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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No. 7
In this issue:
Places Available at the 2003 Vilnius Summer Program in
Several places are still available at this summer's intensive four-week summer course in Yiddish language and culture, to held from 28 July to 26 August 2003 at the restored five-century old campus of Vilnius University . Participants may enroll in the entire program (one of four levels of language instruction from beginning to advanced, plus afternoon and evening cultural program), or just the cultural component. The program is directed by Mr. Mendy Cahan, the founder of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. For more information, please contact the program coordinator, Laima Gumuliauskaite, by telephone: +3705 268-7187; fax: +3705 268-7186, or email: email@example.com, and consult the VYI's website: www.yiddishvilnius.com.
The Institute's first series of "Living Memory" seminars has just been completed. Its theme was My Life in Vílne before the War. The ten speakers, all over eighty, delivered their talks entirely in rich Lithuanian Yiddish. They came from different backgrounds, had lived in Vilna for varying periods of time before the war, and they all live there, or in the region, now. In the authentic language of the time and place they were recalling they described the contours of a diverse world first-hand to the Institute's students and visitors. The following Vílner were among the Seminar speakers:
Cila (Tsile) Zhiburkiene, daughter of a revolutionary mother and rabbi father, was a socialist activist in the interwar republic of Lithuania, spending most of her youth in Kovna (Kaunas, then the country's capital). When the Soviets ceded the Vilna area to Lithuania in fall of 1939, Cila relocated to Vilna. There she befriended the city's great Yiddish writers, including Chaim Grade (1910-1982) and Abraham Sutzkever (who celebrates his 90th birthday this summer, on July 15th). Cila also recounted her memories of the master Yiddish dialectologist Noyakh Prilutski (1882- 1941), who had fled Warsaw for Vilna when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Now 87, she recounted the final months of the fabled Yiddish writers' group Yung Vílne ("Young Vilna") before it was disbanded in 1940, when Lithuania was forcibly made a Soviet republic. Cila is a highly decorated World War II veteran.
Sholem Svirsky, 89, was a manual worker in a Vilna radio factory. He recounted the role that Yiddish culture played for simple workers, which included a love for literature and particularly poetry, theater, and sports. He spoke at length about the differing character of the two areas he lived in as a child, Stefn-gas (now sv. Stepano) and Zaretshe (now the trendy Uzhupis district). He was a frequent visitor to the Makábi (Maccabbee) Sports Hall and theater, which now houses the Center for Tolerance and Jewish Museum on Naugarduko Street (Novigored in pre-war Vilna Yiddish).
Fania Brantsovksy, the Institute's librarian and a veteran of t he famed Sofia Gurevich School on Makova Street (now Aguonu), was incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto from its inception until the day of the Ghetto's liquidation in September 1943. She escaped into the forests, where she joined the partisans, and today is beloved far and wide for her talks on the war years and her tours of the relevant sites. In her seminar lecture, Fania described the everyday life of Jewish youth in Vilna, with particular emphasis on the Yiddish culture movement. She recounted many lively episodes and dealt in depth and with great sensitivity with questions posed to her about the relationships between the secular and religious, left and right, Zionists and Socialists, and other groupings of pre-War Vilna Jewish youth. During the talk she frequently reached for volumes on the shelves of the Institute's library, particularly its Vilna section, and did not hesitate to point out where her own memories differ from published memoirs.
The series was concluded with a tour de force by Bluma (Blumke) Katz, 89, who was a student of the giants of interwar Yiddish culture in Vilna, including the founder of YIVO and brilliant Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich (1894-1969) and master Yiddish poet Moyshe Kulbak (1896-1940). Since the first Vilnius Yiddish summer program in 1989, Blumke has been a beloved speaker, whose timeless talent for imparting her knowledge of genuine Yiddish culture to young students has become something of a legend. Blumke's frequent appearances have created a feeling at the university that even one person can create an aura of continuity between that brutally annihilated interwar period and the Institute's on-going projects to preserve as much as possible of authentic Yiddish language, literature, and culture. At the Institute's opening ceremony in August 2001, for example, Blumke spoke about her years at the Vilna Yiddish Teachers' Seminary and explained that it was for her a miracle that after the Holocaust and a half- century of Soviet repression a new Yiddish institute could rise at the heart of Vilna's university.
Since the collapse of communism Blumke has written prolifically in Yiddish. At the Institute's new seminar, she described the youth movement Di Bin ("The Bee") and the role it played in "easing" young people into the higher realms of the new Yiddish culture. She survived the war "thanks" to the Soviet regime, which sent her to twelve years of forced labor in Siberia. She continues to live in her family's ancestral shtetl Svintsyan (now Svencionys), some fifty miles north of Vilnius.
The Living Memory series is directed and chaired by Professor Dovid Katz. All Yiddish-language seminars are videotaped. The digital versions are then entered into the corpus of the Institute's Archive of Living Yiddish in Eastern Europe, which is being set up gradually as the necessary funding becomes available.
