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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No.
In this issue:
Vilnius University Student Wins Graduate Scholarship to Indiana
Jolanta Mickute has just been awarded a full scholarship to Indiana University at Bloomington, where she will pursue the Ph.D. degree in Yiddish Studies and East European Jewish History.
A native of Klaipeda, Jolanta grew up and went to school in nearby Shilale. In June 1999 she completed with distinction the B.A. in English at the University of Klaipeda and that September embarked on her M.A. studies in English at Vilnius University.
On arrival in Vilnius, her eye caught an announcement of the new six-credit intensive course Ashkenazic Jewish Civilization, taught by Professor Dovid Katz, and she enrolled. "It changed my plans for the future dramatically," she recalls. She immersed herself in Yiddish and Judaic Studies, taking Professor Meir Shub's Introduction to Jewish History and, in 2000, enrolling in the annual Vilnius summer program in Yiddish. She then won a scholarship to Oxford University's Graduate Diploma Program in Jewish Studies, which she completed in spring of 2001.
In June 2002 Jolanta earned the Masters degree in Philology from Vilnius University, and in August 2002 completed the advanced-level intensive course in Yiddish at the VYI's summer program.
At present she is nearing completion of a stint as translator in the Lithuanian parliament (Seimas), and continues to study Yiddish at the VYI in Professor Katz's Advanced Readings in Modern Yiddish Literature.
We at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute take great pride in Jolanta's achievements and wish her all the best as she sets out on her doctoral studies at Indiana University.
The VYI's Thursday evening seminars on the Jewish past in East-Central Europe are becoming the focus for Jewish studies for the majority of Lithuanian institutions of higher learning. Our lecturers were:
The convener of the seminar is Assoc. Prof. Sarunas Liekis. The coordinator is VYI administrator Loreta Paukstyte.
We are pleased to announce that the Institute's library has acquired a collection of highly valuable books for Yiddish language and culture studies from Max Niemeyer Publishers (Tübingen). We would like to express our sincere gratitude to H.E. Dr. Alexander von Rom, ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Lithuania, for his help in acquiring these books as a donation from the German InterNationes Fund.
Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, founding president of the present-day democratic Lithuanian state, stopped by at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute to offer his best wishes and support. Below his entry in our guest book:
Liora Grodnikaite (Vilnius; '98), who has been studying vocal performance at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music (Ohio), has just completed the M.A. degree in Opera Theater with highest honors. This past year, she gave recitals of Yiddish art and folk songs in Miami, Cleveland, and Bloomington.
Hilde Pach (Amsterdam; '01), a prolific journalist and literary translator from Hebrew to Dutch, is writing a doctoral dissertation at Amsterdam University on the earliest Yiddish newspaper, Di Kurantn. Hilde has recently lectured on her research at conferences in Düsseldorf and Belfast. This summer she will conduct further research at YIVO in New York.
Hannah Pollin (Amherst; '02) and David Schlitt (New York; '01) have been approved as Yiddish Studies majors at Columbia University, under Prof. Jeremy Dauber. They are the first two undergraduates in what will hopefully become a permanent program within the Germanic Lang. & Lit. Dept. David plans to write his undergraduate thesis on the American Yiddish press.
Karolina Szymaniak (Warsaw; '01, '02) is enrolled at Warsaw University in an interdisciplinary humanities program, which includes Judaic and Yiddish studies. To attend a course on the Yiddish theater, Karolina travels 300 km to Cracow University. With fellow students, she is working on a project to introduce advanced Yiddish Studies at Warsaw University.
All who heard Sara Schneider speak at the Summer Program of 2001 will know what her family, her friends, and the world of Yiddish lost when Sara died at her home in Tel Aviv earlier this year. From the start, when she put aside her written text on Jewish life in post-Shoah Lithuania and began to speak freely, Sara told a story of personal identity that challenged and uplifted her listeners in equal measure. Thanks to her parents’ courage and wisdom and through her own inner fortitude—first in Lithuania, then in Israel—Sara wrested light from darkness. The rightness of the path she herself chose to an authentic Jewish existence glowed in her closing words: "I hope," she said, "that your children, too, will know who they are." Sara knew who she was. In her person she united love for Yiddish and Yidishkayt with love for Zion, in a way that ennobles her memory as it did her life.
