(New York Jewish Week) — New York City has no shortage of collections preserving the Yiddish culture that flourished here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are Yiddish theater collections at the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York. Columbia University has extensive Yiddish holdings.
And then there is the granddaddy (or should we say zayde) of them all, the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the largest collection of Yiddish-language works in the world.
The Jewish Theological Seminary, meanwhile, is better known for its vast holdings of Hebrew manuscripts and books, Jewish marriage contracts, rare maps, legal documents and other Judiaca.
A new exhibit, however, is drawing attention to some of the Yiddish treasures in the JTS library, especially those reflecting the political and cultural ferment of the 2 million Eastern European Jews who arrived and thrived in New York between 1880 and 1924.
“It’s about the lives of Yiddish speakers and the legacy that lives beyond them,” said David Kraemer, librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS, referring to the title of the exhibit: “Living Yiddish in New York.” He curated the exhibit along with guest curator Annabel Cohen, a PhD student in Modern Jewish History at the seminary, and Naomi Steinberger, director of Library Services at JTS.
The exhibit, whose scope ends before the Holocaust and the post-war boom in Yiddish among the city’s Hasidic Jews, opens April 20 and runs through August 10.
Kraemer gave us a tour of the exhibit this week; here’s a look at seven standout items and what they say about New Yorkers who lived and dreamed in Yiddish.
The allure of America
A Yiddish-language biography of Benjamin Franklin, printed in Warsaw in 1901, is the only item in the exhibit that was created overseas. “The Yiddish-speaking communities of Eastern Europe imagined America as ‘di goldene medine’ — the golden land. It held for them a promise and part of the promise emerged from the fact that they knew something about American founding principles,” said Kraemer. Right next to the Franklin biography is an anonymous poem gently mocking that notion as dreams gave way to reality.
The linguist and philanthropist Alexander Harkavy, himself a Russian-Jewish immigrant, created a series of educational guides to help Jewish immigrants acclimate in their new homes, including this Yiddish-English phrasebook in 1897. The Workmen’s Circle, meanwhile, created a vegetarian cookbook for immigrants in 1926, part of a wide effort connecting healthy eating with progressive politics.
Old World meets New
The exhibit includes blown-up images taken from postcards in the JTS collection suggesting the changes ahead for new immigrants. In one cartoon, created in 1908, an immigrant who was a respected rabbi back in Europe is reduced to peddling in the United States. In the image above, however, the joke is reversed: “At home he was a cobbler, in New York he’s an expert in Jewish law.” In a religious desert like America, the cartoon suggests, even an average Jewish education makes you a sage.
“The Yiddish theater culture in New York was extraordinary,” said Kraemer. At its height, the “Yiddish Rialto” – the theater district located primarily on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, but extending to Avenue B, between Houston Street and East 14th Street in the East Village — could boast as many as 30 performances a night. The exhibit includes sheet music for popular songs, from a ditty about “The Little Millionaire” to a song composed in mourning for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which caused the deaths of 146 garment workers in 1911.
Immigrants organized a huge network of mutual aid societies, affinity clubs for Jews from the same towns in Europe (landsmanschaften) and political clubs. Jews from Hoshcha in Ukraine organized a “Hoshter Society” and wrote up this “constitution” for members. “They learned from the American model: you create an organization, you write a constitution,” said Kraemer.
A number of items in the exhibit demonstrate the leftist politics of many of the Yiddish-speaking immigrants. “This reflects the worlds that they came from, where these same ideas were obviously fermenting very powerfully at the time,” said Kraemer. “It also reflects the composition of the community. Many of them were very, very impoverished and living under difficult conditions. And as workers living in impoverished conditions, they were attracted to socialism, even to communism.” “The Hammer,” above, published in May 1926, was the monthly magazine of the communist daily Di Morgn Freiheit.
Teach your children
Even as parents were succeeding in assimilating, many didn’t want their Americanized children to forget Yiddish language and culture. Yiddish publishers and educators responded with publications, Yiddish schools, camps and resources, like this children’s songbook created in 1926 for Jewish campers by a teacher at the Workmen’s Circle and the International Workers’ Order Yiddish schools.
“Living Yiddish in New York” runs April 20–Aug. 10 at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway. Register here for guided exhibit tours being held in May, June and July.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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