The Sun Never Sets on the Yiddish Empire: An Interview with YIVO Fellow Karolina Szymaniak

Karolina Szymaniak

Karolina Szymaniak

The recipient of YIVO’s Dina Abramowicz Emerging Scholar Fellowship for 2013-2014, Karolina Szymaniak, is an Assistant Professor at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, where she also heads the Yiddish Culture Lab. Having earned her Ph.D. in literary and cultural studies from the Jagiellonian University in Kazimierz, Poland, she also works as a researcher and translator in the field of Yiddish. Her research interests include modern Jewish literatures and cultures, the politics of memory, modernism and avant garde, and women’s and translation studies.

She is the editor-in-chief of Cwiszn (Tsvishn), a Polish language quarterly devoted to Yiddish arts and literature. Her book on the Polish-Yiddish modernist writer, Dvoyre Vogel, Przemiany poglądów estetycznych Debory Vogel (Agent of the Eternal Idea: The Changing Aesthetics of Debora Vogel) was published in 2006 in Poland, and she is editor and translator of Warszawska awangrarda jidysz (The Warsaw Yiddish Avant-Garde), a bilingual anthology of avant-garde Yiddish literature and Dialog poetów (Dialogue of Poets), a trilingual volume on Czesław Miłosz’s contacts with Avrom Sutzkever and other Jewish writers.

Entitled “Colonies of Yiddishland? (Ex)territorial Discourses in Yiddish Literary Criticism and the Politics of Modern Yiddish Culture,” Dr. Szymaniak’s project for the Dina Abramowicz Emerging Scholar Fellowship considers the complex relationships between language and geopolitical status within the context of Yiddish literary criticism and how Yiddish literature functioned as a diasporic, “exterritorial” cultural discourse.

She was interviewed by Eddy Portnoy.

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YIVO Welcomes Wesleyan University Students Investigating Jewish Material Culture


Professor Magda Teter, an instructor in YIVO’s Winter Program on Ashkenazi Civilization, visited YIVO on April 30 with her class from Wesleyan University, to participate in a full-day workshop on Jewish material culture. Teter’s Wesleyan course in East European Jewish History aims to take students beyond the common tropes of shtetl life and into a “more complex, textured world” of Jewish civilization in Poland, from the thirteenth century through the forced migrations of 1968. In order to give the students a chance to engage more fully with the ideas discussed in class, the course includes a “service learning” component: the students are currently participating in a project to examine and research artifacts from the Adath Israel Congregation of Middletown’s collection of East European Judaica, and are working on creating detailed descriptions for some of the items on display there. This focus on the tangible aspects of Jewish history prompted Teter to bring the students on a day-long field trip to the Center for Jewish History, in order to explore Jewish ritual objects, rare books, and letters in the collections of Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) and YIVO.

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Jewish Arts Profile: Radzyn Stories

Radzyn Stories is a graphic novel for the Internet, interweaving text and art to tell a story based on the legacy of the Izhbits-Radzin Hasidic Dynasty, a small, but influential branch of Hasidism, some of whose teachings have become known to a wider audience through the work of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925–1994).


On their website, Michael Weber and Joel Golombeck have set out to tell a modern folktale about Radzyn and its Hasidim. As their introduction notes, Radzyn Stories is “a fictional story inspired by a very real place.”

Michael Weber was interviewed by Yedies Editor Roberta Newman.

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From the Pages of Yedies


This year, the 1938 Yiddish film classic Mamele, starring Molly Picon, perhaps the world’s best-known Yiddish actress, was screened at the New York Jewish Film Festival in a version newly restored by the National Center for Jewish Film.

But the first rediscovery of this film occurred in September 1978, when YIVO released the first restored version of Mamele to a sold-out audience at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. The original reels for the movie had been lost and it had been several decades since the film had been screened. But an almost complete copy of the film was located, from which the restored copy was put together in a special project mounted by YIVO.

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The Jewish Tavern as Part of the Polish Landscape: Interview with Glenn Dynner

yankelstavernIn Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland (Oxford University Press, 2014), Glenn Dynner examines the iconic Polish Jewish tavernkeeper in the Kingdom of Poland.

In nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, the Jewish-run tavern was often the center of leisure, hospitality, business, and even religious festivities. This unusual situation came about because the nobles who owned taverns throughout the formerly Polish lands believed that only Jews were sober enough to run taverns profitably, a belief so ingrained as to endure even the rise of Hasidism’s robust drinking culture.

As liquor became the region’s boom industry, Jewish tavernkeepers became integral to both local economies and local social life, presiding over Christian celebrations and dispensing advice, medical remedies and loans. Nevertheless, reformers and government officials, blaming Jewish tavernkeepers for epidemic peasant drunkenness, sought to drive Jews out of the liquor trade. Their efforts were particularly intense and sustained in the Kingdom of Poland, a semi-autonomous province of the Russian empire that was often treated as a laboratory for social and political change.

