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March 3, 2005

Bilingual Reading of Modern Yiddish Poetry March 24

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—In Yiddish and English, Justin Daniel Cammy, assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Smith College, and Robert Adler-Peckerar, director of education at the National Yiddish Book Center, will read from the bilingual anthology of American Yiddish Poetry at 4 p.m., Thursday, March 24. The event will be held in the Poetry Center, Wright Hall, and is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.

Co-sponsored by the Poetry Center, Smith’s Jewish studies and comparative literature programs and the National Yiddish Book Center, the event honors the 350th anniversary of Jews in America. The program is a way to address a worry of Yiddish poet A. Leyeles, who commented in 1937, “So many years in America, such a fine literature created here, and we remain strangers to our neighbors.”

The reading will highlight ways in which Yiddish poetry between 1910 and 1939 engaged with and challenged aspects of the American literary and cultural scene, with a special emphasis on political radicalism and Yiddish modernism. Readings will include those from leading immigrant Yiddish poets associated with the New York aesthetic movement “Di yunge” (The Young Ones) and the modernist group “Inzikh” (Introspectivism). They include Mani Leib, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Jacob Glatstein, Anna Margolin and A. Leyeles.

In addition to the bilingual reading, the presenters will describe the cultural and literary context at the time the poets were composing their work. As critic Benjamin Harshav of Yale University observed in American Yiddish Poetry, “While English poetry was dominated by the exquisite elitism of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound ... Yiddish poets—shoemakers, housepainters or poor newspaper writers as they were—often confronted American realities directly: the wonders of construction and city architecture, the subway, the harbors, labor unions, the underworld, the plight of blacks, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, alienation of the individual in the jungle of the metropolis, social injustice and immigrant longing.”


Justin Daniel Cammy is assistant professor of Jewish studies and a member of the program in comparative literature at Smith College. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in Yiddish Studies from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal. His research focuses on interwar Yiddish literature and culture in both Eastern Europe and the United States. He currently is completing a book on the last major Yiddish poetic group in Poland prior to the Holocaust entitled “When Yiddish Was Young: Poetry and Politics in the Lost Jerusalem of Lithuania.” Cammy is an associate editor of “Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History”; a member of the academic advisory board of the National Yiddish Book Center; and an editorial board member of The New Yiddish Library, which is responsible for bringing translations of classic works of Yiddish literature to an English audience.

Robert Adler-Peckerar is the Goldfarb Director of Yiddish Education at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. A graduate of Brandeis University and a veteran of the Yiddish language and culture programs at both the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania, he is currently completing a doctorate on landscape in Yiddish writing in the department of comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the translation editor of the Jewish cultural magazine Pakn-Treger, and his translation of Yiddish prose and poetry have been widely published.
For further information, call Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.

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