Resources for Teaching about Israel/Palestine

Jessica Kirzane and Shachar Pinsker

The editors of In geveb have spent these past few weeks horrified by the heinous terrorist attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians. We mourn the slaughtered innocents, those killed by terror and all those, in Gaza and in Israel, caught in the resulting, ongoing violence.

As this pain and devastation continues to unfold, the very small part we have to play is to support our readers, many of whom are teachers and students of Yiddish, as they look for ways to learn about and discuss these events in mame-loshn. Like many of you, in the midst of our anguish we also found ourselves with the very practical worry of “what will I do in Yiddish class now, of all times?” This is our effort to help to lift at least this small burden.

This list grew out of a crowdsourcing question posted to the Facebook Group Yiddish Research and we would like to acknowledge the contributors, especially Sonia Gollance, Sheva Zucker, Joshua Price, and Eyshe Beirich. The list below is by no means a comprehensive guide to scholarship or literature of Yiddish in and of Israel/Palestine, and not intended as such. We are simply hoping to provide an easy starting point for teachers looking to bring materials to their students at a time when additional labor is difficult. We are happy to hear about additional suggestions at [email protected].

- Introducing basic vocabulary: When posed the question of how they were discussing the war in their Yiddish classes, several teachers responded that they are presenting basic vocabulary (milkhome, sholem, fartaydikung, zelner, teroristn, etc) that allow their students to have conversations in Yiddish about these pressing current events. In this discussion on teaching Yiddish during the war in Ukraine, teachers explain that difficult events can be discussed quite early in a language curriculum, using maps and simple statements. The Forverts’ Word of the Day is one helpful place to turn for such vocabulary, as well as the League for Yiddish’s vocabulary list and statement.

- Reporting about Current Events: Several news sources in Yiddish are available as audio and textual resources. This interview by Australian Radio 3ZZZ with Etl Niborksi offers the first-hand perspective of a young person in Jerusalem. Niborski also wrote an article for the Forverts describing how young Israelis are coping with the war. This is among several articles in the Forverts covering the war, including one by Adi Mahalel about families leaving Israel on a rescue ship to Cyprus and one about contemporary Yiddish poetry dedicated to the victims of the October 7 massacre. The radio program Amol un Haynt (out of Melbourne, Australia) covers world news events, including the war in Israel/Palestine. The radio program The Yiddish Voice held a conversation with Sholem Beinfeld and Avremi Zaks about the massacre and war in Israel.

- Songs about peace: Yiddish teachers, especially those teaching beginning students who may not have the language capacity to discuss these events at length, may simply wish to teach their students how to sing — and talk — about peace. Teachers have written to recommend to us Isabel Frey’s rendering of Adrienne Cooper’s “Sholem Lid” for its clear pronunciation and slow tempo, suitable for Yiddish beginners. L. Magister (Leibush Lerer)’s Dos reyd funem novi offers hope for a time when war will be a distant memory.

- Materials in Yiddish Textbooks: Yiddish instructors may also be seeking leveled reading specifically geared toward classroom use. Volume II of Sheva Zucker’s Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture contains a chapter devoted to Israel, including Bashevis’s “Kin erets-Yisroel” which can be found in section 18b. These readings have discussion questions and glossaries. The section on Israel, beginning on p. 244, in Yidishe kinder gimel: Leyenbukh farn dritn lernyor, by Zalmen Yefroykin and Yudl Mark, also includes leveled reading with a glossary and comprehension questions, as does Dos lebedike vort: Leyenbukh farn dritn lernyor, by Zalmen Yefroyin, beginning on p. 119. Joshua Rothenberg’s 1964 book for Jewish Folk Schools, A rayze keyn Yisroel, offers a fascinating (and not too challenging, from a language learning perspective) look into how Israel has been presented to American Jewish children, and also includes a map and vocabulary list.

Yiddish Literature and Film that Offers Context About the Conflict:

    Whether we want it or not, the horrific events in Israel and Gaza since October 7, 2023, bring echoes of the trauma and history of the past, especially of what took place in World War II and around 1948. Almost inevitably, we experience the new violence in light of memories. For many Israelis and Jews around the world, the horrors committed by Hamas militants during their onslaught on southern Israeli communities is triggering painful memories of a calamity of a far greater scale: the Holocaust. Israel’s retaliation against Hamas and the ongoing war in Gaza has also drawn comparisons to the Palestinians’ greatest tragedy, the Nakba, when thousands on both sides lost their lives and hundreds of thousands fled or were forced to flee following the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation. Today, many Palestinians fear a repeat of that mass exodus, death, and destruction.

    Yiddish literature in Israel has been exceptionally potent in exploring the thematic proximity between the Holocaust and the Nakba. Among Yiddish-speaking newcomers to Palestine/Israel in the years after World War II, mostly refugees and Holocaust survivors, were many writers, poets, and journalists who created vibrant Yiddish culture between 1948 and today. One of the most difficult challenges faced by Yiddish writers, especially in the early years, was how to depict and interpret the traumatic events that took place in Israel during the tumultuous period between the end of World War II and the hostilities of 1947-1948. Many Yiddish stories, poems, and novels focus on the latter war: the uprooting of local Palestinian-Arabs from their villages and neighborhoods, and the repopulation of these “abandoned” spaces with Jewish refugees, both Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab countries. Some Yiddish writers were enlisted into the Overseas Recruits units fighting in the war—straight from Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Europe. Some lived, for shorter or longer periods, in “abandoned” Palestinian houses, and others in transit camps. Their experiences, as depicted in their writings, connected the Holocaust and the Nakba in powerful, challenging, and thought-provoking ways.

