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Assessing the Political Pen of Polish-Yiddish Journalist S. L. Shneiderman

October 24, 2022, 12 PM ET

Hosted by the College of Idaho and The Ohio State University’s Melton Center for Jewish Studies

Co-coordinated by AJS Program Committee Members Nick Underwood (The College of Idaho) and Naomi Brenner (The Ohio State University)

This interdisciplinary panel examines varying perspectives on the Polish Jewish journalist S. L. Shneiderman (1906-1996) and his writing. Although Shneiderman was one of the most successful Yiddish journalists and writers of the interwar period, often called the first Jewish war-reporter, he has been neglected by academic inquiry. This panel offers several new insights by examining previously unused historical sources, asking new questions about his politics, and combining literary with historical approaches.

The papers presented by Karolina Szymaniak and Nancy Sinkoff both look at Shneiderman through the lens of his reportazhn. Szymaniak uses the early reportazhn collected in the volume Tsvishn nalevkes biz eyfl-turem (1936) to examine Shneiderman’s place on the broader map of the history of engaged journalism in East Central Europe. In contrast, Sinkoff's paper looks at Shneiderman’s late work, i.e., his biography of Ilya Ehrenburg (1968), to determine how Shneiderman’s political worldview colored his reportazh in the context of the Cold War. Magdalena Kozłowska's paper uses a variety of sources to look at Shneiderman’s war reporting, specifically on the Spanish Civil War. She explores the context in which Shneiderman sent correspondence and analyzes the differences in Shneiderman’s narrative in various versions of the same pieces.

Samuel Kassow

Samuel D. Kassow, Trinity College, Chair

Karolina_Szymaniak (1)

The Poetics of Engaged Reportazh

Karolina Szymaniak, University of Wroclaw

Sh. L. Shneiderman (Sznajderman) was one of the most important Yiddish practitioners of the genre of the engaged literary reportazh. His literary and journalistic work developed at the intersection of the Yiddish and Polish cultures. Trained at the Polish School for Journalism, Shneiderman was one of the agents of cultural transfer/contact between the two cultures - as a translator, poet, and journalist. This transcultural context and engagement with Polish and East Central European cultures (especially the Czech one) shaped Shanyderman’s oeuvre profoundly.

This paper looks more closely at Sh.L. Shneiderman’s early reportazhn collected in the volume Tsvishn Nalevkes biz Eyfl-turem (1936), and translated by the author’s wife, Halina, into Polish as Od Nalewek do wieży Eiffla. This volume, prefaced by the German-Jewish journalist from Prague and a living classic of the reportazh, Egon Erwin Kisch, marks a transition in Sh.L. Shneiderman’s writing: from poetry to prose, or rather reportazh that became Shneiderman’s signature genre. This transition was also topographical, from Poland to France. As the title of the volume suggests, Shneiderman’s engaged reportazh developed as an in-between, transcultural practice. By looking closely at the intersection of poetics and politics of space in his early reportazhn, I will place Shneiderman’s work on the broader map of the history of the engaged journalism in East Central Europe, asking questions about agency and radical identity politics.

S. L. Shneiderman: The Politics of Reportazh

Nancy Sinkoff, Rutgers University

Born in Kazimierz na Dolny, S. L. Shneiderman (1906-1996) had an outstanding career as a Yiddish journalist, covering the Spanish Civil War, reporting on interwar Paris, editing the diary of Mary Berg, composing a travelogue of post-Holocaust Poland, writing a biography of Ilya Ehrenberg, and contributing regularly to the global Yiddish press, among other literary contributions to Yiddish letters before, during, and after World War II. Undergirding Shneiderman’s work was his political commitment to Yiddishist diaspora nationalism. Given his productivity, it is striking that there is almost no academic treatment of Shneiderman’s oeuvre. This paper will investigate how Shnayderman’s political worldview colored his reportazsh, focusing on his biography of Ehrenburg (1968, New York) in the context of the American cultural Cold War.

