Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium 9 - Centers and Margins in Yiddish Literature and Culture

In the upcoming symposium the question of margins and centers will be employed and discussed in various fields of Yiddish studies and on different levels. The speakers will tackle subjects as the underworld in Yiddish literature, the shifting position of Yiddish vis-à-vis English in the United States, or describing a Yiddish cultural center on the margins of the Ashkenazi world. Questions as ‘important’ and ‘peripheral’, ‘close’ and ‘distant’, ‘upper’ and ‘lower’, ‘inside’ and outside’ will be dealt with. Thus, the wide spectrum of Yiddish culture can be better grasped and understood.    

Date:        donderdag 19 december,  13.00-17.30 uur

Place:         Bushuis (VOC zaal), Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam
Costs:        € 10,-; voor studenten en donateurs van het MbII € 5.-
Reservations:  via, per telefoon 020-5310325, of via bestellingen.  

Programma (eerste en derde lezing in het Engels, tweede in het Jiddisch):

13.00 - 13.15         Opening (prof. Shlomo Berger)

13.15 - 14.00         Avraham Novershtern (Hebrew University Jerusalem),

                              Images of the Underworld in Yiddish Literature: What Can 
                              We Learn from the Fringes about the Center

14.00 – 14.15         Vragen en discussie

14:15 – 14:30        Koffie/thee

14.30 – 15.15         Yitskhok Niborski(Medem Bibliotheque Paris), 

                              Yiddish Argentina: a Center on the Margins

15.15 – 15.30         Vragen en discussie

15.30 – 15:45         Koffie/thee

15.45 – 16.30         Julian Levinson (University of Michigan Ann Arbor),

                               A Spatsir durkh Lover’s Lane: Bilingual Performances
                               in American Yiddish Literature

16.30 – 16.45         Vragen en discussie

16.45 – 17.30         Borrel


Avraham Novershtern: Images of the Underworld in Yiddish Literature: What Can We Learn from the Fringes about the Center

The Jewish criminal underworld has been a constant presence in modern Yiddish literature, from its beginnings in the mid Nineteenth Century to stories written in modern Israel. Some of the works devoted to this topic became popular even beyond the realm of Yiddish  letters. Sholem Asch’s play “God of Vengeance”, for instance, was the first Yiddish play to enjoy a considerable success on the world stage, being produced in German, Russian and English, among other languages. In more than one case, the actors in these productions  were put on trial for charges of “obscenity”.

What are the reasons for this unabated interest in the Jewish underworld? Is there anything specific in the way this topic was shaped in Yiddish literature? How did it present the Jewish criminals – thieves, prostitutes, gangsters? How can this topic be framed in a larger cultural context?  Prof. Avraham Novershtern's paper will address these questions, while exploring  their larger cultural and literary context.   

Prof. Avraham Novershtern is the Joseph and Ida Berman Professor of Yiddish at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where a new graduate program in Yiddish Culture was recently launched. He also serves as director of Beit Schalom Aleichem in Tel Aviv, a major cultural center devoted to Yiddish and Eastern European Jewish Culture, and co-director of the Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program, held at Tel Aviv University. He has written extensively about modern Yiddish literature and is now completing a book about American Yiddish Literature.


Yitskhok Niborski, Yiddish Argentina: a center on the margins. 

The mass immigration of Yiddish speaking Ashkenazim in Argentina started in 1890 and continued until 1918. Between the world wars, their number decreased continuously, but Yiddish speaking people still arrived in Argentina until the early fifties. The golden age for Yiddish culture in Argentina stretched over half a century, from 1914 till the middle of the sixties. Far smaller than its counterpart in the United States, the Argentinian Yiddish center could have remained on the margins of the “Yiddish Empire”. However, Argentina took a central position in the history of Yiddish cultural centers, due to the importance of Yiddish in the institutional life of the community, the long lasting strength of Yiddish press and publishing and the part of Yiddish in the Jewish schools.

Prof. Yitskhok Niborski studied literature at the University of Buenos Aires and settled in Paris in 1979, where he has worked as a librarian in the Yiddish Medem Library, as a teacher of Yiddish in cultural centers and at the university, and as a Yiddish lecturer in the Institut National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales. He has also taught Yiddish in  short university programs in Oxford, New York, Brussels, Bologna, Moscow, Vilnius, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Berkeley. Prof. Niborski is author of a Dictionary of Words of Hebrew & Aramaic origin in Yiddish(1996, 1999, 2012) and co-author of the Yiddish-French Dictionary (2002).


Julian Levinson: “A spatsir durkh Lover’s Lane” : Bilingual Performances in American Yiddish Literature

Numerous scholars have discussed how Jewish writers living in the United States have inserted Yiddish into English-language texts. This presentation considers the opposite phenomenon; it asks how Yiddish writers have incorporated or otherwise engaged with English. First we will reconstruct debates within the Yiddish-speaking community about how much mame-loshn should adjust to its new English-language milieu. Then we will then explore specific uses of English in texts by Yiddish writers including Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch, and Aron Glanz-Leyeles. At issue here is the broader question of how Yiddish, a marginal language in the United States, has positioned itself vis-à-vis the dominant culture of English -- and how Yiddish writers have used strategies such as parody, allusion, and estrangement to redefine their own language and culture.

Prof. Julian Levinson is the Samuel Shetzer professor of American Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Exiles on Main Street: Jewish American Writers and American Literary Culture (2008, winner of a National Jewish Book Award). His work focuses on English-language and Yiddish writing by Jews in the United States. He has also translated the work of Yiddish poets including Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, H. Leivick, and Reuben Ludwig.

19 December 2013