Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors. At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.
I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile: Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.
The following passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.
People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.” Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language. The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit. The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »