«Traveling with Yiddish is traveling not just with Yiddish. You look at the landscape of language, and in a wink it turns into culture, history, literature. You talk to it in Yiddish, and it responds with quotes in Hebrew, German, Russian. You cross worlds of geography and demography, Jewish history and modern transformations and, wherever you turn, you realize that you are crossing universal human spaces”.– Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish
It is precisely this remarkable and idiosyncratic character of Yiddish, which bridges languages, cultures, “worlds of geography and universal human spaces”, that shines through this anthology of contemporary Yiddish poetry. Inspired by Peter Yankl Conzen’s poetry and his deep knowledge of the Yiddish literary tradition, Step by Step. Contemporary Yiddish Poetry brings together the voices of contemporary Yiddish poets from throughout the world.
And like the language in which the poems are written, the anthology becomes a symbol of the multifacetedness of Yiddish culture. A temporal and spatial multifacetedness, which talks of departures and returns, family relations and generational gaps; which travels in time, in search of a bygone past, or in the present, wandering aimlessly, searching for an individual self or a collective identity. A multifacetedness, which, with the simple force of the narration of loss, death, truth and love, of the noise of nature and the ordinary uniqueness of everyday life, from New York to Czernowitz, from St. Petersburg to Vilna, proves the extra-territorial essence of Yiddish and of the people who created it.
The purpose of Step by Step is not only to convey the beauty of Yiddish to a contemporary wide audience, but also to provide a new space for the literary creativity of those who, from all corners of the world, still contribute to the blossoming of this language and culture.
Elissa Bemporad is a historian of Eastern European Jewish history, who specializes primarily in the social, cultural and institutional history of the Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union. She has taught at Stanford University, Hunter College and The New School, and has recently been appointed Ungar Assistant Professor of Eastern European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College, The City University of New York. Her book, entitled Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in a Jewish Metropolis, Minsk 1917-1939, is forthcoming.
Margherita Pascucci is a philosopher. She is currently Marie Curie Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London. She published two monographs, Il pensiero di Walter Benjamin. Un’introduzione (Trieste, Italy: Edizioni il Parnaso, 2002) and La potenza della povertà. Marx legge Spinoza (Verona, Italy: Ombre corte, 2006) and several articles (“Millepiani”, “Encyclopedia of World Poverty”, “Fenomenologia e società”). Her book, entitled Ware als poetischer Gegenstand. Über Kapital und Imaginär, is forthcoming.