Long and mild are the dawns of Tammuz and Av,
When I hold my wakeful head
On a brown, sunburned hand:
I have kept a place for you near me, a cherished place,
But I have not kept any peace or place for myself.
Through closed eyes, my tears fall slow and warm,
And stillness spreads,
Like drowsy hares around my bed.
Soon the first cry of day will sound,
And they will scatter,
And I will rise to a long, hard way.
— Kadya Molodowsky, “Women Poems (V)”
more Kadya Molodowsky
Today in Yiddishkayt… May 1
International Workers’ Day
In honor of the Internatsyonaler arbeter yontef, enjoy Sidor Belarsky singing Y.L. Peretz anthem for the first of May:
האָף, האָף, האָף!
ניט װײַט איז שוין דער פֿרילינג.
ס׳װעלן שמעטערלינגען שפּרינגען,
נײַע נעסטן, נײַע פֿייגל
װעלן נײַע לידער זינגען.
גלויב, די נאַכט איז שוין פֿאַרשװאונדן!
און די װאָלקנס אויך צערונען,
בלוי װעט זײַן, װעט זײַן דער הימל,
נײַע שטערן, נײַע זונען.
נײַע רויזען, נײַע בלומען
װעלן בליִען, װאַקסן הויך.
עס װעט שײַנען, שמעקן, זינגען,
און אין אונדזער װינקל אויך!
Hope, hope, have hope!
Spring is not far off.
Butterflies will be abounding.
New nests, new birds will sing new songs.
Trust, the night has disappeared,
And the clouds have faded away.
The sky will be blue—
New stars and new suns.
New roses, new flowers
Will blossom and grow tall.
There will be light and sweet smells and and song,
All around us, as well!
more Sidor Belarsky
more I.L. Peretz
National Poetry Month
On a Poem by Leyb Kvitko
by J.D. Arden, M.L.I.S. candidate, Reference Services Research Intern, Center for Jewish History
by Leyb Kvitko (c.1890-1952),
translated from Yiddish by A. Mandelbaum & H. Rabinowitz
This poem is taken from The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse, published in 1987, and is one of many such books available in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History.
I am as still, as still as you,
Although you tread with shadow-steps -
The peace of distant worlds within your gaze
So softly in the shadows of my rage…
I am as still, as still as you…
Along my meager island shore -
The island of my memory - where ruins flicker faintly through
Awareness with its waves, its fog,
On that pathetic island
At times there creeps an ancient frog.
Lazily he looks about, lazily he croaks -
At all that was, the old, the shriveled heretofore.
Then lazily he turns around; he croaks another croak -
At the insane, the stolen here and now.
In me the present and the past are soon to speak no more.
Only the croaking will be etched into my island shore.
I start to sink into a shapeless torpor
I am as still, as still as you…
more on Leib Kvitko
& Dos Ketsele, Kvitko’s book The Kitten, specifically
“Sometimes children were forced to perform antireligious actions in school that were organized in the form of a game. Many respondents reported that the idea of Passover was connected with various unconventional activities. Samuil G., who took part in these events in a shtetl in the Ukraine, remembers:
[W]e had many interesting activities taking place in [Yiddish] school. First, older children, the komyugistn [Komsomol members] would come to conduct some activities for us. They explained how religion oppressed the masses in other countries. We played many interesting games together. For example, on the first day of Passover, they would gather us together and give each of us ten pieces of bread. We were given the task of going to Jewish houses and throwing a piece into the window of ten different houses. The one who was the fastest would receive a prize. We enjoyed the game very much, especially when the old, angry women came out of their houses and ran after us screaming ‘Apikorsim!’ [‘Heretics!’]. We felt like heroes of the revolution and were very proud. But in the evening we would all go home and celebrate the traditional seder with all the necessary rituals.”
— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 41.
More on Red Passover
Despite the antireligious content of the Red seders, they were distinctly Jewish events, organized for Jews, by Jews, and, equally important, they were conducted in Yiddish. Even the building in which the event took place was frequently a former synagogue. Most Jews did not perceive these activities as anti-Jewish. They saw them as Soviet Jewish events, created for their entertainment, and also as traditional holidays. Even after the most successful Red seders, which were attended by large audiences, the majority would go home and celebrate traditional Passover seders. Furthermore, those who conducted the Red seder often hurried to conclude the event since their families were waiting for them at home to celebrate the traditional seder.
Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 39.
More on Red Passover
My parents did not speak Yiddish to me or my sister. They wanted us to speak Russian. But they spoke Yiddish between themselves, so we understood and learned it. Also, I spoke Yiddish with my grandmother, who did not speak Russian. When I was seven I was supposed to go to school and was very excited about it. My mother wanted me to go to a Russian school. One day she took me to the director of the school. Then she told me to say that I did not speak Yiddish. I was very surprised, because this was the first time my mother asked me to lie. I said: “Mother, you used to say it is not good to lie!” She answered then: “This time, it is better for you not to say the truth. Do not reveal to them that you know Yiddish.”
When we arrived there were three men in the room. I entered with my mother. They asked me in Russian my name, my age, and then they asked if I knew any Yiddish. I said I did not know Yiddish. Then one of the men told me [in Yiddish]: “Meydele, gey farmakh di dir!” [Girl, go close the door!] I went to close the door. That was how they enlisted me in a Jewish school.
Ida V. (b. 1923), on how she ended up in a Jewish school in Odessa in 1930. Oral testimony in Anna Shternshis’ Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 16-7.
“A great number of Soviet Jewish schools were established in the mid-1920s. In theory, these schools were designed for children who spoke Yiddish as their native language. Jewish parents often preferred Russian schools because they felt that such an education would give their children more opportunities in the future. But government officials insisted that Jewish children attend Soviet-run Yiddish-language schools, as many ideologues believed that children would learn Soviet values better if they were taught in their mother tongue. […] The specifically Jewish element in the curriculum was used simply as a tool to convert the Yiddish-speaking population into a Soviet-thinking one.”
1: Jewish colonists, residents of a collective farm in Stalindorf, a Jewish autonomous subdistrict of the Kherson region (now in Ukraine) reading Der emes, 1937. (YIVO)
2: Der apikoyres, special fall edition, Kiev, 1923. The text reads: “The Torah is the best merchandise.” (via joanerges)
“[A]nti-Judaist diatribes were found throughout all types of Soviet Yiddish publications, from newspapers to scholarly discourses. At least seventy-four titles of specifically antireligious Yiddish literature were issued between 1917 and 1941. The Yiddish Communist newspaper, Der emes (The truth), became a leading forum for antireligous writing. The most intensive period of publishing antireligious literature was from 1927 to 1935. A special Yiddish-language periodical, Der apikoyres (The godless) was published from 1931 to 1935 by the League of the Militant Godless.”
— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 4.
Attendees of the First Meeting of the Presidium of Soviet Jewish Writers, 1929. Photo by S. Shingaryov.
Standing (L-R): Shmuel-Nisn Godiner, Note Lurye, Moyshe Litvakov, M. Daniel, Arn Kushnirov, M. Kuhlbach. Sitting (L-R): I. Feder, Izi Kharik, Alexander Fadeyev (not Jewish, so obvious from the photo), Perets Markish, D. Bronstein.
See the reverse side of the photograph here.
Do ligt a yid, a posheter,
Geshribn yidish-taytsh far vayber,
Un farn prostn folk hot erGeven
a humorist a shrayber.
Dos gantse lebn oysgelakht,
Geshlogn mit der velt kapores.
Di gantse velt hot gut gemakht,
Un er-oy vey-geven af tsores!
Un davke demolt, ven der oylem hot
Gelakht, geklatsht un fleg zikh freyen,
Hot er gekrenkt-dos veyst nor gotBesod,
az keyner wl nit zen.
Here lies a simple Jew,
who wrote yidish-taytsh for women,
and for the common peoplehe
was a humorist-writer.
He ridiculed all of life,
reviled the world.
The whole world made out very well,
and he-alas-had troubles.
And precisely when his audience
was laughing, applauding, and having a good time,
he was ailing-only God knows this-
In secret, so no one would see.
Today in Yiddishkayt… March 2
Birthday of Sholem Aleichem
Sholem Aleichem’s funeral in 1916 was one of the largest in New York City history, with an estimated 100,000 mourners. In his will he told his friends and family to gather once a year “and select one of my stories, one of the very merry ones, and recite it in whatever language is most intelligible to you.” “Let my name be recalled with laughter, or not at all.” (via Yiddishkayt)
more on Sholem Aleichem