jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Category: yiddish

weekend music breakout

by tobybee


“Filmed June 9, 2013, Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival. Michael Winograd and the Klezmer Orchestra International entertain the crowd outside the Museum at Eldridge Street. Steve Weintraub facilitates dancing.

In it’s thirteenth year, the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival celebrates the Chinese and Jewish communities who’ve called the neighborhood home. It’s one big block party both inside and out combining history, culture, music, performances, and folk arts demonstrations.”

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spare cash?

by tobybee

if you have any, there are some good places that you could kick it to… and if you don’t (like me. curse the vagaries of employment in the tertiary education sector!), then maybe you could pass on this info to others you know who do.

in no particular order:

firstly, RISE in Melbourne has written that

Last Wednesday we had 54 families and 84 adults came to RISE to access our foodbank total of 138 asylum seekers and we ran out two weeks worth of food in one day. Now we are complete out of stock and need your urgent support for our foodbank.

The RISE FoodBank aims to address the initial critical needs of the
most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers within our community by providing access to free dry food and fruits and vegetables. In order to reach our goal to provide our community with access to food, we are calling for donations of food items to be donated to the RISE food bank.

Food items that we urgently need include:

• Rice
• Oil
• Sugar
• Pasta
• Pasta Sauce/Tomato Sauce
• Milk
• Tea and Coffee
• Bread
• Fruits and Vegetables
• Tuna
• Lentils
• Plain Flour
• Instant Noodles/Vermicelli Noodles
• Canned Tomatoes

In order to donate, please drop off items at our office: Level 1, 247
Flinders Lane, Melbourne or you can do you order before Wednesday via online shopping.

PS:- Many of the RISE members have been released to the community through the based detention scheme and do not have the right to work or access to government support services. RISE also supports a large number of families in community detention, many who are ill-equipped to meet their daily food requirements, therefore they are at risk of falling through the cracks of the system to the point that they cannot afford basic food and are left in a perilous state.

so if you can drop off some food, that would be rad.

secondly, AJDS is currently running a fundraising campaign for Grassroots Jerusalem, and a generous anonymous donor has offered to match donations dollar for dollar, up to $5000. pretty great!

The AJDS – Grassroots Jerusalem fundraising project:

The AJDS is supporting Grassroots Jerusalem (GJ) to raise awareness about the human rights violations committed in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and to further the local development of community-based advocacy.

Our project is designed to apply your financial contribution directly to each stage of the community development process and to include you in developing the Grassroots Jerusalem global network.

Our project is specifically aimed at supporting two communities in Jerusalem: Al-Walajeh and Al- Jahalin.

and thirdly, you can support The Helix Project:

What is Helix?

The Helix Project tells the story of the life, not the death, of the Jews of Eastern Europe. For too long, mainstream Jewish institutions have distilled the fascinating history of Jewish life to a handful of talking points: religion, Israel, Holocaust, and a vague emphasis on “maintaining Jewish identity.” Helix wants to transform the way Jewish history is taught and perceived.

We bring a group of 12 university students to the historical heartland of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe for an expenses-paid three-week long immersion in cultural history to see how European Jewish life, contrary to the dominant story, was not a successive chain of miseries — but a millennium filled with creativity, joy, and vitality.

We start in LA with an intensive crash course in the languages, history, and culture of Eastern European Jewish life. The trip then moves to Europe, where students follow in the footsteps of Yiddish poets in Belarus, visit centers of Jewish political activism in Poland, and make a literary pilgrimage to Vilnius, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.”

Helix students take the lead in sharing their skills and knowledge—academic, artistic, and social—with the group, learn to facilitate discussion and to navigate exploration of new sites. Helix takes students out of the classroom and into the streets of the places that were recently home to the majority of the world’s Jewish population.

Helix is organized by Yiddishkayt, the trend-setting non-profit which has promoted Yiddish language and culture, and especially the values of cultural openness and compassion embodied in that culture, for the past two decades.

pieces of the past

by tobybee

I think a lot about how to create social change, or how to engage with people in effective ways, or when to scrap strategy and just stand in solidarity. I have no idea how effective Szmul Zygielbojm thought he was being when he killed himself 70 years ago, on May 12, 1943 – he gassed himself and asked to be cremated – or when he sent this letter explaining why. But it is clear that his actions are affecting and that they ask us to consider what we are willing to do in solidarity with others.

