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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No.
In this issue:
2003 Summer Program in Yiddish
From 28 July to 26 August, fifty students from fourteen countries on five continents attended our yearly intensive program in Yiddish language and culture. In addition to geography and the students' varied ethnic backgrounds, a broad range of ages, professions, interests, and talents made still more for an appealingly diverse group. At the same time, the common pursuit of Yiddish and a host of shared cultural activities-- concerts, lectures, excursions, the weekly shabes tish, and more--joined all of the students into a single community.
Daily, the program's setting at 500-year-old Vilnius University, in the heart of the Old Town, renewed the feeling of living amid history. And though Vilne, the fabled Jerusalem of Lithuania, is gone forever, its memory haunts the winding by-streets and courtyards of the ancient Jewish Quarter. Just behind the university, bustling Pilies Street, with its sidewalk cafés, crafts vendors, and street musicians, vied as a leisure-time attraction with newly restored Gedimino Prospect. Only minutes further, starting at Cathedral Square, this broad pedestrian mall, lined with modern shops, cafés, and restaurants, offered its own amenities and allurements. Everyday, coming and going, the students traversed these welcoming environs.
Among themselves, students communicated in three or four different languages, including, of course, charmingly accented English; but more and more--at first hesitatingly, then more freely--they began to use Yiddish with pleasure and growing confidence. For such quick progress the program offered inspiration enough. Where else but in Lite can one hear Yiddish as a still living language, spoken as mother tongue by the program's lecturers, city guides, and hosts in the towns the group visited.
Five days weekly, for three hours the university's Daukantas Courtyard echoed with the sounds of Yiddish drifting from the classroom windows. In some classes, the hour began, in others it ended with a Yiddish song; in between, passers-by could hear grammar exercises, student oral reports (in Yiddish, of course), laughter at a Motke Khabad story, or the clarification of a literary text by a highly energetic professor. After the first ninety minutes, students streamed into the adjacent Mickevicius Courtyard ready for coffee and cake with their coursemates and teachers, before returning to the Philology building for their second round of classes.
Yiddish music enlivened the program from beginning to end. Among many performers, Avishai Fisz, singer and accordionist, delighted the group repeatedly with his original renditions of rare Yiddish songs that he himself had rescued from obscurity; and versatile program director Mendy Cahan was ready to sing at the drop of a hat. Remarkable, too, was the innovative klezmer concert, breaking the silence of decades, in the abandoned wooden synagogue of the former shtetl Zhezhmer--followed by a picnic, with swimming and boating, at one of the region's most lovely lakes.
Weekly, the students were privileged to hear lectures by the last witnesses to Lite's storied Jewish past, women and men who survived the Holocaust against all odds and are now transmitting their life stories and those of their towns to younger generations. One highlight among many was the visit to the former shtetl of Sventsyan, where the group was welcomed and escorted by Bluma Katz, a native of the town and one of the last Jews in the region. Another highlight was the two lectures by Yiddish writer Avrom Karpinovich, whose colorful stories of pre-war Vilna the advanced-level students had read and discussed in class. But to describe all the bounties of the program would demand an impossibly long list. This short one will conclude with the annual Yiddish Film Festival, which featured five showings, between 11 and 19 August, of Yiddish film classics and both historical and present-day documentaries. The series was introduced with a lecture, "Yiddish Cinema," by R. Loewy (Fritz Bauer Institute, Frankfurt), and was framed by two gala receptions presided over by festival organizer Mendy Cahan.
Graduation was a joyful affair. The university courtyard, with amply set buffets, was filled with students, faculty, administrative staff, Jewish community members, city and university officials, diplomatic representatives, and a bevy of other guests and friends; and Lithuanian television was on hand to record the ceremony and interview students. After brief, cordial addresses by attendant notables, Mendy Cahan, flanked by the faculty, awarded the beaming students their diplomas. A pause for more food, drink, and animated conversation followed, and the evening concluded with the Sixth Annual Yiddish Talent Show and Cabaret, a showcase for our plentiful student talent.
Meanwhile, planning has already begun for the 2004 Summer Program, which will take place from 28 July to 26 August. In all ways, it promises to continue the successes of the past six years.
