Menasseh Ben Israel Instituut – Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium

28 woe
28 februari 2024
Goethe Institute, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam

In popular representations of Yiddish cultural history, the impression is often given that Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe were catapulted from a traditional early-modern lifestyle into the twentieth century and were at a loss when confronted with modernity. Even some Yiddish authors play with that stereotype, but reality was much more nuanced. With the spread of ideas and ideals from the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Liberalism, Socialism and Communism as well as the rapid growth of industrial centers and the move from small towns to growing cities, the confrontation with a modernizing world had been a reality in much of Eastern Europe much earlier. Many Jews showed a strong interest in new ideas and technology, not least because of possible opportunities to improve their means of making a living and their status in society, but also for intellectual and artistic reasons. In the twentieth century, legal and political changes meant new opportunities under some circumstances (e.g. legal equality and political rights for men, first signs of possible equality for women), greater restrictions under others (e.g. ideological repression). This symposium will shed a light on some ways speakers of Yiddish used or dealt with these changes.



13:30 Opening (Marion Aptroot, Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

13:45 Sonia Gollance (University College London): Beyond the Dance of Death: Judith Berg’s Career in Interwar Warsaw

15:00 Nathan Cohen (Bar Ilan University): ביכער פֿאַר אַלע “Books for all” – Yiddish Popular Reading in Eastern Europe, 1860-1914 (via zoom) 

16:15 Marc Caplan (Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf): Der Nister’s Soviet Surrealism: L’avant-garde as l’arrière-garde

17:10 closure (Daniella Zaidman-Mauer, Universiteit van Amsterdam) & drinks

Sonia Gollance is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Yiddish at University College London. Her book, It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity (Stanford University Press, 2021) was a National Jewish Book Awards finalist. She co-edited two journal special issues: a special issue of Feminist German Studies on “When Feminism and Antisemitism Collide” and a special issue of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies on “Murder, Lust, and Laughter, or, Shund Theater.” Her ongoing translation of Tea Arciszewska’s play Miryeml was supported by a Translation Fellowship from the Yiddish Book Center. Gollance is Managing Editor of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project’s Plotting Yiddish Drama database of English-language Yiddish play synopses and serves on the Editorial Board of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. She is currently developing a project on women who wrote plays in Yiddish.

Nati (Nathan) Cohen is Associate Professor, and Director of the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies at the Department of Literature of the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan University. He obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and taught there for many years. Since 1996 he has been a faculty member at the Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, of which he became director in 2016.

Since 1998 Cohen has been the associate editor of the bi-annual journal Yad Vashem Studies. His fields of research and teaching include the cultural history of the Jews of Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history of the book and reading in Yiddish, modern Yiddish literature, the Jews of Poland between the two world wars, and Yiddish literature and culture during the Holocaust period. He is the author of The Jewish Cultural Center in Warsaw, 1918-1942 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2003, in Hebrew; translated into Polish, Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute, 2021) and Yiddish – The Linguistic Leap from a Common Dialect to a Cultural and Literary Language in Hebrew (Jerusalem: the Zalman Shazar Center, 2020, translated into English under the title Yiddish Transformed: Reading Habits in the Russian Empire, 1860-1914, New York and Oxford: Berhahn, 2023). He is also the author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Marc Caplan is a native of Louisiana and a graduate of Yale University. In 2003 he earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. Since then, he has held professorial appointments at Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, Yale, the University of Wroclaw (Poland), and Dartmouth College, as well as research fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the Universität Konstanz (Germany), the Center for Jewish History (New York), and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). In 2011 he published How Strange the Change: Language, Temporality, and Narrative Form in Peripheral Modernisms – a comparison of Yiddish and African literatures – with Stanford University Press. His second book, Yiddish Writers in Weimar Berlin: A Fugitive Modernism, was published by Indiana University Press in 2021. Currently he is professor (außerplanmäßiger Professor) of Yiddish literature at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany.


Please order your ticket in advance by sending an email to upon which you will receive a confirmation and payment request. Tickets €15, students and friends €5.

Additional information

This event is organized by the Menasseh ben Israel Institute, in collaboration with the Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf and the Goethe Institute, Amsterdam.

Please visit this website for more information on the symposium

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