Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reaching Out to the Future From the Past

As it's the new year, I'm taking the opportunity to redo, reorganize and, where necessary, reacquaint myself with my library. I pulled down this slim volume of Morris Rosenfeld's poetry and prose for reshelving. I couldn't help but spend some time reading the intro material and flipping through the wonderful translations therein.
 (Here's Morris Rosenfeld)
It's always Movember in Yiddishland

This quote from Itche Goldberg spoke to me:
Jewish creativity in English, or in any other language, in order to achieve its maximum color and richness, needs to extend and integrate this heritage. Yiddish literature is not limited to a given number of Yiddish-speaking generations, nor is it on the verge of extinction with their passing. Yiddish creativity is an integral part of the cultural pattern of our people's continuity. It transcends generations and reaches out into the future.

-From the Introduction to Morris Rosenfeld: Selections From His Poetry and Prose YKUF (1964)

The volume also features many wonderful illustrations, like this one, by E.M. Lilien, which appears with the short story 'Haman's Warning, A Purim Fantasy.'

I gravitated toward this particular volume because a few weeks ago I finished rereading the wonderful All of a Kind Family series (reissued by the also wonderful Lizzie Skurnick Books imprint.) In All of a Kind Family Uptown, we see Ella singing Morris Rosenfeld's O ir kleyne likhtelekh (in English translation, alas.) 

What's interesting is that the story is set in 1917. Rosenfeld died in 1924. Which means that for the girls of AoaKF, Rosenfeld wasn't some long ago bard of a disappeared world, he was a guy who published poems and songs in the Yiddish papers and those poems and songs were being learned and transmitted in real time.  Hard to imagine, almost a hundred years later. As an adult who cares about these things, I wish that Sydney Taylor had at least included his name or some yiddish so young readers would have a clue what Ella was singing.

Morris Rosenfeld: Selections From His Poetry and Prose includes a short story called Hanukah; Jewish Self-Defense. The story is introduced with the first verse of O ir kleyne likhtelekh (in English) but is quite different from the mythic tone of the song. Rather, the story positions, quite explicitly, the "[M]odern Jewish Heroes in Russia" as the heirs to the Maccabee tradition. Don't forget, this volume was brought out in the 1960s by YKUF, the Communist associated Yiddisher Kultur Farband.

"For thousands of years Jews waited for miracles and mocked the spirit of the Maccabees. For generations they exchanged the sword for groveling 'shtadlones' (intercession with the authorities.) They celebrated the 'Miracle of Hanukah' and continuously kept in mind the fact that 'all the holidays will be abolished, except Purim.' The miracle will never disappear.... Not the Torah will save the fist, but the fist will save the Torah. The sword and not the yarmulke will protect the Jew in the bloody lands of his enemies."

I wonder what Mama and Papa of All of a Kind Family would make of that?

Anyway... Did you use this holiday to do any book related organization?

1 comment:

  1. "Jewish creativity in English, or in any other language..."

    "For thousands of years Jews waited for miracles and mocked the spirit of the Maccabees..."

    Both definitely belong to the category of 'quotes to remember'. Maybe I'll use them in the near future. Especially the first one, as it makes me think about a growing popularity and recognition of I'm thinking about a short review of a book Drach by Szczepan Twardoch so it can be quite handy...

    It seems to me that Itche Goldberg strongly argues for spreading of the joys of Yiddish literature etc. via translations too... In this way the richness of it could be saved (at least partially) and transmitted to those who can't speak the language anymore. Would you agree?

    And when it comes to book related reorganization... It's a process which never stops and sometimes almost drives me crazy. You know: what shall I read know; what is of higher importance and what can wait; in what language; what is work-useful and what just for joy; what shall be bought now (unfortunately there’s always more new titles to buy than money available) and so on.

    Anyway. Today I took from the shelves few books of poetry by Scottish authors. Among them "Selected Poems" by Ian Crichton Smith. It includes a rather long poem "Shall Gaelic Die?" (the title neatly sums up the contents of this absolutely powerful work). When I was re-reading it, I instantly started to think about you, your blog and what you're trying to do for Yiddish language. Had an idea to tweet about it, but thought it may sound too pretentious. To write about it here is more appropriate I think. Do you know this poem Rokhl?