Szmul Zygielbojm letter

Zygielbojm – a Bundist – wrote this letter, Yiddishkeyt explains, “in utter despair upon receiving the news of the complete destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, in protest at the passivity with which the world was reacting in the face of the ongoing genocide, and in an act of unimaginable solidarity — killed himself by gas in his London apartment. In his note he wrote: ‘I cannot remain silent. I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland whose representative I am are being exterminated.'”

queering the doykeit

by tobybee

the internet has indeed (in my experience) been rad for building transnational communities of jewish diasporists. despite physical distance, we can connect over the lines, sharing ideas and building fledgling friendships. one such connection i’ve made has been to jenna brager, whose zine, doykeit, i discovered thanks to vlada. and so i’m loving the jewish ladies across the globe.

jenna’s just put out a new call out for submissions for a second edition of doykeit (doykeit, she writes in the first, “in a contemporary context implies a radical investment in the local communities that sustain us and an understanding that in a globalized society, solidarity politics must cross borders real and imagined), so, friends, get to it and submit something!:

Doykeit #2—“Diaspora”

The concept of ‘doykeit,’ Yiddish for ‘hereness,’ is taken from the pre-World War II Polish-Jewish group The Bund, which believed that Jews have both a right to live and a political commitment to work for change ‘here and now.’

Doykeit seeks to speak to the cross-sections of Jewish and queer/feminist identification and how these might inform an anti-Zionist or Palestinian solidarity politic.

For this issue of Doykeit, we ask for writing and art that considers one or more of the following topics: diaspora, home and “homeland,” galut, displacement, dispersal, remembrance, intergenerational relationships, borders, nationalism, and violence.

“The word ‘diaspora’ means dispersion. It originated in the Septuagint, one of the original Greek translations of the Bible: Deuteronomy 28:25: ‘thou shalt be a diaspora in all kingdoms of the earth.’…”

Some questions to consider:

–site(s) of diaspora and site(s) of “home”

–diaspora in a globalized society

–What does it mean to be a diaspora Jew (politically, spiritually etc.)?

–How is diaspora complicated/ take on different meaning in different Jewish communities (ethnic, geographic, denominational, etc.)?

–How do we build solidarity between/ within diasporic/ exilic communities?

Due May 1st

book review: The International Jewish Labor Bund After 1945

by jewonthisguest

David Slucki, The International Jewish Labor Bund After 1945: Toward a Global History
Rutgers, 2012
Available on Amazon for $US45.95

Reviewed by Clare Fester

It is not every summer that I read an academic book cover-to-cover, with enough fascination to miss my train station on more than one occasion. Last (Australian) summer David Slucki’s The International Jewish Labor Bund after 1945 gave me cause to do so. The book maps the survival and eventual decline of the Jewish Labor Bund during the post-war period in the Soviet bloc, France, the US, Australia and Israel. Slucki pieces together the struggles the Bund faced – their leadership and rank-and-file decimated, their surviving members scarred and scattered across the globe, and new alien political contexts in which to organise.

Even readers who have walked the halls of Jewish Studies departments could be forgiven for knowing little about Bundist history, since most courses cast only a cursory nod in the Bund’s direction. The Bund was a Yiddish socialist party active in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. It grew to be the most influential Jewish political organisation in pre-revolutionary Russia and later inter-war Poland, playing a substantial role in trade unions, anti-racist struggles and local elections. It also ran a sophisticated network of media, schools and social clubs.

Slucki contributes not only to the modest array of literature on the Bund, but to the study of Jewish life in the Diaspora more generally. Slucki challenges the narrow binary of the post-war focus on Israel and the US, and hence the book considers more diverse aspects of Diaspora Jewish experiences since the Second World War.

The book is also compelling reading for anyone interested in the history of social movements and the left. Bundists had some of the earliest critiques of Stalinism; many had cut their political teeth jousting with the early Bolsheviks over questions such as party democracy and national minorities. These conflicts intensified with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, ending in the bitter liquidation of the Bund in the Soviet bloc during the 1920s.

