Monday, October 28, 2013

Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.......or why study Yiddish at the University of Florida

Welcome to yet another entry from the Center for European Studies at UF.  We are still in the midst of preparations for our Getting to Know Europe events and talks.  The upcoming Spring semester will prove to be a very busy time indeed as we will host art exhibits, oral history exhibits, and numerous talks.  Not to mention our annual Viva Europe festival!  We are also listing some very interesting courses in the Spring semester and to that end I would like to introduce our newest course, Yiddish Language and Culture, taught by Professor Dror Abend-David.  In the upcoming weeks I will include more information about other CES-sponsored courses, but let's focus on Yiddish for today.  By the way, this is the first time that Yiddish has been taught at a Florida university and it is generating quite a bit of attention, so enroll quickly if you would like a seat!  See the Alligator article for an interview with Professor Abend-David

Yiddish offers a rich cultural heritage, from great theater actors and directors, such as Esther Ruth Kaminska (whose great-granddaughter Ruth would later marry the extraordinarily talented trumpet player and band leader Eddie (Ady) Rosner - Rosner's life story, which was truly something, was covered in the 1999 documentary "The Jazzman from the Gulag" -!/the-jazzman-from-the-gulag) to song writers, such as Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda.  Jacobs and Secunda wrote the classic "Bei Mir Bist Du Schein/Schoen," which ironically was a huge hit in Nazi Germany.  Check out the Andrews Sisters and their version  For more on the history of the song,  But enough about jazz and more from Professor Abend-David on how he came to study Yiddish and why it is such a valuable undertaking:  

"not so loud – he thinks he's learning English"
 In his novel, Operation Shylock, Philip Roth includes an old anecdote about a customer who is very impressed with a Jewish restaurant on the Lower East Side. He compliments the owner on the great food and service, and the Chinese waiter who speaks excellent Yiddish. "Not so loud…" says the owner, "…he thinks he's learning English."

I will share this anecdote next semester when I teach UF’s first Yiddish Language and Culture class (HBR 4930, EUS 4930, JST 4930). But what I probably will not tell my students is that this anecdote is in some way a part of my life story. I attended both high school and graduate school in the United States and at the age of sixteen I fell in love with the poetry of T. S. Eliot and decided to study English Literature. Much like the case of the Chinese waiter in Roth's anecdote, Yiddish was an uninvited, sometime uncomfortable detour that the move from my native Hebrew Literature into English and American Literature necessitated.

As I was studying for a master's degree in English Literature at SUNY Binghamton, I couldn't help but compare the poetry of Emily Dickinson to that of a number of Modern and Contemporary Hebrew Women Poets.  The conundrum of where some of the earlier Hebrew Women Poets might have read or even heard of Dickinson was solved in the most unexpected manner. While Dickinson's great acclaim only began in the 1950's, and the first translations of her work into Hebrew didn’t appear until much later, Dickinson was already translated into Yiddish in 1927 by Michel Licht.  Licht in fact predicted that she would be recognized as one of the most significant Modern American Poets.

Consequently, when I decided to write a paper on Emily Dickinson, I found myself at the Institute for Yiddish Research (YIVO), then on Fifth Avenue in New York City. While at YIVO I met with the legendary Dina Abramowicz who was impressed by how little I knew about anything – but since I was a Litvak (a Lithuanian Jew, like her) she gave me the benefit of the doubt. I had the further benefit of meeting Djelal Kadir, a former editor of World Literature Today, who chose to publish one of my first papers on this stumbled-upon topic.  And Kadir’s request was even more unexpected as I had presented my paper to a completely silent audience that had neither comments nor questions. With the impending publication of my paper, Yiddish no longer seemed only a detour to from my true vocation. 

