20110517 - Presenting the Yiddish past in contemporary Europe

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This paper will discuss how Yiddish and Yiddish culture figure in the European cultural landscape today. Once the language of millions of East European Jews and Jewish migrants in Europe, Yiddish all but vanished as a result of the Holocaust and the repression of Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union. But in the past two decades Yiddish, not just as a language but also as a culture, has become a more visible part of Europe’s Jewish heritage. The so-called klezmer revival of the 1980s brought a larger public in contact with Yiddish culture. Resurrecting a seemingly forgotten musical tradition contemporary klezmorim made Jewish folk music and Yiddish song an established part of the world music landscape. The resulting rediscovery of Yiddish culture has also led to an increasing number of Yiddish language summer courses attracting non-academics and academics alike. In academia, a growing interest in Yiddish Studies has led to an increase in possibilities to study Yiddish on various levels.
All this suggests a growing interest in Yiddish culture. Yet what is often labelled as a ‘Yiddish revival’ is in reality a multi-faceted phenomenon that has little to do with a revival in the true sense of the word. This paper aims to qualify the increasing attention to Yiddish culture in Europe and analyse its various public expressions. It will discuss the divergence of interest and backgrounds between Western Europe and the historic heartland of Yiddish in Eastern Europe. While paying close attention to the wider context of the more general public interest Jewish heritage in Europe it will also argue that attention for the Yiddish part of Europe’s Jewish heritage fits into a broader context of increasing attention to migration processes in European history as well as its minority cultures & languages.

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20110517 - Presenting the Yiddish past in contemporary Europe