Slucki unpacks not only the political twists and turns of the Bund in the post-war period. Indeed the book speaks to critical questions the entire left faced at the height of the cold war, when there seemed to be few political alternatives beyond either Stalinism or Western democracy.

Furious tears dribbled down my face as I read how the French Bund marched in sorry lockstep alongside the rest of the French left supporting de Gaulle’s military intervention to squash the independence movement in Algeria. Shouldn’t the Bund, of all parties, have known better about the perils of imperial occupation and national oppression? Where was their tradition of challenging racism? But the Bund was consciously operating in the wider context of the French left, and the French left as a whole was decidedly confused on the Algerian question. The Bundist guiding principle is doikayt, from the Yiddish “here-ness”. Doikayt means to struggle for a better world for Jews and non-Jews alike in the political and geographical context that Bundists find themselves in. The Algerian experience is just one of Slucki’s investigations into how the Bund navigated its new do (“here”).

Slucki necessarily deals with the Bund’s work carving out a space to build Yiddish culture. The book explores the particular circumstances that allowed Bundist youth camps to flourish until the 1990s in Australia, but fizzle in France. It speaks to the role Israel played in reshaping the Bund’s historically anti-Zionist stance and the challenges Israeli Bundists faced building Yiddish culture in a hostile environment. It demonstrates how Bund members came to play significant roles in US and Australian politics, although not necessarily in their capacity as Bundists per se.

Slucki shows repeatedly how the post-war Bundist organisations were firmly embedded in their respective milieus and remained thoroughly committed to doikayt – this makes for fascinating reading for veteran Bundists, historians and leftists alike.

Readers might ask, what is the point of learning about this small organisation in decline? As the trope goes: history is written by victors. Needless to say, neither Yiddish nor socialism – the twin bedrocks of Bundism – have won many great victories lately. Slucki paints portraits not of victorious historical explosions, but of brave women and men who came out the other side of hell and painstakingly rebuilt a movement dedicated to social justice and cultural freedom. The book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested enriching the tapestry.

“I will totally be a Jew, but not only a Jew… And I am not a great fan of totality”

by tobybee


A Guest at the Forverts
A Talk with Dr. Jonathan Boyarin,
Professor, University of North Carolina
Program hosted by Itzik Gottesman
(in yiddish)

(tip o’ my hat to raf)

for a sweet year

by tobybee

please don’t spill over, dear tomatoes, i prayed. alas, to no avail…

gut yontif, dear readers. i’m finishing up cooking an eggplant and tomato bake for erev rosh hashana dinner tonight. and so, i wish you a nourishing, fulfilling, self-reflective year to come. a year filled with love, laughter, and friendships. with the strength to cope with adversity, and the strength to ask for help. and the strength and care to offer help. the determination to offer forgiveness, to others and to yourself. the desire to right the wrongs that you perpetrate, knowingly and unknowingly. the willingness to see what structures of oppression you fall victim to, and which ones you are complicit in. and to do what you can to not be complicit. the assurance that you will dance as you further the revolution.

my cooking playlist:
the wailing wall
the shondes
leonard cohen

some readings etc…

by tobybee

a couple of articles for you to read (via zunguzungu’s sunday reading mind explosion):

My Molesters: I was sexually assaulted three times before I was 20. Here’s why I never told my family or the police., by Emily Yoffe

[…] The next event came when I was 15, a freshman in high school. I was at the house of a friend, “Diane.” We had been doing homework together, and it was time for me to go. It was winter, cold and dark, so her father offered to give me a ride. He was a quiet man, a bit of a nebbish, and on the brief ride we talked innocuously about school. He pulled up just short of the driveway to my home, turned off the engine, then turned to face me. His voice choked with emotion, he started babbling about how men have sexual needs. If a man’s wife won’t have sex, he said, that leaves him angry and frustrated. I knew I should just open the door, but I was so shocked that I froze. Then he lunged at me, a hand on each breast, his face pressed to mine. I pushed him away, got out of the car, and ran into my house.

