasm and eager to start teaching her courses on Yiddish Folklore at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. For us, she is a remarkable human being, with multiple talents and a many-sided personality. Born into a Polish-Lithuanian family and speaking four languages since childhood, Maria is a living symbol of multicultural Vilnius. In her person, she combines the heritage of today's Lithuanian capital city not only with the former Polish Wilno, but also with pre-Holocaust Jewish Vilna (in Yiddish Vilne). For in these past several years, Maria has developed her talents further, mastering the Yiddish language, studying and collecting Yiddish folklore, and singing concerts of Yiddish songs. Eve Poulteau, our Director of Projects, conducted an interview with Maria.
EVE POULTEAU: How did you start learning Yiddish?
MARIA KRUPOVES: Now that I'm reading texts or writing articles and even e-mail messages in Yiddish, it is almost hard for me to recall that time. But it was definitely because of the songs. In the early nineties I was singing mostly Polish, Lithuanian, or Russian songs, but I was strongly attracted by the beauty of Yiddish songs. With the help of the parents of my Jewish friends in Vilnius I started to learn how to sing these songs and better understand their meanings. The turning point came three years ago when I met Professor Dovid Katz. I had just finished my doctorate in ethnomusicology on Polish folksongs in Lithuania, and he encouraged me to continue the same work by collecting Yiddish folksongs. I had already thought about this, but at that time nobody believed it was still possible to find people to interview. Through his own fieldwork Dovid proved to me that it was indeed possible to collect Yiddish folk songs in situ. But with these people quickly disappearing, time was running out, and I quickly had to learn the language I needed for my interviews. So there I was, actively engaged in learning Yiddish at the Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish, in the first year of still more to come!
EP: What do you like most about Yiddish?
MK: First of all, the language in itself. If you were born into a Slavic environment, speaking Yiddish is extremely pleasant because it means turning words you already know into rich expressions. I also feel comfortable in this language because its structure is quite close to my mother tongue, local Polish influenced by Lithuanian and Belorussian. In other words, the multicultural fusion the language represents is what gives me so much joy speaking it. Then, and in fact most essentially, one of the truly precious things Yiddish has brought me is the possibility to meet wonderful people. This language really opens hearts. Thanks to it, I could establish communication with the old people I interviewed during my fieldwork on Yiddish folksongs, for example, and this made me feel really close to them. And perhaps most of all, singing in Yiddish is an incredible experience of sharing. When I started, one of my motivations was linked to the fact that for me the Holocaust is everyone's tragedy, and singing Yiddish songs was my way of expressing my feelings about it. That's why I recorded Vilna ghetto songs last year and have been performing them in synagogues as well as in churches in different countries, and all this has a deep meaning for me. Yiddish songs are really special, but they also have much in common with other Eastern European songs. Singing them sometimes gives you the sensation that you are actually opening borders. Last summer, during the Yiddish Program in Vilna, we had a great time playing klezmer music with Yosele, who came from America, and Saeko from Japan, among others, and all of us were speaking Yiddish!
EP: What are your next projects?
MK: I'm continuing my research, with new expeditions to collect Yiddish songs and, of course, I'll be teaching Yiddish folklore. As for concerts, I'm hoping to go back to Columbia University to perform not only Yiddish songs but also other East European songs—of the Poles, Tatars, Karaites, and still others—with my new klezmorim friends, the mandolinist Yosele Weisenberg and contrabassist Travis DiRuzza. I think it's time to organize a klezmer band in Vilne! And for the beginning of 2003 I also have in mind a concert in Israel. So as you see, Yiddish is everywhere in my life now!
The Summer Program Faculty
Professor Jerold C. Frakes's association with Yiddish Studies in Vilnius goes back to a time before these studies existed. In the spring of 1998, Frakes, then a visiting scholar in Berlin, and Professor Dovid Katz, then planning the first Vilnius Yiddish Summer Program at his home in Wales, began to correspond. Frakes enrolled as a student in the advanced course. At the end of the course, he was invited to return the following summer as a teacher. Ever since—with the exception of 2002, when he held a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship— he has taught Yiddish I and II in the Vilnius Summer Program, which was incorporated into Vilnius University's new Vilnius Yiddish Institute in 2001.
