Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Leyzer Meltzer: Twenty-Five Years of Arbeter Ring Schools in Los Angeles. Pt. 1

“Twenty-Five Years of Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle] Schools in Los Angeles” by Leyzer Meltser [Lazar Meltzer], Pt. 1.
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 89-93.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator’s note: words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters; names of well-known persons are spelled as they usually appear in English.]

In an article by the first teacher in the Los Angeles Arbeter ring schools, comrade Y. Barzilay — published in the Arbeter ring jubilee book in 1944 — Barzilay writes that the schools were founded thirty-three years previously.
There is certainly no doubt that the schools played a tremendous role in the life of the local Arbeter ring, helping to shape its spiritual physiognomy, and in a large measure helping the Arbeter ring here in the city — as with all of their schools throughout the country — to pull the Arbeter ring out of its cosmopolitan and assimilatory tendencies and gradually transform the Arbeter ring into a truly progressive Jewish order, where yidishkayt [Jewishness] and mentshlekhkayt [humanity] would go hand in hand.
Those who were at the historic convention of the Arbeter ring, where it was decided by a majority vote that the Arbeter ring would have schools, surely remember the arguments of the opponents, especially of the leaders who responded bitterly to the now recently deceased school and cultural activist N. Feinerman, who, at that convention, issued a fiery defense of the proposal to open Jewish schools — to which the opponents, nearly with tears in their eyes, shouted: “What do you want from us? You want to make us into Jews? We are not Jews, we are human beings, we are human beings!”
The late Chaim Zhitlowski [a leading theoretician and activist for Yiddish culture] had indeed argued that there is no such thing as simply a human being, just as there is no such thing as simply a bird — which can be a nightingale, a parrot, a peacock, but not just a bird — and there is no such thing as simply a human being. There is a Frenchman, a German, an Englishman, a Jew, a Russian, a Norwegian, a Turk, and an Arab. Certainly, they are all human beings, but a Turkish human being, a Russian human being, and a Jewish human being.
And when the first school opened here in Los Angeles, the matter had still not been smoothed out, and a bitter war broke out between the school-people and their opponents.
Regarding that fight in Los Angeles, the teacher Barzilay writes the following:
The sectional fight with regard to the Arbeter ring schools flared up strongly in Los Angeles, where the first Arbeter ring school was founded twenty-three years ago.
For our cosmopolitan dreamers, the school was a nest of nationalism, saturated with the spirit of [Biblical] chosen-ness, which stood at the service of the devil of chauvinism — God protect us — which does all manner of dirty deeds to hinder progress in the world. Their fanatical eagerness to fight and bitter opposition to the school gave the impression that, if they could only succeed in destroying it, this alone would bring their cosmopolitan salvation.
The school leaders were also, naturally, not silent. With tact and dignity, they returned fire at attack, being convinced that the truth was on their side. Ultimately, after a hard fight, they won the right to existence for the Arbeter ring school, which is now today the pride of our great order.
The founders and leaders of the Arbeter ring schools already understood a quarter century ago that, in order to create a healthy Jewish life, it is necessary that the youth, who are the future of the people, be educated as self-aware Jews so they will join their future with the fate of the Jewish masses around the world. The school was intended to be the bridge that would unite the Jewish child with his parents and, at the same time, be the foundation that would unite the Jewish child with the whole Jewish people.
For the sake of this, the school set as a goal instilling in the child the consciousness of his historical fate and absorption of those wonderful cultural treasures which the Jewish people created in the course of its history, so he would be able to continue further the goldene keyt [golden chain] of Jewish culture. They expressed the idea that, because the Jewish people constitute a defined collective group with specific cultural and economic interests, and because the community of the future will be based on a foundation of peaceful coexistence among peoples — which will create a harmonious chorus, a chorus that will not have any dissonance among voices and where each voice will not try to outshout the others — the Jewish voice in that world chorus dare not be rendered mute.
When the Arbeter ring schools in Los Angeles were founded, great difficulties arose from both extremes, the assimilationist-radical Jews and the religious Jews.
The so-called radicals did not want to send their children to the schools because they were Jewish — How is it possible? All their lives they were freethinkers, having thrown Jewishness out the door and barred the door well, and now the school comes and pushes Jewishness in through the window.
These so-called radicals did indeed lose a generation. Now, many of them cannot forgive themselves that their children have grown up indeed not as Jews but have strayed from the ways of their parents. These people did not understand that, aside from teaching the children Yiddish and Jewish history, the Arbeter ring schools undertook the task of instilling in the children an understanding that, because the Jewish people is tied to and bound up with the fate of a liberated humanity — which will be constructed on the principles of justice and fairness — the schools must acquaint the children with the heroic ideals of freedom that have inspired idealists in all times and among all peoples in the fight for a shenerer un beserer velt [“a better and more beautiful world” [the organization’s slogan, usually translated in this way, in reverse order].
The Arbeter ring school set for itself the task of cultivating among the children a feeling for social justice and protest against slavery and oppression. Thanks to the schools, the children received a stimulus toward an elevated moral life that serves as a guide to a more beautiful tomorrow.
Our assimilationist radicals did not understand this and so lost a generation of our youth who ended up neither here nor there....
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Leyzer Meltzer: Twenty-Five Years of Arbeter Ring Schools in Los Angeles. Pt. 1"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Khesbn (Reckoning), page 25 of 31 Next page on path