Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium 15

Yiddish in a Modernizing Eastern Europe

28 February 2024 ,  13:30 – 18:00, Goethe Instituut, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam 

Convened by Marion Aptroot and Daniella Zaidman-Mauer

This event is organized by the Menasseh ben Israel Institute, in collaboration with the Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf and the Goethe Institute Amsterdam, and made possible through  funding from Collectieve Maror Gelden Nederland and Stichting vrienden van het Juda Palache Instituut.

The symposium will be held in English.

Tickets €15, students and friends €5

Please order your ticket in advance by sending an email to mbii@jck.nl upon which you will receive a confirmation and payment request.

In popular representations of Yiddish cultural history, the impression is often given that Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe were catapulted from a traditional early-modern lifestyle into the twentieth century and were at a loss when confronted with modernity. Even some Yiddish authors play with that stereotype, but reality was much more nuanced. With the spread of ideas and ideals from the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Liberalism, Socialism and Communism as well as the rapid growth of industrial centers and the move from small towns to growing cities, the confrontation with a modernizing world had been a reality in much of Eastern Europe much earlier. Many Jews showed a strong interest in new ideas and technology, not least because of possible opportunities to improve their means of making a living and their status in society, but also for intellectual and artistic reasons. In the twentieth century, legal and political changes meant new opportunities under some circumstances (e.g. legal equality and political rights for men, first signs of possible equality for women), greater restrictions under others (e.g. ideological repression). This symposium will shed a light on some ways speakers of Yiddish used or dealt with these changes.

program:

Goethe Institute, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam (1st floor, no elevator available)

13:30 Opening (Marion Aptroot, Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

13:45 Beyond the Dance of Death: Judith Berg’s Career in Interwar Warsaw

Sonia Gollance (University College London)

15:00 ביכער פֿאַר אַלע “Books for all” – Yiddish Popular Reading in Eastern Europe, 1860-1914 (via zoom)

Nathan Cohen (Bar Ilan University)

16:15 Der Nister’s Soviet Surrealism: L’avant-garde as l’arrière-garde

Marc Caplan (Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

17:10 closure (Daniella Zaidman-Mauer, Universiteit van Amsterdam) & drinks

 

Beyond the Dance of Death: Judith Berg’s Career in Interwar Warsaw

Sonia Gollance

Modern dancer Judith Berg (1905-1992) is best known as the choreographer for the film adaptation of Sh. An-sky’s Der dibek (The Dybbuk). Yet although she was a celebrity in 1930s Warsaw, most archival collections focus on her post-war life in the United States. This lack of pre-war materials has the rather unfortunate effect of erasing some of Berg’s most significant contributions, especially since archival collections emphasize the career of her husband, dance partner, and former student Felix Fibich. Using interwar Yiddish and Polish-Jewish press materials, as well as archival sources, Dr. Sonia Gollance will reconstruct Berg’s interwar career and involvement in the Warsaw Jewish art world, including the contemporaneous reception to her work, Berg’s engagement with other Polish Jewish artists and the Warsaw theatre world, and her involvement with European modern dance more broadly.

Sonia Gollance is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Yiddish at University College London. Her book, It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity (Stanford University Press, 2021) was a National Jewish Book Awards finalist. She co-edited two journal special issues: a special issue of Feminist German Studies on “When Feminism and Antisemitism Collide” and a special issue of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies on “Murder, Lust, and Laughter, or, Shund Theater.” Her ongoing translation of Tea Arciszewska’s play Miryeml was supported by a Translation Fellowship from the Yiddish Book Center. Gollance is Managing Editor of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project’s Plotting Yiddish Drama database of English-language Yiddish play synopses and serves on the Editorial Board of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. She is currently developing a project on women who wrote plays in Yiddish.

