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“Thinking Europe in Yiddish”

The Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea-CDEC of Milan recently published the 17th issue of “Quest. Issues in Jewish Contemporary History”, its online journal. It is a monographic issue dedicated to the idea of Europe as seen by that vast cultural world that used to express itself in Yiddish. As the curator Marion Aptroot recalls in her introduction titled “Thinking Europe in Yiddish”, “On the eve of the Second World War, there were, roughly, eleven million speakers of Yiddish in the world. That may not seem a large number to speakers of German or English, but it was, at the time, more than the number of speakers of all the Scandinavian languages combined”.
As the director of CDEC Gadi Luzzatto Voghera points out, “We are talking about an important cultural reality, physically exterminated before the idea of ​​the political construction of a European space could materialize. However, it is a reality that today’s Europe cannot fail to deal with. This necessity prompted the authors of the essays published in Quest to search – from different perspectives the traces of the representations that Europe made of the multiform figures that animated Yiddish culture in the first half of the twentieth century, with incursions also into the previous century”.

The issue focuses on the extraordinary cultural vitality displayed by the Yiddish world. Gennady Estraikh, for example, devotes his essay “A Quest for Yiddishland: The 1937 World Yiddish Cultural Congress” to the congress convened by the Yiddish Culture Front CF, a landmark in the history of Yiddishism, which opened before 4.000 delegates. Daria Vakhrushova instead deals with the new cultural magazines in Yiddish that arose in Poland in the 1920s, tracing the threads connecting the Yiddish modernist magazines to various cultural traditions with special attention to the processes of cultural translation and hybridization.
“The richness and multiformity of approaches highlighted is impressive – says Luzzatto Voghera – especially for the size of the public involved and the general young age of the protagonists of these new cultural movements. Other articles are devoted to different, sometimes surprising cultural fields based on the Yiddish language and its expressions”. “But at the base of the issue of the magazine – which in my opinion opens a new historical and cultural look at a reality only partially known to the Italian public – there is undoubtedly the attempt by David E. Fishman to propose a definition of modern culture that can be adapt to the multiform reality offered by the Yiddish world to Europe between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”.
“Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History” is a full-text, open access, and peer-reviewed journal. It is published twice a year and it is dedicated to the study of Jewish history from the 18th century up until today. The journal was created in Italy, but it aims to provide a platform connecting diverse cultural and academic settings, creating a place of encounter, of serene and rigorous discussion between Italian, European, Israeli and American scholars. It wants to be an instrument of research, communication and debate, operating at an international level. For this reason, it is entirely published in English and it has opted for the free open access philosophy.

Pariz. Yidish hant-bukh: veg-vayzer un firer, eds. A. Bekerman et al.,
(Paris: Naye Prese, 1937). Cover detail of the Yiddish language guidebook
published for the World’s Fair in Paris.