The University of Indiana at Bloomington has just completed a one-month expedition to Ukraine. Over one hundred priceless hours of interviews with the last generation of Yiddish-speaking survivors were videotaped during the more than two-thousand mile journey, which followed an arc from the southwest to the northeast. It included the following cities and towns (whose Yiddish names are followed by the current official Ukrainian versions): Polone (Polonnoe); Shepetovke (Shepitivka); Zaslev (Iziaslav); Slavite (Slavuta); Róvne (Rivne); Loytsk (Lutsk); Kovl (Kovel'); Zholkve (Zholkiew, Zhovkva); Lemberg/Lemberik (Lviv); Drogobich (Drohobych); Stanislav (Ivano-Frankivsk); Koloméye (Kolomyia); Chérnovitz (Chernivtsi); Kaminetz-Podolsk (Kamianets- Podil's'kyi); Molev-Podolsk (Mohyliv-Podil'skyi); Tomashpol (Tomashpil'); Tulchin, Vinitse (Vinnytsa); Bardichev (Berdychev); Zhitomir; Korosten; Ovruch; Chernigov (Cernihiv), and Nezhin (Nizhyn). On the road from Chernigov to Kiev, the team even came across the little village Krasilivka, which, it is surmised, is the source of the fabled mythical archetypal shtetl Kasrilevke in the works of master Yiddish humorist Sholem-Aleichem (Sholem Rabinowitz, 1859-1916).
The expedition's directors were Professors Dov-Ber Kerler and Jeffrey Veidlinger of the University of Indiana. During the final two weeks, the team was joined by Professor Dovid Katz of Vilnius University. Under an agreement between Indiana University and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, all copies of the digital materials will be deposited at both institutions, and, it is hoped, will be of enormous value to generations of researchers in linguistics, folklore, history, cultural studies, and more.
Professor Kerler was Professor Katz's first doctoral student at Oxford University in the 1980s. Together, they ran the former Oxford Program in Yiddish at Oxford University for a decade and a half and are now planning a series of joint expeditions for the next decade, with academic publications to document and analyze their findings.
The VYI congratulates its executive director, Associate Professor Dr. Sharunas Liekis, on the publication of his book A State within a State? Jewish Autonomy in Lithuania 1918- 1925 (Vilnius: Versus Aureus, 2003). In this richly detailed work, Dr. Liekis chronicles and analyzes politically - against the background of the nationalities question in newly independent Lithuania - the seven years of comprehensive Jewish autonomy, which ended with the authoritarian coup d'état of 1926.
The Institute takes pride in knowing that, with this volume, Dr. Liekis has secured himself a firm place in the vanguard of young Lithuanian scholars in the field of Judaic Studies. We are also gratified that he was inspired to embark on his explorations into the history of Lithuanian Jewry by our venerated faculty member Prof. Meir Shub.
After earning the B.A. and M.A. degrees at Vilnius University, Sharunas Liekis went on to gain his doctorate at Brandeis University in the U.S.A. From October 2001 to March 2002, he held a Miles Lerman Research Fellowship at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he studied the role of Jews in the Soviet partisan movement during World War II. In addition to Lithuanian, his fluency in Russian and Polish - along with strong knowledge of Yiddish and Hebrew, the latter acquired during study in Jerusalem - position him to work productively with an unusually broad range of materials in his field.
If you wish to obtain the book, please contact the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Sherwin Wine and the Society for Humanistic Judaism
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the well-known American author, thinker, and founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, led a delegation of eighteen leaders of the movement to Vilnius. They spent an afternoon visiting the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, where Professors Sharunas Liekis and Dovid Katz led a question-and-answer session about the humanistic values of modern secular Yiddish culture, with emphasis on its history in Vilna and interwar Lithuania and Poland. Some of the discussion was focused on the role played by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in current Eastern Europe. Rabbi Wine is the author of Humanistic Judaism (1976), Staying Sane in a Crazy World (1995) and many other works.
Rabbi Yedidiya Ha-Levy Frankel and the Vilna Gaon's Manuscripts
During a recent visit to Vilnius, the prominent Jerusalem scholar Rabbi Yedidiya Ha- Levy Frankel spent an afternoon with us at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Rabbi Frankel specializes in close textual analysis of the surviving manuscripts penned by Eyliohu ben Shloyme- Zalmen (Elijah son of Shelomo- Zalman), the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797), perhaps the most famous Lithuanian Jew of all time. At the Institute, Rabbi Frankel shared with staff and students his most recent discoveries on the Gaon's textual emendations to the Jerusalem Talmud, which was completed in Palestine around 400 C.E. and is the lesser studied of the two Talmuds. (Rabbinic studies usually concentrate on the Babylonian Talmud, which was completed around 500 C.E.). As a gift for the Institute, Rabbi Frankel left the recently published volume, The Vilna Gaon and his Disciples (Bar Ilan University, 2003), which contains one of his learned papers.
