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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Y. Fridland: Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club, Pt. 2

"Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club (on its 20-year anniversary and on the opening of the new culture building)" by Y. Fridland [Isaac Friedland, co-founder and longtime president]
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 13-20.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.

...In truth, all sorts of efforts have been made here in America by various nonpartisan cultural leaders to organize themselves for joint Yiddish cultural activities, both on a national level and locally; but regrettably, these efforts have largely not been successful. So it was with the Yiddish Culture Society [Yidisher kultur gezelshaft], with the “Culture League [“Kultur Lige”], and a number of literary and dramatic societies, here and there. In addition, the attempt by the international Yiddish Culture Association, “YKUF” [Yidisher Kultur Farband], and later the Central Yiddish Culture Organization, “CYCO” [Tsentraler yidisher kultur organizatsye], was also not very successful, although both still exist; but they had effect only in a certain limited periphery because they are under the influence of specific political orientations. “YKUF” and “CYCO” although both do almost the same work, and conduct similar cultural programs, are in truth two organizations almost in competition with each other.
Fortunately, the L.A. Yiddish Culture Club avoided the fate of those supra-partisan cultural groups that did not live and work for long before, regrettably, disappearing . . .
For the 20 years of its existence, the L.A. Yiddish Culture Club has been continuously independent in its thinking, nonpartisan in its conduct, and in no way allowed itself to be influenced by one or another political orientation in Jewish life. Actually, the party people outside the culture club have often, during a certain period of our conduct and attitude toward things and events, sought to analyze and characterize us: Thus, for example, at a certain time the extreme “right” of all shades called us “left” because, first of all, we invited and hosted left-thinking writers and speakers, and second, when the great attempt was made to unify all culturally creative Yiddish forces in one large Yiddish cultural organization, and as you recall, at that time the majority of our best Yiddish writers and poets — such as Leyvik, Opatoshu, Hirshbein, Mukdoni, and tens of others — participated in the International Yiddish Culture Congress [alveltlekhn yidishn kultur kongres], the culture club praised and encouraged such united work and also joined that movement, from which emerged the “YKUF.” We later withdrew from the movement, not wanting to be drawn into a political tangle; but we were labeled “leftists” in any case. Moreover, from their side, the “leftists” often considered us “rightists” or totally Zionist because of our declarations, on occasion, regarding our positive attitude toward Jewish life and the right and struggle for a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. As you see, it’s “hard to be a Jew” [shver tsu zayn a yid], very hard, for a Jewish supra-partisan group to expand its cultural activity to a mass scale; just to go and do one’s duty for everyone and with everyone . . .
Yet our answer to everyone always was and now also is the same: The L.A. Yiddish Culture Club was, and I hope will continue to be: — not “right” socialist and Zionist and not “left” communist; as it has until now, the culture club will conduct its nonpartisan cultural activity, helping and supporting all that is Yiddish, national, and cultural, holding high Yiddish cultural aspirations, helping raise the level of Yiddish culture, and being loyal to the interests of the Jewish folk masses, in whatever country they may be.
As already stated, for the 20 years of the culture club’s existence, we have tried to conduct a varied cultural activity, in accordance with our strengths and opportunities, and in many areas: thus, for a long time, our culture club had a couple of youth clubs, a youth dramatic studio, helped in the movement for better Yiddish theater here, actively participated in the events for “YIVO,” and, in 1939 the culture club issued a monthly publication under the name, “Our Word” [“Undzer vort”]. The publication was edited by a committee composed of our beloved poet H. Royzenblat, H. Gold, and my humble self. If the indicated monthly did not have length of days, it was certainly not entirely the fault of the culture club but the general apathy and largely hostile attitude to Yiddish cultural work in general.
Regarding the matter of language, it is also interesting to mention here that some of those who are strict about regulations concerning language and programming often ask us: What language do you use in your cultural work? What is your general attitude regarding the language question? Are you orthodox Yiddishists, devout Hebraists, or altogether partisans of English? In order to answer the question precisely would perhaps require an entirely separate treatment; in short, one could say, however, that we make use of Yiddish and preserve our Yiddish language, conduct all of our activity in Yiddish, and maintain our Jewish intellectual life in a purely Yiddish cultural atmosphere. Yet we do not make Yiddish into a “fetish”: — we consider the matter of language realistically and we are not misled regarding our actual cultural situation, here in America and also most everywhere that Jews live.
We have neglected our youth, our principal heirs: we have not yet found the key to their heart. We must therefore consider the matter well — we must build a bridge from us to them; we must meet our youth in their own language and begin to understand each other. Such a movement and attitude has taken hold strongly now in America among the more realistically thinking Yiddish cultural leaders. One comes to the conclusion that, wherever Jews may be, in whatever country they may live, whether it is England, America, the Soviet Union, Argentina and Mexico, a process of acculturation is occurring everywhere on the part of most of the Jewish masses and of our youth in particular — toward the customs, traditions, lifestyle, language and culture of the specific country in which the Jews live. We must, therefore, seek to create the opportunity and conditions that will enable us to bring our Yiddish cultural values and treasures to our youth in the language of the country so they can begin to understand our life, our Jewish ideals, our colorful history and martyrology. In other words, we must save the Jewish child for the Jewish people so he is not estranged from us entirely. Certainly, this is a change in direction, but then do we have another recourse?
In no way does this mean that we of the older generation — the nationally conscious Yiddish Jews, who live and breathe the Yiddish word, enjoy Yiddish poetry and literature, and try to conduct a life that is wholly Yiddish, linguistically, culturally, and nationally — would God-forbid give up our Yiddish life! No, we could not do that even if we wanted to; Yiddish is integral to our flesh and blood, and is a part of our life. Therefore, we maintain our “culture club” as our Yiddish home, our holy tent, our Temple . . . To the great joy of us all — on the official opening of the new building for our “culture club,” and on the 20th anniversary of our organization — we come to the Yiddish culture of Los Angeles with our own cultural center for people of Yiddish culture, and with many potential possibilities to lead greater cultural activity here in the city.
It should also be mentioned here that the leadership of our culture club considers itself truly fortunate that the response by people of Yiddish culture here in the city for the building of our cultural center was indeed so generous and magnanimous: thanks to the contributions of smaller and larger sums and the self-sacrificing work by a number of men and women friends it was possible to build this new cultural home for us all.
We may all truly be proud that in the present fateful, difficult moment of our history, when every Jew is stretched to the limit to help and support the building of the Land of Israel and the rehabilitation of the surviving Jews in the ruins of Europe, we have also not forgotten our own national life, our own institutions and cultural organizations. We have finally begun to consider and understand that we must set down deeper roots here, strengthen our Yiddish word and spirituality, pursue further our Yiddish culture, so that we will truly have something substantial to leave as our legacy to our Jewish youth, who have been so criminally neglected by us all.
Here, with these words — and program, if you will — from the culture club, we come to you, distinguished friends and comrades, on the official opening of our new home and heartily greet all of you on our 20-year anniversary.
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