UM Frankel Center Event: Jewish Multilingualism in the Midwest: Yiddish Translations of Urban Experience
February 4 - February 5Cost: Free
Mellon Sawyer Seminar: Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest
Seminar coordinator: Maya Barzilai (UM Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and Judaic Studies)
Visiting participants: Mikhl Yashinsky (Actor, playwright, director, and Yiddisht), Jessica Kirzane (Scholar, translator, instructor of Yiddish, University of Chicago), Erin Faigin (History Gradate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison),
Local participants: Julian Levinson (UM Professor of American Jewish Studies), Mikhail Krutikov (UM Professor of Slavic and Judaic Studies).
The presence of Jews in the big cities of the Midwest (Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, or Milwaukee) has been studied primarily through the lens of urban history, focusing on the post-war period. The linguistic dimension of the Jewish encounter with the Midwest deserves, however, further scholarly attention. This seminar is dedicated to Yiddish (and some Hebrew) translations of urban experience in the Midwest. It dovetails with the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies theme year, “Translating Jewish Cultures.”
The influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries catalyzed the development of an American Yiddish culture, one that flourished particularly in the first decades of the twentieth century. While the majority of cultural production took place in New York City and its suburbs, where most Jewish immigrants preferred to reside, other big cities in the United States, including Midwestern ones, also attracted native Yiddish speakers. Between 1924 and 1937, for instance, a Yiddish-language theater operated in Detroit, attracting major Yiddish stage stars from across the United States. The city also drew well-known Yiddish writers such as Moyshe Leyb-Halperin and Moyshe Nadir. To this day, the language continues to be studied at the University of Michigan; it is an ideal location for a seminar to reconstruct various histories of translating Detroit, as well as other Midwestern sites, both into and out of Yiddish.