Again, I didn’t say anything. Diane’s dad was the kind of man my father, a former college boxer, had contempt for. I imagined that if I told my father, he wouldn’t call the police but instead would go to Diane’s house and punch her father in the face. That would make things unpleasant in school the following day. A part of me thought her father was pathetic. High school boys were more adept at making passes.

Yids, by Jenna Brager

[…]The desire to keep Yiddishkeit alive signals less nostalgia than a political urgency grounded in a cultural history of resistance–a need to discover a relevant, lived Jewishness not over-invested in the propaganda of a dubious and oppressive “homeland.”

This interesting piece also gives a shoutout to dear friend of the blog vee, and her wonderful tumblr Ekh Lyuli Lyuli

also, one jewy image from nyc pride march yesterday, from the congregation beth simchat torah float:

at the front of the float – Y-Love (yay!)

at the back of the float – homonationalism par excellence (boo!)

may your memory be a blessing, adrienne

by tobybee

on Sunday, Adrienne Cooper passed away. I never met her, but her music and her image constantly popped up in my life online – she was prolific, and from the other side of the world, she seemed a larger than life figure, offering so much to the ongoing Jewish world. How sad that she is gone, what a tremendous loss.

Jeffrey Shandler writes of her here:

She is perhaps best known as a concert and recording artist, one of the great interpreters of Yiddish song of her generation, both on her own and in collaboration with leading lights of Yiddish music and theater, including Josh Dolgin, Sara Felder, Beyle Schaechter Gottesman, Marilyn Lerner, David Krakauer, Frank London, Zalmen Mlotek, Jenny Romaine, Joyce Rosenzweig, Henry Sapoznik, Eve Sicular, Lorin Sklamberg, Alicia Svigals, Josh Waletzky, Michael Winograd, among many others. Based in New York, she performed at Carnegie Hall, the Public Theater, and LaMama, among other venues. Cooper also appeared in concert in Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Deeply informed by traditional Jewish practices of making music, Adrienne pushed the envelope of what Yiddish song might be through a prolific output of recitals, recordings, and music theater pieces.

Beyond her extraordinary artistic accomplishments, Cooper was a mentor, resource, and role model to so many who have lived, or at least sojourned, in Yiddishland. I first met her, as did many hundreds of other students, when she worked at the YIVO Institute in the 1970s and ’80s, running the Yiddish summer program (then held at Columbia University) and the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies. She played a pivotal role in guiding us on our way to engaging Yiddish culture as part of our futures, whether as scholars, writers, performers, filmmakers, or activists.

Cooper also taught us to sing. At the time, I didn’t think it was all that remarkable that someone who was such a gifted musician was also so able a teacher and advisor. Perhaps it was because Cooper could move from administrator to intellectual to artist so naturally. She taught students around the world that music provided an essential point of entry into Yiddish culture and that the insights of scholars nurture and enrich a musician’s performance. Her many Yiddish musical projects integrated a joyous talent for making music with a deep knowledge of the cultures that engendered these songs and stories. Her passionate performances were rooted in an approach to Jewish culture in which heart and mind are closely coupled.

Cooper seemed to have inherited a gift for making music; both her mother and her mother’s parents were talented singers. But she did not simply continue a dynasty of Jewish musicians. She charted her own course as an artist, as has her daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a smart and ardent musician very much in her own right. Mindful of the great Jewish cultural past, Cooper was committed not to its preservation in a narrow sense, but to its animation through intelligent, creative, and sometimes subversive, engagement.

Similarly, as Cooper worked tirelessly within a number of institutional settings, including Arbeter-Ring, KlezKamp, YIVO, among others, she invested her creative talents in testing their notions of the possible. In her own way, she followed the precedent of the great Yiddish kultur-tuers of yore like Y. L. Peretz, S. Ansky, and Max Weinreich by integrating art, scholarship, institution building, and political action in all phases of her professional life. In concerts such as “Ghetto Tango,” a suite of songs from the Lodz Ghetto or “Lost In the Stars: Jewish Song after World War II in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish,” she delivered emotionally compelling music and at the same time offered original, incisive surveys of cultural creativity at threshold moments in Jewish life.

