Jacob Dinezon

Beloved Uncle of Modern Yiddish Literature

The Mausoleum of the Three Writers in Warsaw Poland

Jacob Dinezon’s 100th Yortsayt in Warsaw

“Żydowski” is the Polish word for Jewish, and this is the plaque that marks the Jewish cemetery on Okapowa Street in Warsaw, Poland. The cemetery, which dates back to the first years of the 19th century, is one of the few places that survived the utter destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis during the Second World War. Today, much of the cemetery is overgrown with weeds. The tall, overhanging trees, crumbling walls, leaning granite headstones, and toppled marble monuments, give the graveyard an ancient, disheveled, eerie quality. But we are here to visit the grand and well-tended Mausoleum of the . . . (Read More)

Letter from Russian Jewish Novelist

In 1906, Johan Paley, the editor of the New York Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Daily News, sent Jacob Dinezon a telegram inviting him to America. Along with the telegram, Palely sent a first class ticket on an ocean liner. Perhaps Paley hoped to recreate the excitement generated by the Yiddish humorist, Sholem Aleichem, who visited America a year earlier. Like his friend and colleague, Dinezon was well-known in America. Editions of his novels, including The Dark Young Man, Hershele, and Yosele, had been released by New York publishers, and he was a frequent contributor to American Yiddish newspapers. Dinezon’s reply, . . . (Read More)

Pilgrimage to the Yiddish Book Center

On May 18, 2015, accompanied by my sister Robin and brother-in-law Jim, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. For years our family had admired and supported the work of Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center. In January 2006, we had the privilege of attending a luncheon with Aaron in Durham, North Carolina, while he was promoting Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. Robin shared with him our early efforts at having Jacob Dinezon’s Yiddish works translated into English. We had obtained . . . (Read More)

I. L. Peretz’s 100th Yortsayt in Pakn Treger

The Fall 2015 issue of the Yiddish Book Center’s quarterly magazine, Pakn Treger (a traveling book peddler), was devoted to celebrating the 100th yortsayt of the beloved Yiddish writer, I. L. Peretz. (See Peretz’s Worlds.) Here’s how editor Aaron Lansky, the Center’s founder and president, introduced the issue: “At the time of his death in 1915, I. L. Peretz was, in the words of Ruth Wisse, ‘arguably the most important figure in the development of Yiddish culture.’ Today he is all but forgotten.” Forgotten! Oy! Only 100 years after his death at 63 in Warsaw, Poland from a heart attack, one of the most . . . (Read More)

Theodore Bikel (z”l)

I’ve been reflecting on the passing of Theodore Bikel who died on July 21, 2015 at age 91. Theo, as his friends called him, was a role model for me. He was an accomplished actor, folk singer, political activist, and Yiddishist who continued to work until the very end of his life. For many years, in performances all over the world, he performed the role of Tevye the dairy man, the main character in Fiddler on the Roof. His deep and heart-felt connection to Tevye’s creator, the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, was a central force in Theodore Bikel’s life, and led to . . . (Read More)

How Sabell Bender Taught Us to Act, Literally

I remember it vividly: the excitement backstage as we prepared for the drama scenes performed during our annual Mittleshule concert at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. The boys dressed in peddler caps and long black coats with little beards pasted on our faces with crepe hair and spirit gum. The girls in long dresses with shawls over their shoulders and babushkas on their heads. Assembled on the stage, singing, dancing, and speaking lines in Yiddish, we must have looked like little reincarnated souls from the shtetl to our audience of parents and grandparents. Short sketches about the Wise Men . . . (Read More)

Shule Concerts

Though I didn’t know it then, I can see now that my childhood experiences singing and acting in Kindershule and Mittleshule concerts at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s set the stage for my lifelong interest in 19th century Jewish music, literature, and drama. Look carefully and you will see I. L. Peretz’s visage peering out from the back curtain, a reminder of the early influence this once-beloved Yiddish writer had on the young people arrayed before him on the stage. According to the date on the program, it was May 7th, 1961. As students attending various . . . (Read More)

The Magician Book Cover

Going Home Through Stories

I was first introduced to the old Yiddish writers, Mendele Mocher Sforim, I. L. Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem, in the early 1960s. At the time, I was a teenager growing up in Southern California, and with my sister, Robin, was attending a secular Jewish school called the Los Angeles Mittleshule. Every Saturday we took classes in Jewish history, language (Yiddish), and culture, including music, drama, and literature. It was here that I first read the short stories of Mendele, Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem, and fell in love with them. But as so often happens, life interceded. As my career as a public . . . (Read More)

Page of Yiddish Text

Hebrew, Yiddish, Oy!

In the second half of the 19th century, many Jewish writers turned to Yiddish in an effort to reach a larger audience. At the time, in addition to the language of the country they lived, most Ashkenazi Jews had two additional languages: Hebrew and Yiddish. Hebrew was the loshen-kodesh (the holy language), the language of religious books, the synagogue, the scholar, and the enlightened intellectual. Yiddish, on the other hand, was the mame-loshen (the mother tongue), the language of the home, the street, the marketplace, and the less educated common people. In fact, Yiddish, which simply means Jewish, was called “der zhargon” (the . . . (Read More)

Jacob Dinezon Etching from Haynt

What Would Jacob Dinezon Think?

I wonder how Jacob Dinezon would react to this website: an homage to one of the most respected Yiddish writers of the 19th century from a Jewish storyteller of the 21st century? Who would have imagined over ten years ago that someone from North Carolina would come along and, quite by accident, rediscover one of the most significant figures in the development of modern Yiddish as a literary language? And who would’ve imagined that the search for “Uncle Dinezon” would lead to such a fascinating and life-changing journey into Jewish literature, culture, and values? The story of how it all came . . . (Read More)