Aside from covering my rent and groceries this summer, I initially set aside money for travel and expenses that would be involved in finding and compensating people to interview. Since that didn’t happen (see my last post), I used a large chunk of that funding for something of similar value and utility to my goals: books! While I’ve spent the majority of my adult life scouring used bookstores for rare books in interesting languages, my findings are usually pretty skimpy. Below is a short summary of what I’ve been looking at. Please keep in mind that I bought these from sellers who, try as they might, don’t read Yiddish and can’t always distinguish it from Hebrew, so they’re occasionally mis-advertised.
Berele (בערעלע) – with a title translating to “Little Bear.” Regarding the name: “-ele” is a diminutive in Yiddish kind of like -y or -ie in English–like how you’d make “dog” into “doggie” or “cat” into “kitty” (there’s some phonological changes in that second one, too, but you get my point). Berele is a children’s book published New York by an “N. Chanin.” My edition doesn’t have a publication date, but a scanned version at the Yiddish Book Center in Massachussetts shows that it was published as early as 1938. My copy has a lot of damage that I need to fix before I’m ready to have anyone handle it outside of a contained environment, though.
יְדִידָיו הַגְדוֹלִים שֶׁל גָּדִי (subtitled צִיְּרָה תִּרְצָה), by a Moshe Shamir (or Shomir)- This is one of those unfortunate books that was advertised as Yiddish, and I took one look at it upon actually receiving it to find that it’s in Hebrew. I bought this from a seller whose pictures weren’t high quality enough for me to be able to read it, so I took the chance and nabbed it. I recognize some of the grammar and roots in the title: the first word comes from the root ידד (YDD) for “to love” and has a suffix indicative of ownership by a third person masculine singular agent. הַגְדוֹלִים or “hagedolim” means “the large (ones, things),” שֶׁל or “shel” indicates possession, and גָּדִי (gadi) is a proper name used in the Hebrew Bible. The subtitle has צִיְּרָה (tziyrah, “she drew”) and תִּרְצָה (tirtzah, another proper name), probably meaning that the illustrations were done by somebody named Tirtzah. The bottom of the cover has the word אַנְקוֹרִים (anqorim, which may be a transliteration of the name Anchorage). This is in even more a fragile state than Berele, and was published in 1947 by “Sifriat Poalim” Workers’ Book-Guild in Palestine. This is also a children’s book with some pretty cute illustrations, but as it’s in Hebrew (and I’m only trained in Biblical Hebrew, so I came across some constructs I’m not familiar with), which isn’t the focus of my project, I’m probably going to repair it and save it for later. I’d love to digitize it eventually, though.
Another problem book: the name is basically a direct translation of “A Book of Words From Yiddish to The Holy Tongue.” While I could at least read some of the words in the book by Moshe Shamir, this one is literally a dictionary of antiquated Hebrew terms (the first one I could wrangle into English meant “a building for housing flocks of sheep”) published in Odessa in 1902. There’s a bit of Russian in the front, too (due to its place of publication, I assume). Because of its publication date, I was curious about the state of the Hebrew (is it Medieval? Mishnaic? It doesn’t seem entirely biblical, but I didn’t go through the whole dictionary). This one is about as fragile as Moshe’s book, but I got some help rebinding it so the pages aren’t falling out (but they’re still quite delicate).
The next book I can tell you about is a book of poems (and this one’s actually in Yiddish! Incredible!): שבּת און וואַך (Shabos un Vokh), which I believe translates to “Sabbath and Watch”). The only information I can find on it with a brief search is the auction that I won it in, but it does have a bit of English information in it so far. It’s by a Mordecai Rothenburg, and was published in New York in 1951. Anyone reading this who’s translated poetry knows that it’s honestly terrifying and not necessarily something I’d like to attempt while I’m such a newbie with the language, but this is a book I’d definitely like to digitize.
Another Yiddish book! צווישן חורבן און גאולה (Tsvishn Khurbn un Goyleh), or “Among Ruin and Redemption,” if my translation is accurate, subtitled אין געראנגל פאר דיר שארית־הפליטה (Ein Gerangl far der Sh’erit ha-Pletah) or (loosely) “In a Struggle of Survival.” This is one of two paperbacks in my collection, and it’s bound with staples (whose bright idea was that?). It appears to be some sort of narrative divided into sections or chapters. The book seems to be attributed to a ז הערינג (Z. Hering). Given the title, I’m guessing this has to do with accounts of Holocaust Survivors– שארית־הפליטה or Sh’erit ha-Pletah is a Biblical Hebrew phrase for refugees that was used specifically by Jewish Holocaust survivors after liberation.
This next one (also a paperback) provides a Yiddish title with an official English translation, so we don’t have to rely on my patchworking the title together. ווין די וועלט ברענט (Ven di Velt Brent) or “When the world is Aflame” (literally “When the World Burns”) was written by Joseph Lowy (יוסף הלל לעווי) in 1943. I’m assuming הלל is Mr. Lowy’s middle name, and I’d argue that his name would traditionally be anglicized to Levy or Levi, but I could be wrong. Searching for him by “Lowy” doesn’t bring me many results, so this is again, something that I want to type up and make available to both myself (for glossing and translation purposes) and to the public. This book appears to be a narrative as well, and based on the date of publication and the rather ominous title, I’d guess it’s also related to the Holocaust.
The last book that I got my hands on for this project and for future research is one of the most interesting to me. I think they’re all interested in their own way, but this one’s a medical document about the eye! It’s called, appropriately, דאס אויג (Das Oyg) or “The Eye.” This book was also published in Odessa, in 1886 (the letters are obscured, but this is what it looks like), making it the oldest book I have. This is another book that I look forward to transcribing and using for future work with Yiddish, because it’s bound to have some interesting medical Jargon (even if it is from the late 19th Century).
Luckily, only two of the books I somewhat-blindly invested in ended up not being in Yiddish (and one that wasn’t primarily in Yiddish still has to do with it, as it’s a dictionary). I’m pretty disappointed that one of the children’s books wasn’t in Yiddish, because I
I’m dozens upon dozens of hours into research and at least 10 into transcribing Berele, but it’s taking quite a while. Hopefully, my next update will have more information on it or maybe a sample of the writing. Otherwise, I’m considering talking about the process that I’ve gone through to repair some of the more fragile books (step by step) or how I differentiate between Hebrew and Yiddish with a few tips and tricks. Once again, I’m apologetic for the lateness, but surprise! More personal circumstances have come up– some negative, some positive. I’ll write again soon!