Yiddish Literature in the 20th Century

Yiddish writers emigrated from Europe, and though Yiddish writing all but ceased after the Holocaust, it is seeing a small rebirth today.

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Nevertheless, a young, vital, mostly American-born generation of Yiddish writers has sprung up phoenix-like in the wake of the Holocaust. The work of this group was first exhibited in 1989in an anthology titled Vidervuks (Regrowth), published jointly by the League for Yiddish and the Yugentruf organizations.

Vidervuks: a nayer dor yidishe shraybers (Regrowth: A New Genera­tion of Yiddish Writers) features the work of 20 young poets, short-story writers, and essayists born after the Holocaust in such diverse places as Argentina, Canada, Israel, Poland, Russia, and the United States. Among them are emerging figures in Yiddish cultural circles such as Leybl Botwinik, David E. Fishman, Paul Glasser, Itzek Gottes­man, Avrom Novershtern, Leye Robinson, David G. Roskies, and Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath.

The anthology was named after a Yiddish liter­ary group called Vidervuks that appeared some 80 years ago in post-World War I Kiev. Its name symbolized a rebirth of Yiddish liter­ary activity after the pogroms of 1917-20. If the recently reincarnated Vidervuks will live up to its promise, it will constitute a rebirth of Yid­dish cultural activity in the 21st century.

Thus, though contemporary Yiddish literature is often described as a dying art, it continues to make its presence known. As the Nobel Lau­reate Isaac Bashevis Singer said:

"Why do I write in a dying language? I like to write about ghosts. Nothing fits a ghost better than a dying language. Ghosts love Yid­dish--they all speak it. I believe in resurrection and the Messiah will soon come, and millions of Yiddish-speaking corpses will rise from their graves one day and their first questions will be: "Is there any new Yiddish book to read?" (Source: "Isaac in America," WNET Public Television, 1985, from Singer's remarks when receiving the Nobel Prize, not found in his speech from Nobel Archives.)

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Payson R. Stevens

Payson R. Stevens was President and Creative Director of InterNetwork Inc. and well as InterNetwork Media Inc.