Professor Frakes earned his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota (1982); his fields of research and teaching are medieval European literature in German, Yiddish, and Latin. Trained in comparative medieval Germanic studies, he joined the University of Southern California's Department of German in 1982; since 1991 he has held a joint appointment in Comparative Literature, and since 1997 a courtesy appointment in Classics. He has held a guest professorship in the Seminar für mittellateinische Philologie at the University of Heidelberg (1987) and taught beginning Yiddish and Old Yiddish literature at the Institut für Judaistik at the Freie Universität Berlin (1997). His teaching has spanned a wide range of courses, including medieval German literature, Latin literature, medieval women's literature travel literature, and German and Yiddish language.
Professor Frakes's research has focused at different times on problems in the cultural politics of reception. This includes ancient philosophy during the medieval period (The Fate of Fortune in the Early Middle Ages: The Boethian Tradition. Leiden 1987) and of medieval literature by modern scholarship (The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies. Albany 1988); further, on the political economy of gender relations in medieval narrative (Brides and Doom: Gender, Property and Power in the Medieval German Women's Epic. Philadelphia 1994). He has translated Walter Berschin's Griechisch-lateinisches Mittelalter: Von Hieronymus zu Nikolaus von Kues [Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages: from Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa (Washington 1988)] and Jean Baumgarten's Introduction à la litterature yiddish ancienne [English transl. in preparation], and edited Max Weinreich's Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung (Atlanta 1993). Most recently, he has compiled and edited An Anthology of Old and Middle Yiddish (1100-1750) (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Currently Professor Frakes is working on two projects, a study of Humanistic treatises and pamphlets on Yiddish and a new Elementary Yiddish textbook, with special attention to the culture of Vilna and the varied language and cultural backgrounds of the Summer Program students.
Professor Frakes has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2001-2002), the Skirball Foundation (Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies 2001), the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (1993 & 1997-98), the Irvine Foundation (1991), and the DAAD (1979).
Academic courses at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute offers a program of credit courses each semester at Vilnius University. Going beyond Yiddish Studies, the program provides students of all backgrounds (Jewish, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Belorussian, and visiting students from many countries) with knowledge of the rich East European Jewish civilization.
Credit Courses at Vilnius University provided by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in the Spring 2003 Semester:
I. Yiddish Language and Culture
Elementary Yiddish [with the Department of History]
Advanced Yiddish [with the Department of History]
Yiddish Folklore [with the Department of Philology]
Introduction to Ashkenazic Civilization [with the Department of History]
Guided Fieldwork [with the Department of Philology]
II. East European Jewish History
History of East European Jewry [with the Department of History]
Lithuanian Jewry in the 20th Century [with the Department of History]
Holocaust Education [with the Institute of International Relations]
History of Modern Anti-Semitism [with the Department of History]
Egle Bendikaite returns from YIVO
Ms. Egle Bendikaite, a former participant in the Vilnius Summer Program, was awarded the Abraham and Rachela Melezin Fellowship in Eastern European Jewish Studies. She spent two months at YIVO, from 11 September to 11 November. Egle carried out research in archives of the Lithuanian Jewish communities and in various New York libraries for her Ph.D. dissertation “The Idea of the Zionist Movement in Lithuania 1906-1940.”
During her stay Egle took part in the presentation of a book written in the Vilna Ghetto, The Last Days of Lithuanian Yerusholayim. Also, she participated in the opening of an exhibition dedicated to Mattityahu Strashun at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington.
We are proud to tell you that Egle Bendikaite is the first Lithuanian ever to teach Yiddish. While a student at Klaipeda University, she attended the pioneering Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish in 1998, and now, four years later, she is a faculty member at the newly founded Vilnius Yiddish Institute. In spring semester she will teach Elementary Yiddish for the second time. One of Egle's students from Spring 2002, Viktorija Vaitkeviciute-Verbickiene is continuing her immersion in Yiddish in Prof. Katz's advanced course (conducted entirely in Yiddish).
The staff of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute
Mr. MENDY CAHAN, Director
Ms. FANIA BRANTSOVSKY, Librarian
Professor ALFREDAS BUMBLAUSKAS, Academic Consultant
Professor SIDNEY ROSENFELD (Oberlin, Ohio)
Dr. RICHARD MAULLIN (Santa Monica, California)
Mr. CHIC WOLK (Los Angeles, California)
The faculty and staff of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute wish you a Holiday Season filled with warmth, joy, and love!
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
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