“There is no lack of unpleasantness here, and life is not as certain as at your editorial office…” S. L. Shneiderman reporting from the war zone

Magdalena Kozłowska, University of Warsaw

The Jewish daily press, from the first days of the Spanish Civil War, eagerly reprinted messages from news agencies, often giving news from the front on the front pages. Reports were also often presented in the context of current events in Poland. Importantly, however, Jewish journals published in the Second Polish Republic also had their own correspondent in Spain. It was through his eyes that the "Jewish street" followed what was happening on the Iberian Peninsula. This correspondent was S.L. Shneiderman. In 1938, some of the reports edited by the author were published in Warsaw by Yidishe Universal Bibliotek under the title, Krig in shpanien. They were complemented by photos taken by David Seymour (aka “Chim,” 1911-1956), a Polish Jew and a recognized photojournalist who covered the war in Spain for Life magazine; privately, he was Shneiderman's brother-in-law. In this paper I will investigate the context in which the texts were written and carefully analyze the deletions and erasures which the author used in different versions of the same texts.

Dance and Disability in Israeli and Jewish Contexts

July 28, 2022, 2 PM ET

Cosponsored by the Jewish Music Forum, A Project of the American Society for Jewish Music
Co-coordinated by Samantha Cooper (New York University), AJS Program Committee 

This panel will discuss the complicated junction of dance and disability within Israeli and Jewish contexts. While the phenomenon of “disability dance,” an art form in which dancer with and without disabilities collaborate, has received a growing scholarly attention in recent years, arguing for the empowering force of disability performance art, the specific junction where dance, disability, and Jewish studies come together, has not received much scholarly scrutiny.

In this panel we ask to remedy this lacuna, inviting scholars to reflect upon the Jewish and Israeli aspects of disability dance they have encountered in their studies, examining the complicated cultural meeting between dance and disability, which are typically considered oppositional, and in conflict with each other. The Jewish and Israeli contexts invite further thoughts on the cultural binarism dividing dance and disability, and different possibilities to challenge it.

The papers in this panel are challenging distinctions between dance and disability from varied points of views, including prisms such as age, nationality, and performance studies. The papers identify social processes and representations that allow for disability, bodily difference, and dance to exist side by side, in the same public spaces, and within the same bodies, due, for example, to specific imageries of the dancing body within the history of Israeli dance, and new performances that altering the image of the imperfect Jewish body.

Gili Hammer, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Chair

Performances of the Body: From Ideal to Impaired in Israeli National Dancing

Dina Roginsky, Yale University

This paper is a sociohistorical and ethnographic analysis of the presentation of the Israeli body as manifested in the Israeli folk dance movement from the early 1940s until the present. Various appearances of body image and capability are discussed, spanning a continuum from the representative to the disabled. On one end are the state-sponsored folk dance troupes, which include the performances of dancing Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war. In these performances a refined expression of the Sabra’s ‘ideal’ body image is presented: one of youth, good looks and agility.

At the other end are various groups that represent the ‘impaired’ or ‘other’ body (special needs populations, older participants, visually impaired and LGBT members), headed by troupes of disabled Israeli army veterans performing in their wheelchairs. The theoretical discussion focuses on the differentiation of the physical and symbolic body and on the agency of the disabled groups in progressing toward the representational Israeli ‘superbody’.

I claim that the Israeli folk dance field enables the acceptance of impaired bodies as long as they conform to its ideological principles of operation. To this end, the physical body (the ability to dance or even to move) assumes a secondary standing and is replaced by the rising importance of the symbolic body and the legitimacy of belonging to the Israeli national collective.

Hiding her face: To face the crip body in Lehrer’s self-portraits

Nili Broyer, Center for Disability Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Riva Lehrer is a known Jewish American disabled and queer woman artist and a leading figure in the disability art movement. My presentation examines three of Lehrer’s self-portraits in each of which her face is intentionally omitted from the painting: Blue Veronika, 1999; Cauda Equina, 2005; and Zora: How I Understand, 2009. Based on Emmanuel Levinas’ and Erving Goffman’s theoretical frameworks, I wish to offer a new reading of faces in the context of stigma and disability art nurtured by Jewish thought. While Levinas is commonly known as a Jewish philosopher, Goffman is rarely considered as one. Therefore, throughout my presentation I actively search for Jewish perspectives in my study. Ultimately I argue that Lehrer’s artistic decision to expose her crip body while leaving her face unapproachable is a political act that destabilizes the power dynamic of the ableist gaze.