    Although we recognize that this list could be much longer, we recommend the following texts (and we hope you’ll share further suggestions which we can add to this list!):

    - The dialogue of the film Beit Avi (Homeland, 2008), directed by Daniel Rosenberg, is mostly in Yiddish. Set in 1948, the film is about a Holocaust survivor drafted into Israel’s War of Independence and sent to a desert outpost next to an empty Arab village. The full film can be found here, and a trailer can be found here.

    - In a similar vein, Avrom Karpinovitsh’s 1951 “Farges nisht” (Don’t forget), translated by Shachar Pinskher’s for In geveb, is a powerful and difficult Yiddish story that deals with war, trauma, memory and revenge, the Holocaust and the 1948 War.

    - Those wishing to read Avraham Sutzkever’s poetry about Israel may consider this article by Justin Cammy about Sutzkever’s poems of Zion(ism) for a reading list and for this pertinent discussion. In particular we recommend this volume (available online for free here), a bilingual (Yiddish and English) edition of his poetry with translations by Heather Valencia. We also recommend the volume Gaystike erd (1961). Some of Sutzkever’s prose (stories) about Israel can be found in Dortn vu es nekhtikn di shtern (1971) and Griner akvarium (1975), and in English translation by Zackary Sholem Berger in Sutzkever: Essential Prose.

    - In this blog article, Amelia Glaser writes about how collective memories of anti-Jewish violence (pogroms) have been mobilized to defend either Israeli or Palestinian rights to self-defense. The article, in English, provides context for the Yiddish poetry which is listed in the bibliography.

    - Yosl Birstein’s poem “Ven dos folk in umglik veynt” from his collection Unter fremde himlen (1949) is appropriate to this moment. A translation, by Floris Kalman, can be found here. His story “Tsvishn eylbertn” (originally published in the journal Yung Yisroel), was reprinted in the online translation journal Iberzets in Yiddish and in Adi Mahalel’s Hebrew translation, and Adi Mahalel’s English translation of the story can be found in Metamorphoses: Journal of the Five-College Seminar on Literary Translation, 23.1 (2015): 27-33. Birstin’s story “Der Briv” can be found on The Short Story Project. His volume Dayne geslekh Yerusholayim (1989) is a collection of short, bittersweet vignettes.

    - Several historical volumes of nonfiction around Jewish/Arab relations in the Mandate period offer a historical vantage point from which to examine the conflict: Mir un di Araber: zaml-bukh vegn Yidish-Arabishn problem published by the Histadrut he-Haluts in Poland in 1937; Palestine on a paroykhes (1933) and Palestine, di Araber, der Tsyonizm (1932) by P. Novick.

      Our contributors also suggest the following material:

      - Ber Kotlerman’s poem written on October 7, translated by Jessica Kirzane for In geveb. Yidishe Branzhe has gathered the work of several contemporary Yiddish writers with a variety of standpoints. You can read their work here.

      - Adi Mahalel’s translation of Jacob Glatshteyn’s 1964 poem on the Qibya affair, published in In geveb.

      - Avrom Karpinivitsh’s “Farges nit,” Di Goldene Keyt 7, 1951, Republished in Der veg keyn Sdom (Y. L. Perets Farlag: Tel-Aviv, 1959).

      - H. Binyomin’s poem from 1948, “Ergets hoykh af a feldzikn barg,” translated here into Hebrew by Shachar Pinsker for Iberzets, as well as other poems in Yiddish with Hebrew translation in Binyamin Harshav, Kol ha-shirim, (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2017, 268).

      - Mendel Mann’s fiction, especially Kerner in midber: dertseylungen (1966) which was translated into English by Heather Valencia as Seeds in the Desert. Also, Mendel Mann’s novel In a farvorloztn dorf: roman, (1954). See also Shachar Pinsker’s review of the translation for In geveb.

      - Yankev Fridman’s Lider un poemes, (1974).

      - Yitshok Perlov’s Dzshebelye (1955).

      - Zvi Ayzenman, “Vu der himel mitl yam”, Di Goldene Keyt 52 (1958), Reprinted in Mazoles, (Tel Aviv: Y.L. Peretz Farlag, 1965) 20-32.

      - Rokhl Oyerbakh, In land yisroel: reporṭazshn, eseyen, dertseylungen, (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Perets Farlag, 1964).

      - Isiah Spigel, Di Brik (Tel Aviv: Farlag Y.L. Perets, 1963).

      - Moyshe Yungman, poems of 1948 in the book Shtern derkenen dikh (Tel Aviv: Farlag Y.L. Perets, 1985).

      - Two poems from Bliung in ash (2020) by Rivke Basman Ben-Hayim, in Yiddish and in English translation by Zelda Kahan Newman.

      - Yosef Papyernikov’s volume Dos land fun tsveytn breyshes: erets-yisroel lider un poemen (1964), which is a collection that includes work from his earlier volumes.

      - This Yiddish-Arabic textbook from 1918, by G. Zelikovitsh.

      - The recent volume of Shira Gorshman’s work in translation by Faith Jones, Meant to Be and Other Stories, includes several stories that take place in Israel, as does the volume On the Landing, stories by Yenta Mash, translated by Ellen Cassedy.

      Kirzane, Jessica, and Shachar Pinsker. “Resources for Teaching about Israel/Palestine.” In geveb, October 2023:
      Kirzane, Jessica, and Shachar Pinsker. “Resources for Teaching about Israel/Palestine.” In geveb (October 2023): Accessed Jun 23, 2024.


      Jessica Kirzane

      Jessica Kirzane is the assistant instructional professor of Yiddish at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University. Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies.

      Shachar Pinsker

      Shachar Pinsker is Associate Professor of Hebrew Literature and Culture at the University of Michigan.