Sara was born on 23 May 1947 in Kaunas, the child of concentration camp survivors who had just begun to rebuild their lives in Lithuania—now without their first child, Rokhel, who perished in the Shoah, along with most family members on both sides. Esther and Hirsh Fidler, Sara's parents, were multilingual, but between them and to her they spoke Yiddish—as she was to do later to her own children, Anat and Shaul. In her school class, Sara was the sole Jewish pupil. She excelled at Lithuanian and completed secondary school with distinction. All the while, she performed in the local Jewish dance and choral group "Mir zaynen do" and worked tirelessly with it to rekindle Jewish cultural life in Lithuania. Indeed, Sara was the pillar of the group.
At Vilnius University, Sara studied English Philology and attained the M.A. degree with honors. She married in 1967, and when her husband Shmuel was drafted and sent with the Soviet army in 1968 to invade Czechoslovakia, she was left alone with their infant son. Opposed to the crushing of the Prague Spring, on Shmuel's return the young couple applied for visas to Israel. Until they departed Soviet Lithuania, both faced hostile treatment at work, along with other hardships. Finally, in 1970, together with Sara's parents, they hastily left behind their property and many belongings and departed for Israel. Although the family again had to start anew, Sara, a Zionist from childhood on, had realized her dream.
In Israel, she began teaching at middle school, where, ever young in spirit, she endeared herself to her pupils with her enthusiasm for her work, her warm personality, and her fondness for young people. After years of striving to advance, she joined the faculty of Levinsky College in Tel Aviv, where she trained teachers and school principals. Her success was rewarded when she was named head of the college's English Department. During this time, too, she was culturally active, dancing in Israel's top folklore ensemble "Anachnu kan" (founded by new Litvak immigrants and named after Sara's original Kaunas group).
Recognizing Sara's abilities and verve, in 1990 the Jewish Agency named her as an emissary to her native Lithuania. Her task, as a Hebrew teacher at the newly reopened Sholem Aleichem School in Vilnius, was to help revive the Jewish cultural and spiritual heritage in a community decimated by the Holocaust, and create ties between it and Israel. In 2001, she returned to Vilnius once again, now to take part as a lecturer in the Yiddish Summer Program and, as an advanced-level student, to hone her already fluent Yiddish. There she was enthused by the devotion with which her young coursemates, from fifteen countries, were steeping themselves in Yiddish language and culture. She flew home to Israel strengthened in her resolve to attain a Ph.D. in Yiddish Philology and to work toward founding a program of Yiddish Language and Literature at Levinsky College. But a year later a cruel affliction shattered her dreams and, after long, painful months, cut short her inspired, vibrant life.
We at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute recall Sara Schneider fondly and gratefully. May her memory endure and serve all who knew her as a blessing.
Friends of the VYI know and value our most important research project, "Expeditions to the Last Shtetl Jews." We began this project ten years ago in order to discover and interview the last prewar native Yiddish speakers still living in Litvak lands. These interviews and their filming enable us to study and preserve for posterity the Yiddish dialects, life stories, folklore, and traditions of the last remaining Shtetl Jews.
With ever greater urgency, we face the need to carry out new research expeditions to the largely unexplored regions on the borders of the Litvak territory: northern Ukraine, western Russia, and parts of Latvia and Estonia. Survivors there are rapidly passing away, and we must seize this last chance to preserve their Yiddish cultural heritage in word and image. We must interview and film them soon.
You can find more detailed information on this project in the Field Research section of the VYI website and in the VYI Newsletter No. 2, likewise on our website.
Today, we are calling on you to support our next expeditions. Your donations will make them happen. If you wish to contribute, please mail your check, along with the note below, to:
Dear Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute,
Enclosed please find my contribution to "Expeditions to the Last Shtetl Jews"
Name: ________________________ Date: _____________
All donations from the U.S.A. are tax deductible.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
|2005 VILNIUS YIDDISH INSTITUTE. Solution: Neosymmetria|