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.

Sima Goldberg: Twelve Years of the [Women’s] Reading Circles in Los Angeles

“Twelve Years of the [Women’s] Reading Circles in Los Angeles” by Sima Goldberg.
As appears in Kheshbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 94-98.
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.]

Twelve years is not a long time in the life of an individual, and certainly not a long time in the life of a movement.
However, the leyen krayzn [reading circles] are a phenomenon on the Jewish street that it is worthwhile for us to dwell upon.
A movement that is founded for its own sake is much harder to keep going than a philanthropic movement. Twelve years of cultural work that was in the beginning a distant dream, a vision even for our optimistic women colleagues — now seeing that dream realized, we pause to cast a glance at the past with a bit of spiritual self-reckoning.
In the stage of our first cultural steps, we felt that we were called upon to be the pioneers for a women’s cultural movement among us here in the city. However, the question arose whether we were actually competent to do this, whether we had in ourselves the potential strength, the spiritual capabilities, to take upon ourselves such a sacred mission? The responsibility became still sharper with the knowledge that our first reading circle here in the city carried the name of our gifted and distinguished poet, “H. Royzenblat” [Henry Rosenblatt]. The name of a living person is, after all, a debt — an obligation that we must pay with honor — for it is a name that we must value and treat with respect.
With serious faith in ourselves, with Jewish stubbornness, we undertook our cultural work, which after twelve years has brought actual results.
But — first things first, and last things last.
In 1931, at the initiative of my humble self, a study group of a few women was founded at my home with the sole purpose of enhancing the dignity of the Yiddish language, of which we had begun to be ashamed. Wiping the dust from the Yiddish books that had begun to eat away at the fine, old Yiddish letters, we remembered (although we had not entirely forgotten) the orphaned books that lay dishonored on the shelves of the city library.
The meetings were held Friday evenings in the homes of the members who invited guests to each meeting. The evenings were of a high cultural level and were transformed into a true “oyneg shabes” [“Sabbath joy,” the term for traditional Friday evening gatherings]. From time to time we would invite comrade [Israel] Osman for a reading. A very frequent guest among us was comrade [Nakhum] Khinits (now in the Land of Israel), who would truly enrich our gatherings with his substantial lectures on Hebrew literature. The cultural Friday evenings became renowned, and the small group soon grew to have a large membership. With my visit to the “East” for long period of time, the cultural evenings declined and, before long and to my great regret, the cultural group ceased to exist.
The first reading circle, which was founded in 1933 and adopted the name of “H. Royzenblat” — and which warmed itself under the influence of the distinguished author, Sh. Miller — was organized by Basye Gold (may her memory be a blessing). She invited some women for the purpose of founding this reading circle. The women were immediately inspired by the thought of spending their days in a Yiddish literary setting in a Yiddish cultural manner. In this way, the first “H. Royzenblat” Reading Circle was founded that evening.
The first meetings were held every Wednesday evening on Brooklyn Avenue in the office of Dr. Rubin. Small in number, without a program, without a guide, without sources on where to gather information about what to read, should one begin with the Yiddish classics, or with the most modern literature? Should one invite eminent speakers? After many discussions we set our trope on self-improvement. The less we relied on outside forces, the more successful our achievements would be. We would certainly make mistakes, but through them we would learn — thus, our members themselves were forced to prepare a short lecture or an overview of a book or current news. The evenings became ever more interesting by reason of the discussions.
The introductory lecture was, “What Does Yiddish Culture Mean for Us Jewish Women?” The answer: It is the impulse to preserve our language and our spiritual cultural treasures, to acquaint ourselves with Jewish history (which is at the same time Jewish literature), and to spin further the thread of the prophetical strivings for the socially correct foundation that makes possible a better order — in all of these ways, to enhance the dignity of the Yiddish book. It was, of course, in brief — Yiddish culture that should become our program and that should be disseminated ever more widely on the Jewish street.
To bring in more women for our reading circle, we began to hold our meetings in the homes of the members. Thus, our influence began to grow by means of these information-filled gatherings. A member who felt competent would give an overview of a certain poet and afterward we would read and study his works. Beginning with the classical writers, Mendele, Perets, and Sholem-Aleichem, we turned to the works of the younger poets, Opatoshu, Leyvik, H. Royzenblat, Radzin, etc. We methodically studied Jewish history. From time to time, talks were given about Jewish holidays, which reflect the many-colored lifestyle of our people of many generations. In this way, among our members there developed a feeling of respect for Jewish culture, for the Jewish people, for its language and for its national existence.
The second reading circle was formed under the name of “Chaim Goldblum.” At the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club there was a group of women who existed as a reading circle at the L.A. Club. Because of the death of the distinguished “Chaim Goldblum,” secretary of the L.A. Club, the women decided to call themselves the “Chaim Goldblum Reading Circle” in honor of the deceased.
The above-mentioned two reading circles felt they were truly competent to undertake the mission of disseminating our program still further among Jewish women, of disseminating still further the Yiddish language and Yiddish book still further among the masses; for that purpose, even more women’s reading circles were needed. In this way, at my initiative, the Pinski Reading Circle was founded, which carried high and proud the name of “Dovid Pinski,” with the consciousness that no foreign language, no foreign culture, could ever satisfy our soul or take the place of our own culture.