According to Levinas (1969), the encounter with the other person’s face is essentially an ethical one since the face resists objectification and conveys a moral demand: “Thou shalt not kill.” In an irreducible face-to-face encounter, the face is revealed as a trace to the infinite that cannot be absorbed, grasped, or comprehended and thus fully known. Levinas explains, that as a result, the Other cannot be consumed by ontology and the Western totality of the same.

Another known conceptualization of the face was offered by the sociologist Goffman (1967), who also studied stigma. Goffman defines the face as a positive image of a self that is accepted and agreed on by an encounter’s participants. Social context decides which optional faces are available to each performer. Still, there is labor involved in the successful presentation of a face. Although these frameworks are significantly different, for the analysis of Lehrer’s paintings I find them complementary. Since stigma is a sign that taints identities, I suggest that it requires a face to launch itself on. The absence of a face interferes with this act of disgrace and permits the disabled body to be present. Thus, similarly to the Levinas face, this time it is the crip body who demands an ethical stare.


Ageing Professional Dancers in Israel – New Traditions, New Bodies

Yael (Yali) Nativ, The Academic College for Arts and Society & Levinsky College of Education, Israel

Dr. Yael (yali) Nativ is a dance scholar with sociological and anthropological orientations operating in Israel. She is a Senior Lecturer at The School for Society and Arts at Ono Academic College, at Levinsky College for Education and at the Mason Gross School of the Arts Online at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. Dr. Nativ holds a diploma in Dance Education from The Kibbutzim College, a Bachelor degree in Choreography from the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Education of the Creative Arts from San Francisco State University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology of Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In her writing and research, she explores social and cultural issues looking at the linkage between dance, body, culture, education, gender and creativity. Her book Fractured Freedom: Body, Gender and Ideology in Dance Education in Israel, which she co-wrote with Dr. Hodel Ophir, was published in 2016 (in Hebrew). Currently she is engaged in ethnographic research, looking at the embodied experience among professional Israeli ageing dancers (50-85) who still perform on stage. In addition to her participation in various public dance committees in Israel, she is a co-founder and member of the Israeli Society for Dance Research and serves as the Head of the Board of Directors of the Israeli Association of Independent Choreographers. Nativ is also the initiator and presenter of Creatures of Dance: A Podcast on Contemporary Dance in Israel in collaboration with Iris Lana. During the spring semester of 2022, Dr. Nativ was invited as a visiting professor to UC Berkeley California, to teach a course on Intersectional Perspectives on Contemporary Dance in Israel at the department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies in collaboration with the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law & Israeli Studies.

Mourning and Shame in Prayers and Verse

August 22, 2022, 7 PM ET

Co-coordinated by Laura Leibman (Reed College), AJS Vice President for Program

This panel explores the role of deep emotion in Jewish verse and liturgy. While poetic devices often help bring the reader into the poet’s experience, what happens when the emotions put forth by the poet are ugly, such as shame and sadness, and have the potential to rupture the bonds between the poet and community? Liturgical works such as the Kaddish are designed to provide solace and bridge these gaps, for example by inserting communal response into the mourning’s blessing, while modernist poems by Louis Zukofsky leaves the ugly emotions raw. Our panelists explore the role Jewish languages play in both providing solace and invoking emotion’s underbelly.

Laura Arnold Leibman

Laura Leibman, Reed College, chair


Shame, Louis Zukofsky and the Sorrows of Yiddish

Maeera Yaffa Shreiber, University of Utah

Among the various “ugly feelings” that have recently attracted critical attention, shame is especially interesting. A profoundly social emotion, shame has been described as a “tribal” response precipitated by the sense of falling short of others’ expectations. It is also a distinctly embodied emotion. Indeed, shame, like other intense conditions of feeling, may initially manifest itself as bodily reaction--a blush, or a verbal sputtering and stuttering that only deepens these destabilizing feelings, rather than mitigating or otherwise releasing them.

A look at some of the early work of the modernist avant-garde poet, Louis Zukofsky, provides a stunning opportunity to consider the aesthetic impact of this highly-charged emotive state of being. For after a sustained effort to recruit Yiddish poetry (specifically, his own English renderings of Yehoash) in the service of excavating a space for himself in modern American letters, he is thoroughly rebuked by members of his own “tribe” – the then-powerful editors of the English-language Jewish journal Menorah, who find his translations wanting. Not only does Yiddish- the mameloshen – become a source of shame, but it activates an especially shame-inducing poetic performance, as the poet ultimately lets loose with a rather awful, explosive display of scatology and linguistic play.

With this discussion, I mean to complicate those readings which tend to celebrate Zukofsky’s covert use of Yiddish as a paragon of Jewish American aesthetic innovation. But more generally, and perhaps more interestingly, I want to invite a different sort of discussion about Yiddish and emotion than is currently the rage. Many popular accounts of Yiddish (as found, for example, in the pages of Tablet) tend to embrace Yiddish, reinscribing notions of the lost world. But in a recent discussion entitled, “Confronting Yiddish Shame,” scholar Naomi Seidman suggests that we consider the darker valences of Yiddish as the locus of shame, “something to be kept under wraps.” In my presentation, I mean to pursue this suggestion in the interest of deepening our understanding of the complex role affect plays in aesthetic making.

The Function of the Kaddish in the Light of its Origin

Reuven R. Kimelman, Brandeis University

The Kaddish must be understood in the light of how it came to be.

The Kaddish is a geonic liturgical creation. Its core, the חצי קדיש, bridges the Yishtabaḥ, the epilogue of Pesuqei De-Zimra, with the Barekhu, the prologue of the Shema Liturgy. Its original function was to restart the service after an interruption. As the Kaddish takes its cue linguistically and rhythmically from the Yishtabaḥ, so its communal response, יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְ֒מֵי עָלְ֒מַיָּא takes its cue from the upcoming communal response of Barekhu, בָּרוּךְ יי הַמְּ֒בֹרָךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. Both contain the same three elements: God’s name, blessed, and forever. The use of Aramaic, as the Roqeaḥ (Eleazar b. Judah, 1160-1238) noted, indicates a late insertion of recent vintage. The Aramaic rhythm and resonance clinched its acceptance.

The insertion of the well-known communal response to anticipate the upcoming Barekhu is similar to its early function as parallel to the Barekhu, as mentioned in Sifrei Deuteronomy 306 where its first part constitutes a prayer and its second a response as does the Barekhu:
מנין [לעומדים בבית הכנסת] ואומר ברכו את ה' המבורך, שעונים אחריהם ברוך ה' המבורך לעולם ועד מנין לאומר יהא שמיה רבא מברך, שעונים אחריהם לעולם ולעולמי עולמים

The Kaddish came to serve as the transitional prayer punctuating other divisions within the service, a role harking back to at least the early tenth-century Siddur Rav Sa‘adyah Gaon.

New Perspectives on Jewish Gender in Antiquity and Today

September 19, 2022, 9 AM ET

View the Recording

Co-coordinated by Beth Berkowitz (Barnard College), AJS Program Committee

What defines Jewishness? What defines a Rabbi? How does a person qualify as one or the other and what role does gender play in the process? These are the essential questions explored by the two presentations featured in this session. The first presentation by Joe Sakurai of Teikyo University of Science in Tokyo looks at passages from talmudic literature on conversion to propose that patrilineal descent is far more important to rabbinic notions of Jewish kinship, descent, and ethnicity than has previously been recognized. The second presentation by Moria Ran Ben Hai, Rabbanit of Pelech High School in Tel Aviv, looks at the phenomenon of the school rabbanit in contemporary Israel, paying particular attention to the variety of titles used for them and by them as an index of the recognition accorded to women’s religious leadership. The session ranges from antiquity to today as it offers new perspectives on Jewishness, rabbinic culture, and gender.

