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Yiddish vs Zionism
Palestinian Yiddish: A Look at Yiddish in the Land of Israel before 1948. YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research), Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City, September 5 2023, through the Fall. https://www.yivo.org/Palestinian-Yiddish
Unlike the critics at the New York Times, I loathe the idea of writing a review of a show I haven’t seen. I may have no choice. This afternoon I went down to the Center for Jewish History, part of my project for a long review (two books and four shows) that I hoped would spell out the rebirth of Yiddish—not so much a phoenix I might say, as a tapeworm emerging from the… never mind.
Palestinian Yiddish, at YIVO, was to be one element. It’s a show that places Yiddish alongside Arabic in present-day Israel. Not only in time, since the earliest document in Yiddish related to Palestine dates from the late fifteenth century, but even more so politically: one item in this show is a a picture of Yiddish speakers in British-occupied Palestine after they’d been beaten up by Zionists.
This evokes strong memories for me. I have nine graduate credits in Yiddish from Columbia University. The reason I dropped out has a lot to do with the present show. I remember sitting on the steps of Low library reading פֿאָרווערטס while next to me a kid in a yammie loudly disquisited on Yiddish, “the language of our oppression.” I remember, at a conference, the rage directed at my friend the translator Joachim Neugroschel for his quiet denunciation of Israeli aggression. This was the kind of academic rage that tells you any inkling of an attitude like that would spell career suicide. Mostly I remember the intolerable self-hatred spewed at us students from all directions, even from the faculty.
Today, when I went down to the Center, I was told the show was closed “for a private event.” That’s possible, except there was no notice of that online. It’s possible, also, the Center was closed for fear the demonstrations, back and forth, over the war in Israel, would spill over. And then, a few hours later, I read this statement from YIVO:
You have to understand, in context, what this means. It means the machers and the sponsors have yanked the rug. Nothing but absolute loyalty will do from now on. And what are the chances, now, for a show that overtly challenges the Zionist narrative?
October 8, 2023