Is “In Geveb,” in addition to being a forum for excellent, important work, a vehicle for the personal envies, hates and (rather ancient) grudges of its (admirably accomplished) Senior Academic Advisor from JTS? For fomenting a culture of demonization of colleagues and their projects and achievements? Are the dynamic young editors wholly independent of superiors consumed by such envy and hate, and unceasing efforts at colleagues’ personal destruction? Does the web journal systematically exclude and/or denigrate people and projects on his own list of “enemies” including those who may disagree with usage and spelling fanaticisms of some 1970s clubs? Some spent those years picketing the last Yiddish newspapers and denigrating the last great literary masters in America (accusing them of ignorance of proper “pure” Yiddish vocabulary and failure to use a clutter of dots and dashes!). Those who more recently criticize the Lithuanian government’s instrumentalization of Yiddish Studies for the purposes of Holocaust revisionism and obfuscation?
Are the supporting foundations, including that named for the late universally beloved Naomi Prawer Kadar, aware of the degree to which the project may be serving the personal power trip and campaigns of destruction of one strongman, and works to eliminate from the field the dignity and academic contributions of many of Naomi’s colleagues and admirers?
In addition to the Naomi Prawer Kadar Foundation, it is hoped that, among others, the Atran Foundation, the Michael H. Baker Family Foundation, The Neal and Susan Broxmeyer Family Foundation, the Marinus and Minna B. Koster Foundation, and the Max and Anna Levinson Foundation may take a closer look at the dark side of In Geveb, which may at times entail a generalized policy of exclusion and/or denigration of accomplished scholars and projects that regard Yiddish as a living, vibrant language, not just a sanskritistic pursuit for a fine coterie of ambitious tenure-track academics.
And this brings us to a question much larger than any person or persons. Is it right for an academic Cult of Minimalism to be enforced, financed and used against others when it comes to the fragile field of Yiddish? There may be nothing amiss (this is debatable) with the well-financed academic mafia comprising scholars who did not, do not and will not ever (matter of principle?) publish a paper or book IN Yiddish, or indeed teach a class IN Yiddish, and who sometimes artfully combine work in English alone with cutie-pie videos etc. for the sentimentalist wider public. Is it the intention of these foundations to support the systematic exclusion, denigration and denial of those in the field who DO write and teach IN Yiddish, HAVE taught thousands of students the language over many decades, and treat it like a modern language (one spoken by a million people at least). Or do these foundations wish to support the sanskritization and (in effect) delinguification of Yiddish to a (fine) field of English endeavor, clique-centered domination of resources, empowering, in effect exclusively, academic and cultural minimalism?
Finally, the Swahili Thought Experiment. Imagine an American publication dedicated to Swahili Studies at a serious level. Might you think something amiss if those who wrote even just a few of their articles and books IN Swahili, and taught say one of five courses (perhaps the Advanced level one) IN Swahili, were designated by the Financed Powers in the field to be (ipso facto) crazies, screwballs, die-hards, fanatics, lunatics and weirdos to be shunned, subjected to campaigns of innuendo and professional destruction? Then imagine further chambers of excommunication based on disagreement with the grand high exalted mystic boss about some spelling, grammar or vocabulary item? OR, based on disagreement with a government in a faraway land abusing Swahili Studies for nefarious political reasons, perhaps including the rewriting of a painful history of genocide of speakers of the language?
Please do find a pleasantly lonely ten minutes to think about all this with an open heart and an open mind. . .
Ayelet Brinn’s well-intentioned interview with Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krוtikov, published today in In Geveb, fails to ask the two veterans of Aaron Vergelis’s Sovetish Heymland about their controversial role in 1990s Oxford, together allegedly wrecking the Oxford Programme in Yiddish that had done so much in Yiddish Studies. They did so, allegedly, while becoming part of campaigns of personal destruction against the scholars who brought them there in the first place and worked countless hours to raise the support and facilities to bring them. Estraikh presented himself as a penniless graduate student in Moscow begging for help in the wake of the USSR’s collapse (winter 1990-1991) and came to study (in 1991) with Dovid Katz and Dov-Ber Kerler. Krutikov, by contrast, was an already-emigrated young scholar whom JTS’s main man in Yiddish recommended for Oxford as part of the wider project to dismantle the Oxford Program in Yiddish he had been railing against for years; he arrived in 1996, after a pseudo-search committee set up so that the JTS man’s recommendation would be the only one taken into account. The ex-Soviets went on to artfully trash the scholars who spent decades building the program. In classic Sovetish Heymland style intrigue mode, Krutikov was brought to Oxford primarily to serve as for-hire hit man in Soviet-style intrigue. Both former students of A. Vergelis, both gifted actors and masters of machinations, used it as a launch pad for American careers and rapidly destroyed the magnificent program that they had usurped. That history will be written and is very heavily documented (down to Estraikh’s apology for plagiarizing a grammar of one of his teachers, which he then “fixed” with a recall of the entire edition and addition of a front-cover credit sticker; the original is now a collector’s item). What is weird in the third decade of the twenty-first century is the (ab)use of In Geveb for an agenda of rewriting recent Yiddish Studies history for the glorification of a rather curious-bedfellow clique bringing together veterans of JTS and Sovetish Heymland (perhaps united by disdain for mainstream cultural Yiddishism, such as that of the late lamented Yiddish educator Naomi Prawer Kadar for whom one of the naive and manipulated enabling funding bodies is rightfully named).
