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Guide to Yiddish Short Stories - Introduction

Guide to Yiddish Short Stories - Introduction

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Published by Larry Yudelson
A history of the translation into English of Yiddish short stories.
A history of the translation into English of Yiddish short stories.

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Published by: Larry Yudelson on Nov 28, 2011
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01/06/2013

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 vii
Bennett Muraskin
Introduction
 Tis is an attempt to provide a survey of the best Yiddish shortstories available in English translation that can be used for studying Yiddish literature, teaching Yiddish classes and in programmingfor Yiddish clubs. Te stories address humanistic themes: Speak-ing truth to power, ethical commitment, the dangers of religiousfanaticism, the plight of the poor, anti-Semitism, the struggle forsocial justice and a more humane society, moral choices, spiritu-ality, the parent-child relationship, the role of women, marriageand intermarriage, etc. In the same spirit, a separate section is de- voted to stories relating to Jewish holidays, for adults and childrenalike.Much of modern Yiddish literature is a prime expression of  Jewish humanism. Its creators were typically rebels against au-thority, both Jewish and Gentile, and proponents of universal ide-als of freedom of thought, social justice and human dignity. Most Yiddish authors did not write for the educated elite, but for theaverage Jew. Tey formed a special bond with their readers, whichgave Yiddish literature a popular character. Although rooted inthe religious tradition, they were, with few exceptions, secular intheir outlook and sympathetic to radical movements of the left. Itshould, therefore, come as no surprise that secular Jewish leftistshave historically taken a leading role in preserving this literatureand incorporating into it their concept of Jewish culture (yidish-kayt). It can almost be said that Yiddish literature served as their“Bible.”But secular leftist Jews were not the first American Jews toproduce translations. Tat honor belongs to Leo Wiener, a Har- vard professor and immigrant from Poland, who was so impressed with Morris Rosenfeld’s poetry that he translated selections andpublished them as
Songs of the Ghetto
(1898). Te following year, Wiener’s
Te History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century
 appeared, including selections from Yiddish writers and poets.
 
 A Guide to Yiddish Short Stories
 viii
Introduction
Most other early translations of Yiddish literature into Englishin the US were published by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS),the oldest Jewish publisher in the US. A non-profit membershiporganization founded in 1888 by German Jews, the JPS recognizedthat without translations, the descendants of East European Jew-ish immigrants would lose touch with their literary traditions. Tisperspective was unusual for German Jews who generally consid-ered Yiddish a crude vernacular that should disappear. It also saw  Jewish literature as an excellent tool for educating the non-Jewishpublic about the Jewish experience in Europe and America. Te JPS’s earliest translations were of I.L. Peretz’s
 
Stories and Pictures
 
(1906) and
 
Yiddish ales
 
(1912), both translated by Hel-ena Frank, a non-Jew from Great Britain. Te JPS also issued twoSholem Asch novels,
 
Kiddush Ha-Shem
 
(1912, translated by RufusLearsi) and
Sabbatai Zevi 
 
(1930); A.S. Sachs’ elegy to Jewish lifein Lithuania,
 
Worlds Tat Passed 
 
(1928, translated by Harold Ber-man); and three books by Joseph Opatoshu, including the novels
 
 In Polish Woods
 
(1938, Isaac Goldberg) and
Te Last Revolt 
 
(1952,Moshe Spiegel), as well as the short story collection
 A Day inRegensburg 
 
(1968, Joseph Sloan). In 1967, JPS published ChaimGrade’s
 
Te Well 
 
(Ruth Wisse); in 1969,
the Anthology of Holocaust Literature 
,
 with many excerpts translated from Yiddish; in 1979, anew edition of Ruth Rubin’s
Voices of a People: Te Story of YiddishFolksong 
and in 1985, a short story collection,
 
Gifts
, which includessix I.B. Singer stories. Now in its 123rd year, JPS has establisheda distinguished record of publishing modern Yiddish literature intranslation. Tis record extends to pre-modern Yiddish literatureas well. In 1934, JPS published the two-volume classic
 
 Ma’aseh
 
(mayse) Bukh, edited by Moses Gaster, consisting of Yiddish folk-tales from the Middle Ages.It was not long before secular Jews took up the cause. EmanuelHaldeman-Julius (1889-1951), the child of Russian Jewish immi-grants, rejected Judaism as a youth and became a free thinkingDebsian socialist. He is best known as an editor of the popularsocialist journal
 
 Appeal to Reason
 
from his base in Girard, Kansas,hardly a bastion of 
 yidishkayt.
 
 o make both literary classics and
 
ix 
Bennett MuraskinIntroduction
socialist tracts available to the “masses” in inexpensive paperback editions, he founded
Little Blue Books
.
Among the thousands of titles he published were Aschs
 
God of Vengeance 
(1918, Isaac Gold-berg),
Yiddish Short Stories
 
(1923, edited and likely translated by Goldberg) and
 
Great Yiddish Poetry
 
(1924).
 
Before the trauma of World War II, Yiddish-based organiza-tions in North America were ambivalent about translating Yiddishliterature into English, fearing that it would discourage younger Jews from maintaining literacy in the original and inevitably leadto assimilation. Scattered translations of poetry and prose appearedin the
 Jewish Frontier 
, the journal of the Labor Zionist movement,the
 Menorah Journal 
, a Jewish humanist journal, the
 Jewish Specta-tor 
, a newsletter edited by the iconoclastic rude Weiss-Rosmarinand the
Congress Weekly
, the magazine of the American JewishCongress.After the loss of so many Yiddish writers and readers in the Ho-locaust, occasional Yiddish translations and articles about Yiddishcontinued to appear in these periodicals and newer Jewish maga-zines notably 
Commentary
, founded as a liberal journal in 1946 and
 Midstream,
a Zionist magazine founded in 1955. Many of these writings were about the Holocaust or stories by the popular I.B.Singer. Ten a major new player arrived on the scene—pro-Soviet Jewish communists, aka the “
linke 
(left)
 yidn
.” Yiddish prose and poetry in translation became a regular fea-ture of 
 Jewish Life 
, a magazine established by the Yiddish daily,the
 Morgn Freiheit,
in 1946 to accommodate its younger adherents who no longer read Yiddish. ranslations by either Henry Good-man or Max Rosenfeld continued to be a staple of its successor,
 Jewish Currents
established in 1958. (In more recent years, this rolehas been fulfilled by Gerald Stillman, also known for translating anumber of novels by the
zeyde 
or “grandfather” of modern Yiddishliterature, Mendele Moykher-Sforim.)In 1947, the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO) publisheda short collection of Peretz stories. Te YKUF, the
Yiddisher Kul-tur Farband 
(Yiddish Cultural Alliance), founded in 1937, pub-lished an enormous output of Yiddish literature before venturing

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