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Asch Wednesday at the White House

Sonia Gollance

On Wednesday, February 17, President Joseph R. Biden announced in a press briefing that he will be hosting Asch Wednesday 2022 at the White House. The announcement of the D.C. venue for this celebration of all things Sholem Asch comes after a meeting with University of Wisconsin Professor Joel Berkowitz and pressure from Anderson Cooper. Cooper claimed it would be a “shanda” if the president did not disclose his Yiddish knowledge to the American public.

Sources close to the White House reveal that Biden has a long history with Yiddish. One long-time Biden associate recounted that when the president was a boy, he encountered an older man reading a Yiddish newspaper on an Amtrak train. That man was Sholem Asch. “Impressed with Asch’s efforts to chronicle his coast-to-coast train travel, Biden decided to learn Yiddish,” the source explained, “although he struggled with his sabesdiker losn and would recite poetry in the mirror for hours to overcome it.” He even penned his own Yiddish novel, inspired by Asch’s Three Cities, which described life in Scranton, Newark, DE, and Washington, DC. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, contributed to the scholarship on Yiddish education at community colleges, although a scandal erupted when an audience member at a YIVO lecture insisted on referring to her informally as “du.” In Washington, Biden worked across the aisle for years, participating in a bipartisan leyenkrayz with Colin Powell that read The Nazarene. He did not watch God of Vengeance until 2012, when his endorsement of the contentious play as Vice President put then-President Barack Obama in a tough spot.

Although the Asch Wednesday announcement was largely met with enthusiasm by the Democratic caucus, some farbrente yidishistn on the Party’s left flank expressed concern about the politicization of this literary holiday. They objected to the sidelining of UK-born Asch Wednesday-mainstays David Mazower and Caraid O’Brien in favor of noted actor Shane Baker, viewing the decision to highlight the Kansas City native Baker as an attempt to court the Missouri vote. Vermont Senator Bernie “Zeyde” Sanders further argued that the event was abandoning its base of Asch enthusiasts because it had been broadened beyond the sometimes-controversial writer to include more mainstream Yiddish culture. “They’re turning Onkel Moses into Uncle Sam,” he complained, noting that Vice President Kamala Harris is reportedly scheduled to host a screening of the Molly Picon film Mamele, members of the Cabinet will give a presentation on the work of Meyer Blinken, and the cast of Fidler afn dakh will perform. To promote the event, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff appeared in a viral Library of Congress video researching the legacy of Yiddish women writers, including “First Lady of Yiddish Literature” Kadya Molodowsky.

Biden assured voters that full vaccination of the American public prior to Asch Wednesday was his top priority, and expressed hope that the event could create unity after the disastrous January 6th performance of Asch’s Sabbatai Zevi in the Capitol Building.

MLA STYLE
Gollance, Sonia. “Asch Wednesday at the White House.” In geveb, February 2021: https://ingeveb.org/blog/asch-wednesday-at-the-white-house.
CHICAGO STYLE
Gollance, Sonia. “Asch Wednesday at the White House.” In geveb (February 2021): Accessed Apr 20, 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sonia Gollance

Sonia Gollance is Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Associate (Universitätsassistent) in Yiddish Literature and Culture Studies at the University of Vienna.