In popular representations of Yiddish cultural history, the impression is often given that Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe were catapulted from a traditional early-modern lifestyle into the twentieth century and were at a loss when confronted with modernity. Even some Yiddish authors play with that stereotype, but reality was much more nuanced. With the spread of ideas and ideals from the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Liberalism, Socialism and Communism as well as the rapid growth of industrial centers and the move from small towns to growing cities, the confrontation with a modernizing world had been a reality in much of Eastern Europe much earlier. Many Jews showed a strong interest in new ideas and technology, not least because of possible opportunities to improve their means of making a living and their status in society, but also for intellectual and artistic reasons. In the twentieth century, legal and political changes meant new opportunities under some circumstances (e.g. legal equality and political rights for men, first signs of possible equality for women), greater restrictions under others (e.g. ideological repression). This symposium will shed a light on some ways speakers of Yiddish used or dealt with these changes.

ביכער פֿאַר אַלע, “Books for all” – Yiddish Popular Reading in Eastern Europe, 1860-1914

Nathan Cohen

The second half of the nineteenth century was marked by the appearance of a substantial amount of Hassidic literature on the one hand, and an extensive growth of the secular Yiddish book market on the other. The various traditional religious texts were challenged by new forms and contents that targeted lay Yiddish readers and indeed, these readers demonstrated significant interest in them. At the same time, first attempts were made to publish Yiddish newspapers as an inexpensive and accessible means to disseminate general information and enlightened ideas. With the passage of time, Yiddish newspapers became a central platform for publishing literary works of different levels of quality. The lecture aims to present and review the wide range of Yiddish publications available for Yiddish readers from the mid-19th century and up to the outbreak of the First World War. These publications include belles lettres of various genres, styles, and levels as well as popular scientific works adapted and designed for the East European Yiddish readers. A representative sample of these and of other publications will be presented in the lecture.  

Nati (Nathan) Cohen is Associate Professor, and Director of the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies at the Department of Literature of the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan University.

He obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and taught there for many years. Since 1996 he has been a faculty member at the Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, of which he became director in 2016.

Since 1998 Cohen has been the associate editor of the bi-annual journal Yad Vashem Studies. His fields of research and teaching include the cultural history of the Jews of Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history of the book and reading in Yiddish, modern Yiddish literature, the Jews of Poland between the two world wars, and Yiddish literature and culture during the Holocaust period. He is the author of The Jewish Cultural Center in Warsaw, 1918-1942 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2003, in Hebrew; translated into Polish, Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute, 2021) and Yiddish – The Linguistic Leap from a Common Dialect to a Cultural and Literary Language in Hebrew (Jerusalem: the Zalman Shazar Center, 2020, translated into English under the title Yiddish Transformed: Reading Habits in the Russian Empire, 1860-1914, New York and Oxford: Berhahn, 2023). He is also the author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Der Nister’s Soviet Surrealism: L’avant-garde as l’arrière-garde

Marc Caplan

In the first half of his career, Der Nister (“the Hidden One,” Pinkhas Kaganovitsh, (1884-1950) created a sequence of densely allusive literary fairy tales, drawing from a cosmopolitan range of symbol systems to bypass prior Yiddish fiction’s focus on traditional Jewish life. Upon returning to the Soviet Union at the end of the 1920s, however, he saw that this avant-garde aesthetic had to be replaced with state-mandated Realist, proletarian fiction. The second phase in his writing begins with a sequence of travel writings, Hoyptshtet (“Capital Cities,” 1934). Here, realistic descriptions of Kharkiv, Leningrad, and Moscow blend with phantasmagoric digression. This combination of travel writing with fantasy calls upon a hybrid aesthetic analogous to Parisian Surrealism.

Through this comparison, it becomes clear that Hoyptshtet is both Symbolist and Realist, Soviet and Surrealist.

Marc Caplan is a native of Louisiana and a graduate of Yale University. In 2003 he earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. Since then, he has held professorial appointments at Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, Yale, the University of Wroclaw (Poland), and Dartmouth College, as well as research fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the Universität Konstanz (Germany), the Center for Jewish History (New York), and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). In 2011 he published How Strange the Change: Language, Temporality, and Narrative Form in Peripheral Modernisms – a comparison of Yiddish and African literatures – with Stanford University Press. His second book, Yiddish Writers in Weimar Berlin: A Fugitive Modernism, was published by Indiana University Press in 2021. Currently he is professor (außerplanmäßiger Professor) of Yiddish literature at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany.