To Ruth Wisse, world-renown professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, the modernization of the Jewish people can be found in Yiddish literature.
“Jews became modern mostly in the Yiddish language. And the process of becoming modern, and the challenges it brings, are found in modern Yiddish literature,” said Wisse, who will be lecturing on the topic of Yiddish literature, Sunday, March 13, at Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation. The talk is sponsored by Congregation Dor Hadash.
Wisse believes that Yiddish literature captures and defines Jewish evolution in contemporary society.
“The problem to be found in losing touch with Yiddish is that one fails to understand the process of becoming modern as it took hold of the Jewish people,” Wisse said. Secularism, rationale skepticism, the effect of dislocation, “anti-Jewishness,” and the question of what constitutes a Jewish community are all chronicled within the context of Yiddish literature, she said.
Wisse, who is the mother of Chronicle columnist Abby Wisse Schachter, was a pioneer in establishing Yiddish literature as an academic field. She helped found the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University in Montreal, and was Harvard’s first professor of Yiddish literature.
Her lecture this Sunday will help kick off a Yiddish book club, sponsored by Dor Hadash. The group will be reading Yiddish literature, in translation, and meeting monthly beginning next fall.
“This will be an introduction into some of the ways in which these readings can be very exciting,” Wisse said. “I hope they will use this as a springboard for an ongoing group to discuss Yiddish literature.”
“We want to come up with a list of about a dozen books for the first year of the book group,” said Nick Shorr, a member of the adult education committee of Dor Hadash. “And we want get a list of people who are interested. Dor Hadash will house the group, but we want to open it to the community.”
Wisse recommends that people interested in Yiddish literature begin with the series of Yiddish books in English translation contained in “The Library of Modern Yiddish Classics,” and “The New Yiddish Library,” for which she, and her brother, Daniel Roskies, served as editors.
Want to go?
Ruth Wisse lecture
Sunday, March 13
10 a.m. to noon
Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha, Wilkins Ave.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)