Bel Kaufman, author and granddaughter of Sholem Aleichem, dies at age 103

Sholem Aleichem, his wife Olga, and their three children, Tissa, Lyala (Bel Kaufman’s mother), and Emma, Kiev, 1889. The family portrait was used as a Rosh Hashana greeting card (see Hebrew inscription at bottom). (YIVO Archives)

Sholem Aleichem, his wife Olga, and their three children, Tissa, Lyala (Bel Kaufman’s mother), and Emma, Kiev, 1889. The family portrait was used as a Rosh Hashana greeting card (see Hebrew inscription at bottom). (YIVO Archives)

Bel Kaufman, the granddaughter of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem and the author of the 1965 bestselling novel Up the Down Staircase, died in New York on July 25, 2014 at age 103.

Born in Berlin in 1911, Kaufman spent much of her childhood in Odessa and Kiev, where she experienced the Russian Revolution. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1923. Her novel was based on her own experiences as a teacher in New York City public schools. Her obituary in the LA Times notes that she was still teaching at the age of 99, presiding over a course on Jewish humor at Hunter College (City University of New York).

In the early 2000s, YIVO hosted public programs for the Sholem Aleichem Foundation, which were organized by Kaufman’s husband, Sidney Gluck. Her New York Times obituary requests, in lieu of flowers, donations to YIVO, Hunter College, and the Folksbiene.

Excerpts of interviews with Kaufman appear in the recent documentary on Sholem Aleichem by Joseph Dorman, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.

Read more about Bel Kaufman in the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Women’s Archive

Read about Sholem Aleichem in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. YIVO has many books and artifacts related to Sholem Aleichem in its library and archives, including manuscripts and letters.

YIVO in Vilna: Institution, Personalities, and Legacy
Call for Papers

An international conference dedicated to the 90th anniversary of YIVO’s establishment and the 75th anniversary of its transition to New York will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania on April 21-23, 2015.

In spring 1925 the institution known as the Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut (YIVO) was established in Vilna.  It became one of the most famous research centers  of East European Jewish culture, history, linguistics and literature, gathering and preserving the heritage of the Yiddish language. During the Second World War the YIVO headquarters was transferred to New York, where it continues its work today; yet part of the heritage that YIVO managed to collect was preserved in Vilna. In the context of today‘s Vilnius the symbolic meaning of YIVO—one of the famous icons of the Jewish community’s past—remains. YIVO in New York continued the work of the institution, its academic tradition and spirit while adapting to the post-war environment in New York.

The conference’s focus will be the Vilna period of YIVO’s activities and its intellectual, social, and cultural contexts, as well as the institute’s transition to New York. It will also consider the relevance of YIVO’s work to today’s academic research in and institutional structure for the study of East European Jewry. Finally, the conference invites discussion of the impact of YIVO not only on scholarship but also on the identity of the local Jewish community, analyzing the creation of the institute‘s self-image and Vilna’s place in it.

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Yiddish Adjectives/Encounters with Death in Yiddish Folksongs (1965)

YIVO MicThis broadcast from February 21, 1965 presents excerpts from two papers  delivered at YIVO’s annual conference, which had taken place the month before:  

1. “Variety of Functions of the Yiddish Adjective,” a paper delivered by Professor Uriel Weinreich at a session of the Linguistic Circle, about certain cases of the syntax of Yiddish adjectives. Weinreich pointed out some subtler differences in meaning resulting from syntactical changes. This syntactical flexibility, giving rise to new shades of meaning, is an internal development in the Yiddish language. Remote parallels may be found in Russian, but then the impact of Russian upon Yiddish is of a later date than these peculiarities of the usage of the adjectives.

2. “Traces of Amusements in Yiddish Folksongs” a paper by Eleanor Gordon (Chana) Mlotek that traces the rise of the Yiddish folksong and its relationship to the medieval Yiddish epics and folk dramas. Mlotek submitted two such songs, which have as their burden a dialogue between God and the Torah and an encounter between a maiden and “death,” to this analysis. She pointed up parallels in English, Dutch, French, German and Slavic folksongs, as well as in those genres of art music known as the Dance of Death and Macaber Dance, and concluded that elements of long-forgotten games and amusements songs have become incorporated in the Yiddish folksongs. A musical example is sung by Masha Benya.

From 1963-1976, YIVO had its own program on WEVD, the radio station established by the Socialist Party of America in 1927 (its call letters stand for the initials of American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs), which was purchased by the Jewish Daily Forward in 1932 and became a major venue from Yiddish programming.

YIVO used its spot on WEVD for Yiddish-language interviews and discussions with leading New York Yiddish cultural figures, as well as for reporting on its own scholarly and cultural work.

A new podcast of this program in the order in which it was originally broadcast will be posted here every two weeks.

Presentation of series curated by Matt Temkin, YIVO Sound Archives.

Listen to the program [in Yiddish].

YIVO in the News/Staff Notes – July 2014

The Yiddish Daily Forward ran two features focusing on YIVO on July 17: A geshikhte fun YIVO [A History of YIVO], a review of Cecile Kuznitz’s book YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture by Gennady Estraikh, YIVO’s new Albert B. Ratner Visiting Scholar in East European Jewish Literature; and Khayem Grades arkhiv antplekt [Chaim Grade’s Archive Revealed], a report on YIVO’s public program “YIVO’s Newest Treasure: The Chaim Grade and Ina Hecker-Grade Archive” (July 13). Professor Estraikh is quoted, along with Professor Agi Legutko (director of the Yiddish language program at Columbia University and an instructor in the YIVO-Bard Winter Program on Ashkenazic Civilization) in a Jewish News Service article, “Nearly lost Yiddish language increasingly popular among Jewish college students.”