Looking back, I can certainly understand why my mentors in the English Department at SUNY Binghamton couldn't make heads or tails of what I was doing. My preoccupation with English, Hebrew, Yiddish and eventually German, forced me to move slightly away from the English department, and I soon found myself at the Comparative Literature department at New York University. My Mentor, Prof. Richard Seiburth, suggested that I combine my interest in Shakespearean Drama, Hebrew and Yiddish, and Theory of Translation into a dissertation that would compare the German, Hebrew, and Yiddish translations of The Merchant of Venice. With this dissertation I became a scholar of Comparative Jewish Literature and Translation Studies. The dissertation itself was published immediately as a book by Peter Lang and received the Koret Jewish Publications Program Award.

Over the past ten years I've taught Yiddish, Hebrew and English in various venues and I have found inspiration for my courses and scholarly work in the most unexpected places and texts. A famous children’s book that tells about a violent group of people who takes over the government and persecutes innocent victims on the basis of their ancestry and purity of blood, has led to my course, Harry Potter and the Holocaust, which covers a variety of issues, such as Imagism and Modern Poetry, Modern Jewish History, the Holocaust, and Children’s Literature.

The study of Yiddish language and culture cuts across many different disciplines and often reveals connections that might otherwise be invisible.  For instance, I recently participated in a symposium at the University of Toronto, Jewish Literature beyond Borders ( For this particular symposium I gave a talk on a 1923 film version of The Merchant of Venice that was directed by Peter Felner and starred a German cast.  However, according to a 1924 review in the Warsaw Yiddish press, this production was presented as "our just revenge against non-Jewish persecution."  The film was therefore both "translated" into Yiddish and repackaged as a Philo-Semitic production.  So I ask, does this topic fall within Yiddish Studies or Film Studies?  Or, maybe it could possibly be a subject for Translation Studies or a Cultural Studies course? While it is difficult to pinpoint just which discipline it should fall under, the option of so many different approaches demonstrates the wealth of diversity that Yiddish language and culture has to offer. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hungry for Turkey?

Welcome back to the CES Eurogator blog!  To say that we have been very busy would be an understatement to say the least.  We have many exciting events planned for the upcoming Spring semester and we have all been working very hard to ensure that everything goes smoothly.  As part of our "Getting to Know Europe" grant from the European Union Delegation, we will be hosting a photography exhibit at the Harn in January.  The exhibit will feature the works of Maria Kapajeva and Tomek Zerek, each of whom address issues of gender and identity in a contemporary European context.  In conjunction with the exhibit, Professor Galina Rylkova and Visiting Lecturer Jack Hutchens will each give gallery talks addressing the issues raised by these provocative works.  More information to follow soon!

We have also started working with Eastside High School students on their part of the "Getting to Know Europe" grant (  Thanks to the generous support of Professor Paul Ortiz and his staff at the Samuel Proctor Oral History program (, these lucky high school students are receiving expert advice from oral history professionals as they conduct interviews with Alachua county residents of European descent.   The histories will be collected in the "Getting to Know You:  Our Neighbors of European Heritage" exhibit at the Thomas Center next May and we hope that many of you come to see and hear these fascinating stories.   As the selections are finalized we hope to give our readers a sneak stay tuned for more!  And of course, we have our ongoing Aegean film series that highlights the work of Greek and Turkish filmmakers every week.  Check out the coming attractions and schedule at

Today's Turkish Tuesday entry comes to us from former UF student Iris Muradoglu (Anthropology 2013), who studied Turkish with Professor Emrah Sahin during her undergrad years.  Like the work of the Eastside students who are collecting oral histories, Iris's entry reminds us of how important it is to appreciate our elders and listen to their stories, share in their wisdom, and take comfort in their memories.  But enough about that - let's see what Iris's grandmother has to say about jobs, food, and husbands!
There are usually two paths in life after graduation. The first path, generally, is for those going to graduate school, law school, or getting a job—those that are overall certain about what to do upon graduating. For the rest of us, including myself, we find ourselves with absolutely no idea of what to do. We find ourselves taking one of the wisest pieces of advice—“take a year off, figure out what you like and what you want to do; travel.” Not wanting just yet to commit to graduate school and unable to bear living at home again (sorry mom and dad), I found myself unsure of my future. As the summer was ending, I hastily made the decision to teach English abroad. I enjoyed getting my TESL certificate at the University of Florida and really like teaching. So, I ran with it, all the way to Istanbul, Turkey.