Scholarly Competition Increases Knowledge 1

Our reading circles assert with pride the fact that thanks to our educational-cultural work many of our members have overcome their inferiority complex, overcome their fear of public speaking, and have developed the spiritual forces that slumbered in their subconscious and were not previously utilized. Thanks to our reading circles, many women who did not speak any Yiddish and certainly did not read any Yiddish have taught themselves to speak and read Yiddish. They suddenly discovered that we have a spiritually rich Yiddish literature of which we can be proud. That consciousness —that we have nothing to be ashamed of, that our culture stands no lower than foreign ones — was the motive, the driving force, that made it possible for many women to begin grouping themselves into reading circles, so as not to be backward in comparison with others. Thus, we can now count eight established reading circles in various parts of the city, with a significant membership, that occupy a distinguished place in local communal and cultural life. The names of our reading circles are H. Royzenblat, Ch. Goldblum, Dovid Pinski, Chaim Greenberg, Esther Shumiatsher; the reading circles at the Arbeter ring [Workmen’s Circle] schools are “Leyvik” and “Moyshe Leyb Halpern”; and a ninth 2 which is currently being formed. All of these reading circles are associated with a council. Each month, the members of the indicated reading circles arrange a lecture or organize an overview of a certain book under the supervision of the council. The lectures are well attended. It is truly a pleasure to see how much the members of the reading circles have developed spiritually over these twelve years. With honor, our council receives the authors who visit our city. We distribute their books, and we also support the national and local Yiddish cultural institutions, such as YIVO [Yiddish Scientific Institute], the Jewish [Teacher’s] Seminary, and the Yiddish Algemeyne entsiklopedye [General Encyclopedia].

Complaints about the Reading Circles

Recently, the reading circles have often been criticized on account of their participation in various fundraising campaigns to benefit our unfortunate people. Is the criticism justified? Ahad Ha’am [the early Zionist thinker, Asher Ginsburg] once posed the heartrending question: “When a land is destroyed, but the people remain healthy and strong, there may yet arise a Zerubbabel, an Ezra and a Nehemiah to restore the land, but when a people is destroyed, who can help them?”3
It is the fate of our generation to see the murder of our people — not in books — but with our own eyes — a third of our people murdered. Whose heart can remain indifferent to the eternal cry of woe, “from whence will my help come!”4 From the half-dead survivors, the cry of the orphaned little children disturbs us by day and prevents us from sleeping at night. Certainly, in this horrible hour of our people’s catastrophe, the women of the reading circles must neglect our cultural program a little and with heart and soul dedicate a portion of our time to rescue work and, to the extent possible, partially soothe our own conscience.
Let him judge us who considers our rescue work a sin! Filled with faith in better times for humanity in general and for our people in particular, with faith that the book will ultimately conquer Esau’s sword, and that calmer times will again prevail, the reading circles will devote themselves with more courage and renewed strength to purely cultural works, to disseminating Yiddish literature, elevating the Yiddish language and the Yiddish book — to all of Yiddish culture.

1 Quoting the Hebrew expression, “Kinat sofrim tarbeh hokhmah” (literally, “The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom”), Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Batra 21a.
2 In the Yiddish original (and the translation), the list totals eight, not nine.
3 Quoted first in Hebrew and then translated into Yiddish.
4 Quoted in Hebrew, “Me’ayin yavo ezri,” Psalm 121:1.
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Sima Goldberg: Twelve Years of the [Women’s] Reading Circles in Los Angeles"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Khesbn (Reckoning), page 27 of 31 Next page on path