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Uriel Weinreich Summer Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture: Alumni Voices

This is the third post in a series about alumni of YIVO’s intensive summer program in Yiddish, offered by YIVO and Bard College. The program, which was established in 1968, is in its 47th year. This year’s session runs from June 23 – August 1, 2014. 

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Resonances from Vilna: The Lost Heritage of Jewish Music

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On May 22, 2014, four cultural organizations in Vilnius teamed up to present “Resonances from Vilna,” a concert at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, featuring works by Jewish composers Joseph Achron, Alexander Krein, and other Jewish Lithuanian composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The program included a world premiere performance of pieces from Vsevelod Zaderatsky’s 24 Preludes and Fugues.

The event was organized by the European Humanities University (EHU), the EHU Center for German Studies, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum’s Tolerance Center, and Vilnius University.

Watch excerpts of the concert.

On May 4, 2014, music by Achron, Krein, and other Jewish composers were featured at YIVO at a Sidney Krum Young Artists Concert entitled “The Jewish Sound in Soviet Music.”

From the Pages of Yedies

by ROBERTA NEWMAN

In September 1953, Yedies celebrated the 15th anniversary of the YIVO Library and Archives in America with a detailed account of its history, beginning with the establishment of its predecessor, the Central Jewish Library and Archives, which had its first headquarters at 1133 Broadway, an office building which has for generations provided relatively low-cost office space to small organizations, including many Jewish ones. A Google search brings up a long list that includes the American Federation for Lithuanian Jews, various departments of the Joint Distribution Committee early in its history, and, most recently, the Congress for Jewish Culture, which unfortunately closed its doors last week. When I worked in a small office in 1133 Broadway with curator Fred Wasserman on the Luboml Exhibition Project in the 1990s, I had no idea that the building we were sitting in had such a rich history.

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The 2014 Jan Karski & Pola Nirenska Prize at YIVO Awarded to Piotr Matywiecki

Piotr Matywiecki of Warsaw, Poland has been named the recipient of the 2014 Karski Award. This annual award was endowed by Professor Jan Karski in 1992 for an author of published works documenting Polish-Jewish relations and Jewish contributions to Polish culture.

The winner was chosen by the Award Committee, whose members are Prof. Pawel Spiewak (Director, Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw), Dr. Jonathan Brent (Executive Director YIVO Institute for Jewish Research), Dr. Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, Prof. Szymon Rudnicki, Dr. Joachim S. Russek, Prof. Jerzy Tomaszewski, and Prof. Feliks Tych. The award ceremony will be held in September at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

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YIVO Archives to Receive Organizational Records from the Congress for Jewish Culture

On Thursday, July 17, 2014, The New York Times reported on the shutting down of the offices of the Congress for Jewish Culture. The organization was founded by writers and intellectuals in 1948 to promote the work of Yiddish language and culture and once also had offices in Paris and Buenos Aires.

Read more about the Congress for Jewish Culture.

The newly donated records will join an existing collection of Congress for Jewish Culture in the YIVO Archives (Record Group 1148).

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Harry M. Orlinsky: The Philosophy of the New Jewish Translation of the Torah into English (1965)

YIVO MicThis broadcast from February 14th, 1965 presents excerpts from the paper, “The Philosophy of the New Jewish Translation of the Torah into English” delivered by Dr. Harry (Tsvi Orlinsky), at YIVO’s annual conference, which had taken place the month before. Orlinsky was editor in chief of the Torah for The New Jewish Publication Society translation of the Jewish bible.

Yedies February 1965 (issues No. 93) p6As a report on the conference in Yedies noted:

In his address “The Philosophy of the New Jewish Translation of the Torah into English,” at the opening session, Professor Harry M. Orlinsky, chairman of the group that made that translation, traced the history of the translations of the Bible from the Septuagint to date. Beginning with the Septuagint and following through Aquila and Onkelos and up to the present, Jewish translators followed the principle of the most faithful adherence to the original. They rendered a word-for-word translation, with utter disregard for the syntax or the usage of the language into which they translated. Underlying this method was the idea of acquainting the reader of the translation with the character, flavor and texture of the original, in sum, with the spirit of the original. (This was also the method followed in the Jewish schools.) The new translation into English is rooted in a different principle, namely, that of translating the underlying idea of the original, rather than the words in their order, into contemporary idiomatic English. It also takes into consideration the varying exegesis traditions. Thus the opening sentence of the Bible is rendered: “When God began to create the heaven and the earth…” instead of the customary “In the beginning God created…”

At the end of the program, a listener’s question about the names of shtetls in Yiddish is addressed.

From 1963-1976, YIVO had its own program on WEVD, the radio station established by the Socialist Party of America in 1927 (its call letters stand for the initials of American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs), which was purchased by the Jewish Daily Forward in 1932 and became a major venue from Yiddish programming.

YIVO used its spot on WEVD for Yiddish-language interviews and discussions with leading New York Yiddish cultural figures, as well as for reporting on its own scholarly and cultural work.

A new podcast of this program in the order in which it was originally broadcast will be posted here every two weeks.

Presentation of series curated by Matt Temkin, YIVO Sound Archives.

Listen to the program [in English].