Cooper used other performances to champion the Jewish commitment to redressing economic inequality (In Love and Struggle: Songs of Jewish Labor) or celebrated LGBT rights (Queer Wedding). Her feminism informed all her undertakings: her activism, her writing and translating, and her singing. Fittingly, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice recently honored Cooper with its Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award for her contributions as a performer to movements for social change.

One of the last times I saw Cooper sing was at an Arbeter-Ring outdoor summer concert, at which she exhorted the audience to make this a besere un shenere velt, or a better, more beautiful world. The words were delivered with the same emotional force as her singing. In a world without Cooper, without her voice, her wit, her imagination, her intellect, her fervor, her convictions, it will be that much harder to do so.

there is an amazing collection of Yiddish songs here, performed by Adrienne Cooper and others (via Avi).

And to read a profoundly important and moving piece that Adrienne and her daughter, Sarah Mina Gordon (who is a teacher and musician in her own right, performing with Yiddish Princess, amongst others), penned earlier this year, originally published in Lilith, about Yiddish songs and family violence, you should head here.

I send wishes for a long life to Adrienne’s family and friends. as someone elsewhere said, the Chanukah lights are a little dimmer now.

writing, giving, yiddish

by tobybee

A couple of weeks ago I was at a seminar entitled ‘Literary Recovery in Native American, Aboriginal, and Jewish Cultures: Writing after Decimation’. The speakers were Leah Garrett, Tony Birch, and Christopher Teuton. They were an interesting threesome: while Leah studies Yiddish literature, Tony and Christopher both study and write Indigenous literatures. And their different approaches seemed to show. In particular, it was in the very different ideas of language that they brought to the conversation. For Leah it was important that Yiddish writing be writing that is, literally, in Yiddish; whereas for both Tony and Christopher the writing that comes after the decimation of colonisation is less about the precise language being used (in fact, it seemed to not really be about that at all), and more about the ideas or the themes that are written.

So Leah suggested that we can currently see the only meaningful continuation of Yiddish literature happening in ultra-Orthodox communities in New York and Israel, where the people are fluent in Yiddish. But she also said that the beauty of pre-Holocaust Yiddish literature was to be found in its cosmopolitanism: in its ability to be various, to move, to weave together different ideas, cultures, languages and people. But while there may be pockets of cosmopolitanism in these ultra-Orthodox communities, it seemed strange to me that there was no acknowledgement that maybe the spirit of Yiddish literature is to be found more in other areas of the jewish world: that Yiddish literature lives on not just in the Yiddish words that are spoken, but in the rhythms of jewish writings and songs that proliferate in more secular jewish communities throughout the world.

Indeed, it seemed a strange approach to take – to suggest that, after decimation, there has been no eastern European jewish literary recovery if we have lost the words of Yiddish. After all, surely that’s a part of being a post-genocidal community: that we have lost some language. Some of that isn’t recoverable. But maybe that’s ok.

Which I guess was what was interesting about hearing Tony and Christopher: that they live with a decimation which is ongoing. It’s not in the past, in the same way that the Holocaust is (which is not to suggest that the Holocaust is totally in the past – in many ways its traumas are never over), and so maybe there’s a more immediate reckoning of language which needs to be done. That is, there’s a demand made that colonised people who have had particular aspects of their cultures stolen not be considered to be less a part of their indigenous cultures. And in some ways, it sometimes feels, there’s a judgment of those of us whose families lost Yiddish – that we are somehow to blame for a community’s loss of language. But, surely, that’s the nature of writing after decimation.

In any case – it’s important, I think, that we do recognise the yiddishist spirit that continues in writers, poets, musicians, and all the others, and that we do support it wherever it can be found. And, y’know, sometimes cash is a big thing that is greatly needed. So a shoutout for some people needing out support… A wonderful Brooklyn klezmer musician, Michael Winograd, is working on recording a new album. But to do it he needs some money. He’s over halfway to his target, but needs to raise a few thousand more (by July 29th). So if you can, give a bit. Every dollar helps. Go here to donate, (and watch his rather hilarious video).

And while you’re in the giving spirit, you should also give some money to +972. They’re an amazing website, filled with all sorts of fantastic writers. And they need money to help them continue their work. So, go here to help them out.

For that’s the jewish community at work…