Our Yiddish conversation group, or shmueskrayz, was launched at the beginning of the year and has been meeting once or twice a month ever since at bars and members’ private apartments. Our gatherings are casual and unstructured, and our conversations follow their own natural flow. The only rule is that we speak Yiddish the entire time. Interested Yiddish speakers of any level are always invited to get in touch with us and we will let you know the upcoming dates.
During the exhibition Plague | War | Mother Tongue, we are opening the group’s seventh meeting to the public. Anyone who speaks Yiddish (or has learned in the classroom and would like to try chatting out in the world) is welcome to show up spontaneously – no RSVP needed – and join our conversation.
In response to the war in Ukraine, which has deeply shaken us all, we adjusted the focus of our event on International Women’s Day. Many of the Yiddish poets we presented were born or lived in Ukraine. We spoke about their experiences with war, invasion, and displacement and emphasized their connections to Ukraine. We, YIDDISH Berlin, are unanimous in our support for all people living in Ukraine and used this event as an opportunity to raise awareness of Ukraine’s history and culture.
At the event, we also collected donations, which we used to acquire medications for people in need in Ukraine.
The program included recitations of poems and musical renditions of work by the following authors, all of them women:
Marina Alexeeva | Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim | Celia Dropkin | Irena Klepfisz | Rokhl H. Korn | Anna Margolin | Kadia Molodowsky | Miriam Ulinover | Debora Vogel
The participants included:
Arndt Beck | Patrick Farrell | Hilde Haberland | Sveta Kundish | KaterinaKuznetsova | Anna Rozenfeld | Jordan Lee Schnee | Jake Schneider | Maria Stazherova
On 31 October 2021 at 3 pm, YIDDISH BERLIN held a reading to remember two important Yiddish poets. On 29 October 1937, Meyshe Kulbak and Izi Kharik were summarily executed. They were among the first Yiddish writers to fall victim to Stalinist purges.
Kulbak and Kharik were both born in Belarus – Raysn in Yiddish – where they spent much of their lives and where they were also murdered. The notion of home and finding home, as well as the tensions between the shtetl and the big city, were central themes for both poets.
Although their lives and their literature moved in rather different directions, they share many commonalities beyond the dark day of their death.
YIDDISH BERLIN read prose and poetry by Kulbak and Kharik (in Yiddish) as well as stories about the poets’ lives (in English).
Our event paid tribute to their immense literary legacy while celebrating living Yiddish culture.
In 1941 the Nazis arrived in the Lithuanian capital. They set about murdering Jewish people and destroying the rich cultural heritage of the city: its many Jewish libraries. A handful of Jewish intellectuals in the Vilnius ghetto bravely resisted by trying to save this heritage. They were called the Paper Brigade. Among them: Avrom Sutzkever.
On the basis of unseen archival material, interviews with protagonist and their descendents as well as historians, this documentary shines a light on an important chapter of spiritual resistance.
Director: Diane Perelsztejn, Belgium, France 2018, 60 min.
Sutzkever is one of the great poets of the twentieth century. I do not say this lightly. He is not a philosophical poet; there was no sophisticated philosophy in Jewish culture. Nor is he a descriptive poet; the language of Modernism was opposed to description, and the fictional worlds of Sutzkever’s poetry are presented through evocation and allusion rather than direct statement. But the language of his poetry — the profound sound orchestration and the metaphorical and mythopoeic imagery — is as dense, unmediated, and suggestive as that in the poetry of Mandelstam or Rilke. And his responses to historical reality are as sharp as any in the verse of Brecht. The paradoxical amalgam of these two extremes of twentieth-century poetry — self-focused poetic language and ideological engagement — is successful in Sutzkever’s work because both are presented through the events of the poet’s own biography.
Sutzkever: Life and Poetry, Intodruction to A. Sutzkever, Selected Prose and Poetry, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1991, p. 3
On the eve of Avrom Sutzkever’s 10th yortsayt we are commemorating him and his work.
Arndt Beck | Irad Ben Isaak | Horst Bernhardt | Patrick Farrell | Charles Green | Hilde Haberland | Sveta Kundish | Ekaterina Kuznetsova | Elisabeth Landenberger | Timothy McKeon | Anna Rozenfeld