The popular embrace, in newspapers and talkbacks, of Shtisel’s Yiddish stands in contrast to the unease with which Arabic is received in Israeli society, even on television; Yiddish is a softer, safer other for mainstream Jewish Israeli viewers. Yet Yiddish is not feminized and defanged, because Shtisel succeeds in challenging those stereotypes by displaying the breadth of Yiddish in the Israeli Hasidic context. Shtisel also humanizes Israeli Haredim, whose reputation among secular Israelis is often stereotyped to the point of invoking anti-Semitic tropes. Not all non-Hebrew languages in Israel are created equal.
This essay examines the ways in which Yiddish—as a language, a set of literary traditions and practices, and a “postvernacular”—operates within the context of Israeli, Hebrew-dominated literature. After establishing the subject’s poetic, historical, and political framework, I present two examples of how Yiddish exerted a (largely unacknowledged) influence on Israeli literature. The first concerns the striking similarities and intersections between two literary groups active in Israel during the 1950s: a famous Hebrew group (Likrat) and a little-known Yiddish group (Yung Yisroel). The second example consists in the parallels and intertwined literary histories of two writers, Yossl Birshtein (who was a member of Yung Yisroel) and the Hebrew writer Ya’acov Shabtai, in order to demonstrate the presence of Yiddish in Shabtai’s poetic work and to discover an untold story in the history of modern Hebrew literature.
This article examines the academic historiography on the Jewish Workers’ Bund produced by Israeli and Zionist scholars. While the contribution of Israeli scholars to the historiography on the Bund has been significant in both quantity and quality, their works have had to grapple with the tension between the goals of Zionist historiography and the Bund’s political and ideological commitments, namely the party’s radical opposition to nationalism in general and to Zionism in particular. To various degrees, Israeli scholars sought to “nationalise” the Yiddish-speaking labour movement in Eastern Europe and incorporate it into a coherent narrative of the Jews’ past as an “organic” nation. As a result of their authors’ ideological and methodological preconceptions, and by portraying it as a nationalist movement, these works often misrepresent the Bund’s ideas, policies and activities.