You might be wondering why Istanbul? Besides the obvious of it being one of the most beautiful, culturally rich cities in both Europe and Asia, it is also my second home. I told myself that if I truly wanted to be fluent in Turkish and really experience living there, this was my chance. Otherwise, I would always have this internal struggle. Therefore, here I am in Istanbul living with my 86 year old grandma, trying to find a job. Unfortunately there is a great deal of truth to the saying that “the hardest job is finding a job.”  I wish I could hire someone at this point to go to interviews for me, but on the bright side I have a better idea of where places are as a result of my never-ending search (Istanbul is huge and confusing direction-wise!). I want to be happy and sure about my decision, but my grandma jokes that if I can’t decide on a job how will I ever decide on a husband?
Being unemployed I find myself with a lot of free time. And besides getting a daily crash course in Turkish by my grandma, (she doesn’t speak any English) she is also teaching me how to make all kinds of Turkish foods (along with a good cup of Turkish coffee), all essential to being a good future gelin (gelin=bride--it’s a joke). Besides teaching me how to cook, she gives me advice, tells jokes, shares words of wisdom, and tells me stories about her life, about when I was younger, about my dad, and other family members. I think we often take our elders for granted and fail to fully appreciate their time and words, so I find myself in a truly unique position by getting to spend this time with her.
 Istanbul is unlike any city I’ve traveled to. It is very modern, yet at the same time traditional; modern, in the sense that it is a lot like what we think of as a typical European or American city and traditional in the aspect of religion, etiquette, and the ever flowing cups of tea and coffee. Unfortunately I think that oftentimes people have misconceptions about Turkey. This is only my opinion based on what I’ve been asked about Turkey and what I’ve heard people say. For example, I’ve been asked what kind of housing do I live in.   Well, Istanbul is just like any other big city, full of apartment buildings. What do they wear in Turkey? Well, they wear the same things anybody in the U.S. would wear. Oh, and I’ve been in Italy for an extended period of time, and in my opinion the people here, at least what I’ve seen in Istanbul, dress way more fashionable than anyone I ever saw in Italy. So yes, the shopping here is awesome. 

Another great thing about living here is that you really get immersed in the language. One of the most frustrating experiences is when you really want to learn a language and all anyone will ever do is speak your native language to you. Here, most people at shops, restaurants, etc. only speak Turkish so practicing is convenient. All you have to do is try to speak Turkish and they love it, and if you can bargain in Turkish even better for you. In fact, multiple people have told me that Turks think it is ‘cute’ when Americans speak Turkish.  But it is nice to know that my efforts, and those of other Americans, are appreciated, particularly when we feel foolish in the attempt. 
There are many things to see in Istanbul, many places to go, and more importantly many things to eat. While my cousin was here visiting with a friend I got to enjoy going around to see some of the main tourist attractions. Besides making sure my cousin’s friend saw the must-sees in Istanbul, we made sure that she ate as much Turkish food as possible (naming them all will make me hungry.) We did quintessential Turkish things such as riding in a dolmuĊŸ (basically a van with a rocket engine), having tea, olives, fresh bread, and cheese for breakfast, drinking tea on the ferry, and having simit as an on-the-go snack.

There really is an endless amount to see, do, and eat in Istanbul and thus far I have been quite busy with all that the city has to offer.  I feel like I have made a smooth transition in this big move. The things I miss the most are my family and friends. But, it helps to have close family like my aunt and grandma here so I don’t feel too homesick. And thank goodness for technology to help me keep up my addiction to Breaking Bad, oh and of course, to communicate with those back home. Now, let’s just all hope I find a job soon.