Beth Berkowitz, Barnard College, chair

Joe Sakurai

Circumcising “Patrilineal” Descent: Rethinking Circumcision as Shaping the Convert’s Patrilineal Descent

Joe Sakurai, Teikyo University of Science in Tokyo

Circumcision, believed to be the sign of the divine covenant between God and Israel, is performed as an initiatory rite of birth incumbent on both the native-born and the convert who is defined as a “newborn” (קטן שנולד) upon conversion. The significant implication circumcision entails in the context of rabbinic conversion is that it signifies a powerful symbol for patrilineal kinship and descent. As ethnographic literature suggests, its purpose lies in the themes of fertility and reproduction, which are deeply embedded in the principle of patrilineal descent. I, therefore, argue in this study that circumcision, deeply embedded in the principle of patrilineal descent, plays an instrumental role in severing the convert’s former kinship ties with his gentile kin and at the same time fictively incorporating the convert into the new lineage of Israel’s progenitor Abraham. Examining how the principle of patrilineal descent is reflected in PT.Bik 1: 4, 64a, first I attempt to uncover how the rite of circumcision was employed to introduce a disjunction into the genealogy of the progenitor Abraham who would later come to be understood as a forefather of all future converts. Secondly, paying close attention to the halakhic principles of “A convert is like a newborn child” (גר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד דמי) found in  BT.Yev62a and ”Gentiles have no paternal kinship ties” (גוים אין להן יחסין) found in PT.Yev2:5, 4a respectively, I will show how the convert’s new birth upon conversion entails the severing of his former paternal kinship ties with his gentile kin by way of circumcision. Lastly, the implication of this study on circumcision entails in the context of rabbinic conversion suggests that although matrilineal descent is widely believed to define Jewishness over the two millennia, patrilineal descent equally plays a significant role in mutably constructing the convert’s Jewish kinship and descent that can constitute his Jewish ethnic identity. I believe that this study will provide indispensable insight into the mutable nature of Jewish ethnic identity, which surely requires rethinking the notions of kinship, descent, and ethnicity including but not limited to Jews in late antiquity.

“A School Rabbanit or Female Judaic Leader (Movilat Yahadut)? The Developments of Schools’ Religious Women’s Leadership in Israel in the Twenty-First Century

Moria Ran Ben Hai, Pelech High School in Tel Aviv

Since the 1970s, the phenomenon of Torah study for women has developed in Israel. Today, women hold several halakhic and religious leadership positions in the wide variety of the Orthodox-modern public in Israel. However, the religious establishment in the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate, refuses to recognize women's halakhic training and allow them to take the formal rabbinate exams.

Even before women sought this institutional recognition, as early as 2007, Rabbanit Hannah Dreyfus-Goodinger was appointed the first school rabbi in Israel. Her appointment led to a school discussion about the title she should carry, whether Rabbi, Rabbanit, or Rabba. The deliberation on the choice of name indicated a more profound process in modern Orthodox society in Israel - what is the status of educated Torah women? What leadership roles will they fulfill, and what public will they lead?

Since then, about twenty school rabbaniot have been appointed in Israel, which is an expanding phenomenon. It should be noted that this is an official appointment within the state religious education, and therefore constitutes official recognition, even if limited to the areas of education. Although the paycheck says "school rabbi," the religious education administration calls them “Judaic Female-Leader'', while many of them call themselves rabbanit.

Similar to many leadership roles and feminist achievements throughout history, here too, a female-educational role is the key to advancing women. I seek to explore the new position of women as religious leaders in Modern-Orthodoxy and Religious-Zionist societies through this institutionalized role. The research is qualitative and will be based on personal interviews, meeting records and online materials such as emails and WhatsApp groups.

In my paper, I would like to propose to see this phenomenon as an essential step on the way to the institutional recognition of women's religious leadership in its many titles and to tell from my personal point of view, as a researcher of religious feminism and as a school rabbanit of pelech high school for girls in Tel Aviv.