YIVO Announces $1,160,000 Challenge Grant for International Project to Preserve Prewar Library and Archives

Funds Will Support The YIVO Vilna Collections - A Landmark Digital Initiative

New York, NY (May 18, 2015) - The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is pleased to announce a generous anonymous challenge grant of $1,160,000 – and a new name – for its landmark international project to preserve, digitize, and virtually reunite YIVO’s prewar library and archival collections, located in New York City and Vilnius, Lithuania. The project will also digitally reconstruct the great Strashun Library of Vilna. The result of this work will be the single largest digital collection of materials related to East European Jewish civilization and the largest collection of Yiddish-language materials in the world. Formerly known as The YIVO Vilna Project, the initiative has been renamed The YIVO Vilna Collections – A Landmark Digital Initiative, to underscore the broad scope and historical significance of the collection.

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Ezra Mendelsohn (1940-2015)

Ezra Mendelsohn

Ezra Mendelsohn at YIVO’s “Jews and the Left” conference, 2012

YIVO mourns the passing of Ezra Mendelsohn, Rachel & Michael Edelman professor emeritus of European Jewry and Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University, who died last week in Jerusalem at age 74.

Mendelsohn, a historian, published over 30 books and articles on the Jewish labor movement, Jews in Poland and Russia, Jewish politics, and modern Jewish art and music. He served as the co-editor of the journal Studies in Contemporary Jewry and Zion. Among his works are Class Struggle in the Pale (1970), The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (1987), On Modern Jewish Politics (1993), and Painting a People: Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish Art (2002). At the time of his death, he was working on a book on Jewish universalism, to be published by Rutgers University Press.

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Reading Zola in Yiddish

Zola Close Page

by J.D. ARDEN, Reference Services & Genealogy Librarian, Center for Jewish History, Reference Division & Genealogy Institute

117 years ago in January 1898, Emile Zola boldly took up his pen to bring those famous words, “J’accuse…!,” to the defense of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army, whose conviction of espionage was widely believed to be an expression of anti-Semitism. The same year, Zola’s third book of the Three Cities Trilogy, Paris, was published—and subsequently translated into Yiddish in Warsaw by Israel Chaim Zagorodski. That book, in two editions, is in the collection of the YIVO Library.

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Di gantse velt af a firmeblank: The World of Jewish Letterheads

Assemble the letterheads of Jewish organizations, institutions, and individuals in Europe, North and South America, and Palestine from the 1890s to the eve of World War II in 1939 and you have a portrait of the Jewish world: transnational; diverse in language, political, and religious orientation; and flourishing.

Di gantse velt af a firmeblank (The Whole World on a Letterhead) is an experiment in building that portrait. Here, we hope to bring you several times a month, a different example of letterhead from a single collection in the YIVO Archives, the Papers of Kalman Marmor.

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YIVO Offers Courses for Scholars and Public School Teachers (1966)

WEVD Logo Yedies #97, March 1966, Article on One Hundred Years of Yiddish Literature

In this episode, originally broadcast on February 13, 1966, Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter talks about a course in standardized Yiddish orthography recently offered by YIVO. Host Sheftl Zak talks about a class for public school teachers entitled “One Hundred Years of Yiddish Literature” that is about to begin and about the upcoming YIVO annual conference.

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].

Yiddish Fight Club/YIVO at 90

Last week, YIVO hosted two audience-packed events: the opening of the exhibition, Yiddish Fight Club and “YIVO at 90,” an all-day conference in honor of YIVO’s 90th anniversary.

Yiddish Fight Club is based on a 1926 linguistic study of Yiddish fighting terms and combines the now-forgotten slang of a violent Yiddish underworld with images of Jewish brawlers from the past. The exhibition was curated by YIVO Academic Advisor Edward Portnoy and designed by YIVO Web and Graphics Designer Alix Brandwein. It runs through September 1, 2015.

“Building a Future in America,” which took place on May 3, focused on YIVO’s work and activities in the 75 years since its relocation to New York and featured a keynote address by Kalman Weiser, as well as three panels with presentations by leading scholars. Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Mantvydas Bekešius was an honored guest.

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Limited Run at Theater 80: Making Stalin Laugh

GOSET journal cover

Zrelishscha (Entertainment), no. 89 (June 1924). The cover of this Moscow journal features a montage by I. Makhlis celebrating the GOSET (Moscow State Yiddish Theater), with Aleksandr Granovskii as the locomotive that pulls the train and actor Solomon Mikhoels as the conductor atop the engine. (YIVO Institute for Jewish Research)

“In 1921 the GOSET troupe moved into a theater less than a mile from the Kremlin. For 28 years, through purge, terror, and paranoia, they presented world-class theater in Yiddish to audiences that only spoke Russian. And then they went too far.”

On May 17 and May 18, New Yiddish Rep will present a multi-lingual workshop production of David Schneider’s “Making Stalin Laugh” at Theater 80 in New York. The play features Israeli television star Gera Sandler and Yelena Shmulenson (“A Serious Man”)  and is directed by Allen Lewis Rickman (“The Big Bupkis”; the Yiddish “Pirates of Penzance”).

Originally presented in London, New Yiddish Rep’s production will be the play’s American premiere. In this revised version of the play, which first appeared in English, the characters will sometimes speak Russian, sometimes Yiddish, sometimes English, sometimes German, etc., just like their real-life counterparts did — but all dialogue will be simultaneously translated via English supertitles projected directly over the actors’ heads.

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More about Benjamin Harshav, z”l (1928-2015)

Two weeks ago, we reported on the death of Benjamin Harshav, translator, poet and eminent scholar of Hebrew and Yiddish literature. He died at age 86 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Since then, several full-length obituaries have appeared online, mourning his passing and celebrating his work and accomplishments. Forward notes that he was a mentor to “generations of students” and discusses his career in Israel as a poet and as a scholar at Tel Aviv University, where he founded the Department of Poetics and Comparative Literature.

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Di gantse velt af a firmeblank: The World of Jewish Letterheads

Assemble the letterheads of Jewish organizations, institutions, and individuals in Europe, North and South America, and Palestine from the 1890s to the eve of World War II in 1939 and you have a portrait of the Jewish world: transnational; diverse in language, political, and religious orientation; and flourishing.

Di gantse velt af a firmeblank (The Whole World on a Letterhead) is an experiment in building that portrait. Here, we hope to bring you several times a month, a different example of letterhead from a single collection in the YIVO Archives, the Papers of Kalman Marmor.

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Mikhl Herzog and Florence Guggenheim-Grünberg on Western Yiddish (1965)

WEVD LogoIn this episode, originally broadcast on November 28, 1965, Dr. Marvin (Mikhl) Herzog interviews Dr. Florence Guggenheim-Grünberg on Western Yiddish. Recorded examples of native speakers of Western Yiddish are featured, with the discussion in English. Among Guggenheim-Grunberg’s publications are “Horse Dealers’ Language of the Swiss Jews in Endingen and Lengnau” in Uriel Weinreich, ed., The Field of Yiddish (New York: Publications of the Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954.)   

Earlier that year, on June 10-13, YIVO and the Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry co-sponsored a Conference on Yiddish Dialectology in New York. As Wita Ravid (a member of the Staff of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry, Columbia University) wrote in The Linguistic Reporter, The Journal of the Center for Applied Linguistics in August 1965: “A considerable part of the conference was devoted to Western Yiddish. F. Guggenheim-Grünberg of Zurich, who has recently expanded her studies of Swiss Yiddish to include other Western varieties, reported on her work among rural Jews in Switzerland and southwestern Germany, and played examples of taped folklore materials.” 

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].