"Borderland" Group from Poland Visits the Institute
Since its inception, the Vilnius Yiddish Institute has enjoyed close and mutually productive ties with the Borderland Center in Poland. Situated in Sejny, a small town several miles south of the Lithuanian-Polish border, the Center is a unique institution. It seeks to promote multiculturalism and intercultural respect and tolerance, with study of minority cultures a high priority (see their fine website at www.pogranicze.sejny.pl). This month, Malgorzata Sporek-Czyzewska and Wojciech Szroeder, directors of the Sejny Theater, which is affiliated with the Center, led a group of students from all parts of Poland on an educational trip to Vilnius. One afternoon was dedicated to a visit at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Professor Dovid Katz delivered a lecture to the group on the origins and history of the Yiddish language. Dr. Maria Krupoves spoke on Yiddish folkmusic and illustrated her talk with a number of Yiddish folksongs, which she accompanied on the guitar. There was a lively discussion about the differences between Lithuanian and Polish Yiddish culture. The Borderland Center and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute are in an advanced stage of discussions about cooperation on a number of major projects. News of further developments will follow in future issues.
Team from Tübingen University
The Judaic Studies teaching and research team at Tübingen University visited Vilnius at the end of June. Led by the program's founder and leader, Professor Stefan Schreiner, one of the top Judaic Studies specialists in Europe, the group spent an afternoon at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, followed by a dinner with the Institute's executive director, Associate Professor Sharunas Liekis, and its research director Professor Dovid Katz. Prospects for detailed cooperation between the Institute and the program at Tübingen were discussed, with emphasis on a flow of scholars and students in both directions. Also discussed was the need to find funding for cataloging the vast Judaica treasures at the Vilnius University Library.
During their visit to the institute, the team from Tübingen requested, and received, a lecture entirely in Yiddish by Professor Katz on the history of the Institute and its hopes and plans for the future. They also watched an hour of video excerpts from the Institute's recent expeditions to record and preserve the sounds and images of the last generation of shtetl Jews in Belarus and Lithuania.
On 11 June, Mira Jedwabnik Van Doren and John Van Doren graciously opened their New York City home for a recital by our VYI faculty member Dr. Maria Krupoves. (See Newsletter No. 3!) The recital, titled "Songs mostly from Vilna," was a fund-raising benefit for the Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. In 2002, Mira Van Doren, herself born in Vilna, received the first Vilna Award for helping to preserve the cultural heritage of her native city. The showing of an excerpt from her eloquent documentary, "Vilna, the Vanished City," which is in the final stages of editing, preceded the recital.
Maria Krupoves sang in Yiddish, Polish, and Lithuanian to a diverse and enthusiastic audience. Her listeners included Lithuania's Consul General in New York, representatives of the German Consulate and the Goethe Institute, former Vilna residents and Ghetto survivors, and young Americans attracted to the VYI's mission of researching, documenting, and teaching the language and culture of Eastern European Jewry. Maria was assisted by Zalmen Mlotek, a world authority on Yiddish music and director of the Folks-bíne Yiddish Theater of New York. Mlotek's piano artistry richly complemented Maria's singing and guitar accompaniment. Together, they communicated the heart and soul of Yiddish song to their rapt audience.
The recital was part of Maria's present extended tour, on which she has also brought her music to audiences in Canada and, in June, Israel. There she was invited by Prof. Yaffa Eliach of New York to sing at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Shtetl Museum in Rishon le-Zion. While in Israel, she also sang informally at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGetaot (The Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz), founded in the Galilee in 1949 by survivors of the Holocaust.
The Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute deeply appreciate the bountiful hospitality of Mira and John Van Doren, who made possible another notable success for the organization.
The event was coordinated by Dr. Richard Maullin, who heads the Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. In June, Dr. Maullin spent a week in Vilnius cementing ties with the city's diplomatic community.
New Partnership with the Fondation pour la memoire de la Shoah (Paris)
Thanks to support from the Fondation pour la memoire de la Shoah, the VYI will be able to intensify its efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of Yiddish-speaking Jewry. Starting next October, the Institute's research team, led by Professor Dovid Katz, will set out on two new major expeditions to record the Yiddish dialects and life stories of the last surviving Shtetl Jews. The collected linguistic and ethnographic data will then be digitalized and stored for scholarly use in the Institute's film archives, which are rapidly expanding thanks to such support.
The Fondation Pour la Memoire de la Shoah is presided over by Mme. Simone Veil. Among many other prestigious offices, Mme. Veil - a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen – was the first president of the European Parliament. The Institute extends heartfelt thanks to her and the Fondation for furthering our work so generously.
Sounds of the Stones
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute happily announces that the Department of National Minorities of the Republic of Lithuania will co-organize with it a concert of contemporary Yiddish music in the Zhiezhmariai (Zhezhmer) Synagogue in August. The concert is part of a larger project, "Sounds of the Stones," initiated by the Institute and jazz musician Arcady Gottesman, to play contemporary Yiddish music at old Jewish sites in Lithuania.
We wish to express our gratitude to H.E. Mr. Jean Bernard Hart, French ambassador in Vilnius, who has energetically supported our efforts to fund the next expedition to the last Shtetl Jews.
At this time, we also extend our special wishes to Dr. Martin Walde, the dynamic director of the Goethe Institute in Vilnius and our delightful partner in organizing the Yiddish film festival both this year and last. Dr. Walde is leaving Vilnius in order to undertake new cultural projects at the Goethe Institute in Calcutta.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
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