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The Vilnius Yiddish Institute Newsletter, No. 9
In this issue:
Yerusholaimer almanakh has just appeared, the newest volume in a series founded by Josef Kerler (1918-2000), Yiddish poet, editor, and long-time campaigner for human rights--and with them Jewish rights--in the Soviet Union. Upon Kerler's death after twenty-five years as the journal's chief editor, the poet's legacy was assumed by his son Professor Dov-Ber Kerler, Alice Cohen Professor of Yiddish Studies at Indiana University at Bloomington. With this handsomely printed and richly illustrated issue, Professor Kerler has created a lasting memorial to his father, to whose memory the first section is dedicated.
Particularly stirring among several heartfelt contributions is the poet Avrom Sutzkever's welcoming address upon Kerler's arrival in Israel in 1971, as a survivor of Stalin's terror and one of the few Yiddish writers who dared risk everything to campaign for freedom and free emigration. His expulsion and arrival in Jerusalem with his wife Anna and bar-mitzvah-aged son Dov-Ber was celebrated throughout the west.
The second of the volume's six sections, titled "The Jerusalem of Lithuania Past and Present," is devoted to Vilna. Its eight essays include two by Vilnius University's Professor Dovid Katz, who is a founding faculty member of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. One is a philological study which proposes a reconstruction of the Yiddish of the Vilner goen (Elijah, The Gaon of Vilna, 1720-1797). The second is an overview of the annual Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish. Further, one finds a memoir of the Nazi occupation of Vilna by the writer Shmerke Katsherginski and a Shoah poem by the renowned Sutzkever.
The largest section of the 320-page volume is devoted to original prose and poetry by a host of writers, one of whom, the venerable Minsk poet Hirsh Reles, has been a regular Summer Program guest lecturer of the VYI. This year, the Summer Program celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and the VYI is looking for support to publish Reles's "personal encyclopedia" of Yiddish writers in Belarus. Typesetting is underway and the book will appear as soon as funds are found for the project.
Other sections of the new volume include shtetl memoirs and instructive articles on Yiddish language, literature, and theater. Fittingly, it concludes with a collection of moving epitaphs by Josef Kerler.
The Jerusalem Almanac appears entirely in Yiddish and is considered one of the world's leading Yiddish literary, cultural, and academic publications. This issue was published by Yerusholaimer almanakh in partnership with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and Yung Yiddish Center in Jerusalem. The VYI and its international community of friends are proud to be associated with this historic project.
Yerusholaimer almanakh can be ordered from the addresses listed below. The cost is U.S. $21.00, postage and handling included. Please fill out your check or postal money order to:
In Eastern Europe:
In Western Europe:
In U.S.A., it can soon be ordered from: Slavica Publishers; details at: http://slavica.com/
Readers of our Newsletter will know Mendy Cahan as the founder-director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and the driving force behind our annual Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish. Still others will have attended events at the Yung Yiddish Cultural Center in Jerusalem, which he likewise founded and directs, and have heard him in concert with his band Yiddish Express. With this unique publication, however, Mendy Cahan presents himself in a role that will be lesser known to our readers: to wit, that of the exegetical scholar. Writing under the nom de guerre of Mendel M. Emlea-Meirson, he has edited and annotated a "new edition of an ageless work," The Book of Matthias (Megilat Matias). Significantly enlarged, it is, as we are told, the first English edition of this enigmatic text since the--now surely unobtainable-- "Canonized Edition" of 1937. Although the work exists in myriad manuscript versions--308 of them in Yiddish alone, exactly twice the number that exist in Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew, as we learn from Emlea-Meirson's preface--one can state without exaggeration that knowledge of it today will be limited to the illuminati among the cognoscenti. All the greater, then, the merits of its present editor.
Rather than spoil the reader's voyage of discovery, suffice it to say that the eponymous Matthias is an astonishingly modern figure, akin to the fictional protagonists of Franz Kafka, whose world reveals itself to us as thoroughly familiar and yet uncannily alien. Redolent of Talmudic page design, this elegant edition presents the original text in bold type, enclosed by indispensable commentary from the most eminent Matthias exegetes, along with new annotations and commentary by Emlea-Meirson himself, these printed in deliberately eye-challenging kleyne oysyes (i.e., tiny script), which, however, will hardly deter the devoted reader from perusing them. Here it should be stressed that Emlea-Meirson has more than modestly understated his own scholarly role in this effort, although his contribution to it is clearly all-encompassing.
The limited edition of 180 numbered copies is destined to become a bibliophilic rarity. Handbound and printed in Times New Roman, Narkisim, and Wingdings fonts on Conqueror Texture Laid and Cyclus paper (uncut double-leaves with verso blank), and enclosed in a lustrous cloth slipcase, its spine has been finely coated with pulverized golden cloves. (On the review copy, the clove particles, which also enhance each page, tended to flake off, but they lent a pleasant sparkle to the reader's fingers.)
It can be said that with this edition Emlea-Meirson has accomplished for the Book of Matthias what, in the 18th century, James Macpherson did for the poems of the Gaelic bard Ossian, and Thomas Chatterton for those of Sir Thomas Rowley, to name but two renowned instances of literary ingenuity.
