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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Eliyahu Tenenholts: Already Twenty Years?

“Already Twenty Years?” by Eliyahu Tenenholts [Elia Tenenholtz, actor]
As appears in Kheshbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 54-56.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator’s note: words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters.]

(Some Thoughts in Honor of the Birthday Celebrant — Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club)

Truly, the saying, “If one lives, one lives to see...,” is a good saying, and, God-willing may all of our good friends live and “live to see...”!
It is indeed already twenty years since that first planning evening somewhere on Sunset Boulevard regarding a Yiddish club in Los Angeles. It was the end of 1926, and of the several people invited, a few replied immediately1; they were among the number-one Yiddish intelligentsia here . . .
In any event, the L.A. Yiddish club was brought to life at that time as a Yiddish corner without a “plot” and without a “form,” but with only a conviction to live like a multibranched friendly Jewish family. I say here “Yiddish corner” not finding fault, God forbid, because our “street” at that time was so tempestuous that one had then (and perhaps still today, too . . . ) so strongly “defended” humanity that no one was safe with his life.
And our conviction did not bring any shame on us.
Soon, in the first several months of the club’s existence, we celebrated our first Passover holiday — family-style. Our club rooms were then somewhere on a steep hill, extremely far, nearly on the way to Glendale, so we thought, except for our few tens of members, that no one would climb such a steep hill to celebrate Passover — a second seder and, in addition, a traditionally Jewish one — but more than a hundred Yiddish Jews came to us, to the Yiddish club.
And a holiday it was, suitable for Passover in all ways, and Yiddish. The old Hagode [Passover Haggadah, prayer booklet] with new speakers and listeners. Malamud, a modern Jew, dressed in a white kitl [gown] on a hasov-bet [traditional cushioned seat for the seder], began reading the Hagode, and — although he was clean-shaven — with his traditional Passover tone, you “saw” your own homey table and your own grandfather with his white beard. The festive meal was also truly one for Passover. It was prepared strictly home-style by our women members, and people read some Passover stories from our Yiddish literature. People spoke about the Passover holiday with a present-day interpretation, and shared a joyful Passover seder, the first old Jewish holiday in the new Yiddish club in Los Angeles.
It is indeed already almost twenty years past. Needless to say, in that time much water has streamed noisily past. Some rainstorms were not too beneficial, but they did not wash away the Yiddish club . . . this is not a place for looking back, better to look forward, but if one is sitting comfortably at the table, protected by the walls of his home, one may at times take a look back — no one will run you over.
I can see an evening that took place once at the club, a Saturday night or just an ordinary night. The small audience of assembled members clapping time with their hands, their faces beaming happily, just like children playing “Rod-a-rod-a-rona,” and dancing in the middle of the “rod” [circle], a Polish-Jewish “khosidl” [little Chassidic Jew], small and thin. A poor man, but his eyes sparkling richly, rich from inner joy — he is dancing among his own! In his home, in his own dwelling, there is no dancing; he gains his livelihood from driving around with milk products and baked goods with “a chicken for the sabbath” among Jewish customers; for the sake of his wife and two children. Two young girls leave him very little to bring because his “truck” is that sort of creature that is neither entirely working nor entirely broken, such that one must continually “fix” it, and in so “fixing” it, he breaks a hand — not the vehicle but indeed the driver — the very “khosidl” who dances right here in the club with such exaltation.
And he was not a famous dancer; he was not even well known . . . . Most of us did not even know his first name. People used to call him Black Saltsman; back when we were children in the “Progressive Dramatic Club” in New York, we gave him such a nickname because the skin on his face was dark — but his soul was bright, and he left us a shining memory, our recently deceased friend, Khaym Saltsman.
Here I see another “evening” in our club. We, the assembled members, are sitting comfortably in our places and looking with zeal at the eastern wall. There, by a table sits an old Jew. A rather broad man, the white hair on his serious-looking head is a bit long, like Tolstoy’s, his face uncreased, not at all showing his age, but childishly transparent, and constantly good natured, as if, without words, always saying, “Don’t worry, friends, don’t worry.” His eyes turned more toward us than the book he is reading. No, he isn’t reading, but learning with us a “page” of protocol . . . . He was once a teacher but never a melamed [elementary religious teacher], our dear friend, Khaym Goldblum, may he rest in peace.
And thusly. Looking back, I see many, many hours of “evenings” experienced. I skip over years and recall only “evenings” because the joy of such evenings in our club gave us the strength to endure the years . . . twenty years.
I would very much like to mention here just one more evening. This was, for some many years in the life of our club, the Friday nights; week-in, week-out, about twenty American-born Jewish children would come together, our children, and learn from our classical authors, and as well from our modern poets, our cultural possessions, and afterward, naively give us joy and pleasure with their reciting and declamation. But it seemed to me that this “evening” is not a brief notice but indeed a chapter . . . . In any event, God-willing, in our present beautiful home, we will return to this chapter of the dramatic studio . . .
In the course of these twenty years, many things took place; many people left and many other people joined the club. Those who were active members and are no longer with the club must regret their loss, and more perhaps than the club regrets their leaving. Permit me to mention here just one such person who left — that is my dear friend from the New York “Progressive Dramatic Club” (already more than forty years ago!) — because this Jew actively helped here for many years in the continuity and content of our club, but has now palm-springevet [moved to Palm Springs] and does not come, our Leybel Hamburger, may he be well.
More, certainly more than a brief mention here, has been earned by many of the men and women colleagues who did not tire from constant work in the club. They overcame every sort of trial and helped bring about the present celebration, the inauguration of our beautiful home. But their reward is in their enjoyment of the work — congratulations.

1 Translator’s note: The Yiddish text includes a quotation of the reply. I have been unable to translate it, in part because of one or two presumably Slavic words not readily translatable and in part because of the prevalence of typographical errors throughout this article that may have corrupted the spelling of the words quoted. A full transliteration is: “Bekos idish [Because Yiddish] vholyevud [“Hollywood”? or, “like Hollywood”?] nyebudyet sokses [ — success].”
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