  1. 1. Presenting the Yiddish past in contemporary Europe Jewishness in Contemporary Culture: American and European Perspectives Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, 17-18 May 2011 Gerben Zaagsma Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies University College London 1
  2. 2. Introductionpublic history in Europe: Memoria e Ricerca“Public history beyond the state: Presenting the Yiddish past incontemporary Europe”Yiddish = stateless: who takes responsibility for saving/promoting/presenting the Yiddish past when it does not exclusively belong toone country? 2
  3. 3. Questionshow are Yiddish, its culture and its speakers, inscribed inrepresentations of Jewish history in Europe?how is Europe’s ‘Yiddish past’ presented in institutional and non-institutional settings?who is involved? 3
  4. 4. StructureYiddish ‘revival’?Yiddish in pre- and post-war EuropeYiddish and the Jewish heritage boom?presenting the ‘Yiddish past’: Western vs. Central/Eastern Europethe role of Europeconcluding remarks 4
  5. 5. Yiddish revival?Oxford English Dictionary 5
  6. 6. Yiddish revival? 6
  7. 7. Yiddish revival? 7
  8. 8. Yiddish revival? 8
  9. 9. Yiddish revival?mistakes or equates an interest in cultural phenomena with aninterest in the language itself: “Yiddish without Yiddish” (HelenBeer)tendency „to reduce the Yiddish heritage merely to its musicalaspect and to some scraps of folklore” (Yitshok Niborsky) 9
  10. 10. Europe’s ‘Yiddish past’qualify the engagement with Yiddish, its culture and speakers, incontemporary Europewhat is there beyond music?Yiddish ‘history’ in public settings such as museums, websites,walking tours, etc. 10
  11. 11. Yiddish in pre-war Europe 11
  12. 12. Yiddish in pre-war EuropeWestern Europe: language of migrants‣ Western Yiddish: demise during Haskalah and emancipation‣ post-1880 migration: Eastern Yiddish returns‣ different migratory trajectories and differences in acculturation: varying numbers of speakers and linguistic attachments on eve of WWII: Britain versus FranceCentral and Eastern Europe: main Jewish language 12
  13. 13. Yiddish in post-war Europe75% of world’s Yiddish speakers perished during HolocaustWestern Europe: 2nd/3rd generations abandon languageCentral and Eastern Europe: repression alongside modest“continuation”so: pockets of Yiddish activity 13
  14. 14. Yiddish & the (Jewish) heritage boomgrowing preoccupation with heritage in Europe since early 1980screation of a “Jewish space” in the 1990s (Diana Pinto) andfollowing decades: beyond the Holocaustpost-1989 Central and Eastern Europe: revaluation of region’sJewish historiesmore than Jewish context:‣ reappraisal of histories of minority groups in the post-colonial era‣ migration as a political and cultural theme in Europe 14
  15. 15. Western Europe: Jewish migrants & Yiddish cultureJewish museums:‣ reflect a community’s self-understanding‣ narratives that emphasised succesful emancipation & upward social mobility‣ ommision of Jewish migrants> reproduced conflicts & tensions between established Jewish communities/elites and migrants 15
  16. 16. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 16
  17. 17. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 17
  18. 18. Western Europe: Jewish migrants and Yiddish culturecommunity initiatives:private institutions, walking tours, internet blogs or websites, etc. 18
  19. 19. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 19
  20. 20. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 20
  21. 21. Western Europe: Jewish migrants and Yiddish culturemigration institutions in Europe:part of a global phenomenon: International Network of MigrationInstitutions (UNESCO and IOM) 2006 21
  22. 22. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 22
  23. 23. Western Europe:Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture 23
  24. 24. Eastern Europe: Jewish history as Yiddish history?Jewish history to a large extent Yiddish historykilling fields of the Holocaustancestral lands of many American/Israeli JewsJewish history related activity driven by tourism and funded fromabroadexample: Poland 24
  25. 25. Eastern Europe:Jewish history as Yiddish history? 25
  26. 26. Eastern Europe:Jewish history as Yiddish history? 26
  27. 27. Eastern Europe:Jewish history as Yiddish history? 27
  28. 28. Eastern Europe:Jewish history as Yiddish history? 28
  29. 29. Eastern Europe:Jewish history as Yiddish history? 29
  30. 30. Europe and YiddishDovid Katz: Yiddish as a quintessentially European language...“European more than anything else quite simply because it has thrivedacross the time and space of medieval and modern Europe”European role in preserving Yiddish heritageCouncil of Europe:‣ 1987: ‘Resolution on the Jewish contribution to European culture’‣ 1995: conference on Yiddish Culture in Vilnius‣ 1996: recommendation on Yiddish culture‣ 1998: European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages 30
  31. 31. Europe and Yiddish1996 recommendation on Yiddish culture: the assembly regrets ...“that at present the main centres for Yiddish culture are outsideEurope: in Israel and the United States of America. For historical andcultural reasons, Europe should take steps to encourage and developwithin Europe centres for Yiddish culture, research and language” 31
  32. 32. Europe and Yiddish1998: European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages‣ Finland (1994)‣ The Netherlands (1996)‣ Sweden (2000)‣ Romania (2007)‣ Poland (2009)‣ Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010)example charter effects: Sweden 32
  33. 33. Europe and Yiddish 33
  34. 34. Europe and Yiddishpreserving and presenting Yiddish online: the Internetfunding for large scale digitisations projects 34
  35. 35. Europe and Yiddish 35
  36. 36. Europe and Yiddish 36
  37. 37. Concluding remarksincrease in interest/attention for Europe’s ‘Yiddish past’impulses, actors and platforms vary:Western Europe:‣ migration as a theme: Jewish migrants and Yiddish culture included in revised narratives in Jewish museums and migration institutions‣ state indirectly involved as a funder‣ beyond Jewish institutions: non-Jewish actors & venues (Cité in Paris) 37
  38. 38. Concluding remarksincrease in interest/attention for Europe’s ‘Yiddish past’impulses, actors and platforms vary:Central/Eastern Europe:‣ demand for heritage from abroad‣ non-state & non-local Jewish actors‣ new bottom-up initiatives 38
  39. 39. Concluding remarksEurope as an actor: role in preserving and promoting Yiddishcultureimportance of the Internet which reaffirms status of Yiddish as atransnational language & culture 39
  40. 40. Concluding remarksto be continued... 40

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