On November 7-8, our executive director, Associate Professor Sharunas Liekis, participated in a two-day seminar at Roskilde University in Denmark. The theme of the seminar was "Nation and State-Building, Citizenship, and Minority Rights in the Baltic Sea Region: Continuity and Change." The talks focused on how states in the Baltic Sea region have dealt with challenges of diversity in the past and on their present strategies within the framework of the nation-state and European integration. A key question addressed was whether there is a specific Baltic dimension in minority issues. Professor Liekis's talk dealt with Jewish minority rights and institutions and was titled "Jewish Autonomy in East Europe." The Vilnius Yiddish Institute warmly thanks him for representing us once again at a noteworthy international conference.
Welcome to Olga Bliumenzon
With pleasure we welcome Olga Bliumenzon to the Institute as our new Development Officer. Ms. Bliumenzon, a scion of an old Lithuanian Jewish family, was born and has lived all her life in Vilnius, where she will soon complete her degree in English Studies at Vilnius University. Since her appointment in early September, Ms. Bliumenzon has been hard at work on crucial funding applications directed to foundations around the world, and she has welcomed to the Institute numerous guests from Britain, the U.S.A., Israel, and other countries. Ms. Bliumenzon has also identified elderly Yiddish-speaking survivors in Vilnius, who are now scheduled for interviewing and videotaping, and who will join the circle of survivors with whom the Institute maintains cordial and mutually beneficial contacts. Soon after being appointed, she also began studying Yiddish in the Institute's elementary class, taught by Ms. Egle Bendikaite. We wish Ms. Bliumenzon the very best in her studies and in her work at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute.
Lithuanian Jewish Culture in Press
Professor Dovid Katz's Lithuanian Jewish Culture, a 382-page folio volume went into press in December. The book contains hundreds of rare images, as well as dozens of specially created maps and charts, designed by Vilnius University's Dr. Giedre Beconyte. Professor Katz has attempted to cover all aspects of the variegated Lithuanian Jewish heritage, from the rabbinic to the revolutionary, and from the middle ages to the present. The book will appear early in 2004. Prepublication discount orders and inquiries should be addressed to the publishers, Baltos lankos of Vilnius (email: email@example.com).
Our Student becomes Director of Projects at Center for Stateless Cultures
Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, a long-time Yiddish student at the VYI (both in our summer and academic-year courses), has been appointed Director of Projects at our associated institution, the Center for Stateless Cultures at Vilnius University. With the Center, we are planning the Yiddish sessions of the December 2004 Conference on Stateless Culture Studies in Vilnius. Mr. Kvietkauskas is in the advanced stages of his doctoral thesis on multicultural Vilna in the early 20th century. His wife, Brigita Speicyte, also a student of Yiddish, has just earned her doctorate with a thesis on nineteenth-century Lithuanian poetry, in which numerous comparative references are made to the rise of Yiddish literature during that epoch. Both Mindaugas and Brigita continue to study advanced Yiddish with Professor Dovid Katz.
Happy Birthday, Blumke!
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute was pleased to arrange the 90th birthday celebration of Blumke (Bluma) Katz, who was born in Vilna on New Year's Eve 1914. She spent much of her youth in her ancestral Svintsyan (now Svencionys), to the north. As a teenager, she became part of the vanguard of the new young Yiddishist intelligentsia in Vilna (then Wilno, Poland), enrolling in the yidisher lerer seminar (Yiddish Teachers College), where she studied with Max Weinreich, Moyshe Kulbak, and other eminent 20th century Yiddish scholars and writers. She was discovered for the world of Yiddish in December 1990, during Professor Dovid Katz's first linguistic expedition to Lithuania. Working with him, she began to write memoirs in Yiddish of pre-war Vilna Yiddish culture. These were published in the 1990s in Oksforder yidish, Di pen (both then published in Oxford) and in Yidishe kultur (New York). She was a beloved guest at the opening celebration of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute on 27 August 2001, where she said she had never expected to see a new Yiddish institute rise in Vilna in her lifetime. She is now at work on a compendium of hundreds of Lithuanian Yiddish folk sayings. All at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute wish Blumke the proverbial hundert-tsvantsik (120 years), a happy birthday with health, contentment, and creativity for many years to come.
Joanna Lisek ('01, Wroclaw) successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the history of the literary group Yung-Vilne. The thesis includes materials from the Central State Archives of Lithuania and the Jewish Museum in Vilnius and has been submitted for publication and an award.
Linda Long-Van Brocklyn ('01, Columbus/Ohio) earned her B.A. with distinction in History and Yiddish from Ohio State University and has begun pursuing the Ph.D. there as a Levine Graduate Fellow in Jewish Studies.
Esti Svidensky ('01, Tel Aviv), appearing with the Israeli klezmer band "Lama Lo" at the International Musical Festival in Samarkand (Uzbekistan), won the UNESCO first prize for "interactive dialogue through music" for her Yiddish folksinging.
Karolina Szymaniak ('01, '02, Warsaw), with fellow students, presented an evening of poetry by Layb Naydus in a popular Warsaw café. Reading Naydus's poems in the original Yiddish and commenting on them in Polish, the group was warmly received by its sizeable audience. Their success has encouraged them to plan another public reading.
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.
The Newsletter is produced by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
Editor: Professor Sidney Rosenfeld
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