Academic courses at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute offers a program of credit courses each semester at Vilnius University. In addition to 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 Fall 2003 Semester:
I. Yiddish Language and Culture
II. East European Jewish History
History of Lithuanian Jewry
Lithuanian Jewry in the 20th Century
Introduction to Jewish Art History
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute, directed by Mr. Mendy Cahan, has produced its first film in Yiddish "Vilna fun amol." Created by two young Lithuanians -- Jonas Morkus (text) and Vaidotas Reivytis (director and camera) -- the film depicts Jewish life in prewar Vilnius. Along with archive materials such as newspapers and historical films, it incorporates several present-day interviews with native Yiddish speakers Bluma Katz, Fania Brantsovskaya, and still others. Their reminiscences of prewar Vilnius cover various aspects of Jewish community life such as synagogue and religion, the youth, hopes for the future, and more -- as well as aspects of public life. Thanks to the biographical accounts of these last witnesses to a now legendary epoch, the spirit of prewar Vilnius pulsates in the film.
"Vilna fun amol" was first presented during the Vilnius Yiddish Film Festival in August and accorded positive reviews. The Institute now plans to show the film in other countries as well.
The VYI fondly bids farewell to Eve Poulteau, who has been our director of projects since November 2001. We wish her all possible success on her return to France, where she will assume a new position in the field of minority rights and cultural studies. Eve first visited Vilnius University in early 2000, when she was heading a Paris-based international project for Roma ("Gypsy") culture and human rights. She met with professor of Yiddish, Dovid Katz, who was serving at the time as founding director of the university's Center for Stateless Cultures, established in 1999 to develop studies in Karaimic, Old Believer, Roma, Tatar, and Yiddish. In the autumn of 2001, after Yiddish Studies had blossomed into an institute of its own, Eve, who holds a M.A. degree from the Sorbonne, enthusiastically joined the VYI staff. To her work she brought a wide range of executive and organizational talents and experience, along with strong convictions about the need to develop sophisticated programs to preserve and foster the languages and cultures of Europe's often forgotten minorities.
Eve established relationships with several hundred foundations, government bodies, and cultural institutions, many of which have contributed in various ways to the rapid growth of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Her successes -- far too many to record here -- include securing support from the Hanadiv Charitable Foundation (London) for a project to digitalize the VYI's archives of taped interviews with the last Yiddish speakers still living in East European towns and villages. They also include a grant from the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah (Paris) for a new expedition to northern Ukraine, in cooperation with our partners at Indiana University (Bloomington). Further, Eve quickly acquainted the international diplomatic corps in the Lithuanian capital with the work of the VYI, bringing representatives of many and diverse countries into the orbit of our plans and projects. Under her guidance, the VYI soon found a place among major international cultural institutions in Vilnius. The frequent visits of the German, French, Austrian, and Belgian ambassadors to the Institute, and the keen interest their embassies take in our work, are in good measure the result of Eve's efforts. She helped us accomplish in a short time what new institutions sometimes take long years to achieve.
Among the many projects-in-progress that Eve initiated is one to mark sites of Jewish historic interest with plaques. At present, most plaques of this kind in Vilnius are related to the ghetto and the Holocaust. While they are vitally important, there was also the need to designate sites of Jewish cultural and literary creativity. This intricate process involved accurately determining such sites by repeated walks with local survivors and those visiting from abroad, and the compiling of a core list, which has been presented to the municipal authorities and accepted by them in principle.
Eve Poulteau's warmth, enthusiasm, and readiness to help visitors to the Institute was always deeply appreciated by the entire VYI community. We are profoundly grateful to her for her dedicated service to the Institute and the ideals it upholds. We look forward to remaining in touch and hope that Eve will visit the Institute often in the years ahead.
Since its founding the Vilnius Yiddish Institute has participated actively in the intellectual, diplomatic, and publishing life of today's Lithuanian capital. Recently, Professor Dovid Katz, the Institute's director of research, delivered lectures on "Jewish Vienna" at the opening of the Austrian Embassy's exhibition on Jewish life in Vienna, and on "Jewish Prague" at an exhibition sponsored by the Czech Embassy. Both events were held at the combined Center for Tolerance and the Jewish Museum at Naugarduko Street, and were chaired by the Museum's director, Mr. Emanuelis Zingeris. Professor Katz and the Institute's executive director, Professor Sharunas Liekis, gave a joint presentation at the launch of the Lithuanian translation of Lucy S. Dawidowicz's notable memoir From That Time and Place, about the author's year in Vilnius as a young student during the 1938-1939 academic year, just prior to the outbreak of the war. The new Lithuanian translation has just been published by the House of Memory under the direction of its founder, Linas Vildziunas, who chaired the celebration at Vilnius City Hall.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
|2005 VILNIUS YIDDISH INSTITUTE. Solution: Neosymmetria|