VILNIUS—Yet again, “The Editors” (which editors?) of the lofty online academic Yiddish studies journal “In Geveb” have omitted mention of Defending History and of publications by any of its editors or contributors (except for occasional unsigned disparaging remarks on papers published, unbecoming of academic discourse). The context this time is a bibliography-style list of articles and opinion pieces that have appeared online concerning Yivo’s tragic recent decision to fire its entire library staff. The one omission in the list of articles? Defending History’s response to Yivo’s actions, titled: “Chelm or New York? Yivo Fires All its Librarians, While Investing ‘Fortune’ in PR for Lithuanian Government’s Jewish Politics.” Hopefully, it was an oversight.
Posted in "Jewish" Events as Cover?, In Geveb Watch, Media Watch, News & Views, Opinion, Yiddish Affairs
Tagged David E. Fishman, David G. Roskies, East European Holocaust politics, IN GEVEB, Naomi Prawer Kadar Foundation, politics of Yiddish, Roskies-Fishman conference, Vilnius Jewish affairs, Yivo and Lithuania, Yivo library
The Lithuanian Jewish community’s callout to world Jewry came on Aug. 6, smack in the middle of the Roskies-Fishman (In Geveb/JTS) conclave. The world’s Jewish media reported on the situation facing the Lithuanian Jewish community that led to closure of both the synagogue and the community center during the conference (including: Algemeiner Journal, APnews, Forward, France24, Jewish Heritage Europe, Times of Israel). Will the conference leaders and participants perhaps issue a polite statement of support for the Jewish community even after the event, having failed to dare interrupt glorious photo-ops with parliamentarians and ministers during the proceedings? Perhaps some will be in line for future medals and awards, joining an elite, illustrious coterie.
Group photo of foreign academics flown in, glorified, wined and dined by Lithuanian gov. agencies the same day the capital’s one synagogue and Jewish community had to close because of threats resulting from a publicly sanctioned demonstration glorifying notorious Holocaust collaborator J. Noreika with a shiny new city-center plaque and bas relief. The conference was dedicated to Zalman Szyk (Zalmen Shik), who was himself murdered by the ilk of the collaborator glorified on the day of the conference. Source: Forverts.
Are they aware of the systematic exclusion from their conference of all the local Jewish scholars in this field who have expressed disagreement with the glorification of Holocaust collaborators (including Holocaust survivors who have written about Jewish Vilna)? Will they consider signing Ruta Bloshtein’s petition on the old Vilna Jewish cemetery? “Just one thing is sure — that Zalmen Szyk is turning over in his grave” (he was murdered in 1942 by the resolute allies of those glorified the very day of the conference)…
OPINION | IN GEVEB WATCH
In an otherwise fair and objective listing of academic papers (archived here) recently published in the field of Yiddish studies, Joshua Price, Dory Fox and Saul Noam Zarrit label Dovid Katz’s paper on Yiddish normativism (“The Yiddish Conundrum: A Cautionary Tale for Language Revivalism” in the Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Minority Languages and Communities) with the rather personalized characterization “With characteristic bravado”… They were (or were not?) aware that the paper expresses academic disagreement with a 1970 publication edited by D. Roskies, among others, but of course they would never abuse the In Geveb academic platform to exact retribution on behalf of a current boss. That would be unethical, unacademic, untoward and for the fragile field of Yiddish scholarship rather unbecoming.
Perhaps the three Yiddish scholars woudl then explain why the views and arguments in this paper contain more “bravado” than the other papers that express robust academic views on their august list?
It seems, incidentally, that the same author’s recent paper “Methodology in Yiddish Historical Linguistics” (in Yiddish with English abstract page, in Jewish Identity and Comparative Studies = Medievales 68), reaches a higher level of inadmissibility, that of remaining unreported, unmentioned, stricken from the record in the leading online survey of Yiddish academia. Do the editors of In Geveb somehow fear a robust diversity of academic views in twenty first century American academia? Are young scholars entering the field meant to remain ignorant of diverse views in a small and fragile field? Or perhaps this exclusion from any listing in any part of In Geveb has nothing to do with authors or their views, but is based on the paper having been published in Yiddish. And if so, is that an appropriate policy for an academic publication on Yiddish Studies (see the final part of the introduction to the In Geveb Watch section).
Defending History welcomes replies to all posts published (list of authors to date). This post is part of the In Geveb Watch section.