Historians have assumed that this spelled the end of the Polish Jewish liquor trade. However, newly discovered archival sources demonstrate that many nobles helped their Jewish tavernkeepers evade fees, bans and expulsions by installing Christians as fronts for their taverns. The result—a vast underground Jewish liquor trade—reflects an impressive level of local Polish-Jewish co-existence that contrasts with the more familiar story of antisemitism and violence.

Buy the book.

Glenn Dynner is Professor of Judaic Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the 2013-14 Senior NEH Scholar at the Center for Jewish History. In addition to Yankel’s Tavern, he is author of “Men of Silk”: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Oxford University Press), winner of the Koret Publications Prize and finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards. He is editor of Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe (Wayne State University Press); and co-editor of a forthcoming volume of Polin and of Warsaw, the Jewish Metropolis: Essays in Honor of the 70th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky.

He is interviewed here by Yedies editor, Roberta Newman.

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May Their Memory Be for a Blessing

Three men who made their mark on Jewish life and culture passed from this world in the last week.

Simon Alperovitch (Simonas Alperavičius), who served as executive director of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in 1989, and later, as chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Council and of the Vilnius Jewish Community, was a native of Vilna, and a descendant of the famous Strashun family. A Holocaust survivor, he was a tireless fighter against distortion of the history of the Holocaust. Read his obituary.

Felix Fibich was a dancer and one of the few professional choreographers who worked in the Yiddish theater. Together with his wife and partner Judith Berg (1905-1992)  he collaborated with well-known Yiddish theater figures in Poland, such as the comedy team Dzigan and Shumacher and the composer Henekh Kon. They performed in Russia during World War II and then came to the United States. The couple drew from Jewish sources for inspiration for their dance pieces. Read Masha Leon’s memoir in the Forward.

Judith Berg and Felix Fibich, in four different poses, New York (?), ca. 1950s. (YIVO)

Judith Berg and Felix Fibich, in four different poses, New York (?), ca. 1950s. (YIVO)

Noyekh (Norman) Miller, founder of Mendele, the listserv dedicated to Yiddish language and culture, and a former professor of sociology at Trinity College. Read a profile of Miller here.

Introducing YIVO’s 39th Annual Conference (1964)

YIVO MicIn this episode of YIVO’s radio program on WEVD, originally heard on December 12, 1964, host Sheftl Zak talks about the 39th Annual YIVO Conference, which would convene in January 1965 in New York. Many of the upcoming episodes of the series focus on the conference and present excerpts from some of the papers delivered there.

Yedies December 1964 (issue No92) EngFrom 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.

Yedies December 1964 (issue No92) YidYIVO 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].

From the Pages of Yedies


yedies sept 1965 3In July 1965, Yedies proudly reported on the inclusion of a happy birthday message to YIVO in the Congressional Record. The speech was delivered by Indiana congressman John Brademas.

John Brademas (1927-2013) was the first Greek-American to serve in Congress who later served as president of New York University. In the same year that he spoke about YIVO on the floor of the House of Representatives, he co-sponsored legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanties (NEH).

YIVO Announces Publication of the Milstein Conference Proceedings: “New York and the American Jewish Communal Experience.”

NYatAJCE CoverPRESS NEWS: For Immediate Release
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Contact: Fruma Mohrer

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is pleased to announce the publication of the Milstein Conference Proceedings, “New York and the American Jewish Communal Experience,” published with the generous support of the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation and the Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation. The new volume, edited by Fruma Mohrer and Ettie Goldwasser, contains 8 scholarly papers based on the Milstein Conference which took place at the YIVO Institute in November 2009. The contributors are Ellen Kellman (Brandeis University), Kirsten Fermaglich (Michigan State University),  Marsha Dubrow (The Graduate Center, CUNY), Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz (Bar Ilan University), Myuki Kita (Kitakyushu University), Rebecca Kobrin (Columbia University), Beth Cohen (California State University, Northridge) and Roberta Newman (YIVO Institute for Jewish Research).

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YIVO in the News/Staff Notes

On March 25, YIVO Executive Director Jonathan Brent delivered a lecture at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC, “The Last Books: Recovering the East European Jewish Past,” on the dramatic story of YIVO’s collections in Vilna: looted by the Nazis, destroyed, hidden, and, in part, rescued.

YIVO Kronhill Scholar in Residence Steven J. Zipperstein will deliver a lecture entitled “Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Michael Davitt and the Burdens of Truth” on April 2 at the Columbia University Seminar in Jewish Studies. On April 7, he will be a roundtable participant at an international conference on Zionism and Jewish Culture at Brown University.

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