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The New York Times recently covered the Yiddishophilia — in recitation and in his own poetic creations — of the contemporary master pianist Evgeny Kissin. The poems he recited, and their translations (by me, among others), are available here. Here is one of them.

A teatr iz di velt (The World’s a Theater)
Translated by Zackary Sholem Berger

The world’s a theater.
God’s director.
A fine play. A pity, though:
The prompter is the Devil.

The booth is the black heart.
The Devil forges the play!
And if you recite the wrong thing
You can’t take it back!

Of course, you can’t be careful enough.
And can’t make a fuss.
The play is fantastic.
The mistakes – genius!

The actor stumbles too.
When he’s supposed
to hurl the cup away,
he brings it to his mouth!

The wine drops glow like flames.
He empties the glass.
There’s no hurrying the thunder.
God’s patience is great.

“The way we always do it”: Why some Jews see value in metzitzah b’peh (oral suction at circumcision…




Great first class yesterday at the Berman Institute in my new course, Ethics of Healthcare Decision Making. What is needed for a decision? What are the goals? More to come on these topics, and our fascinating discussions.

Here is a presentation about me and my poetry on Radio Sefarad, with a reading of one of my Yiddish poems paired with a Spanish translation. A pleasure to corrlogofinalespond with Varda Fiszbein about Yiddish poetry.

Aron Glantz-Leyeles does not make things easy for the translator or critic. A formalist, he was of a philosophical, lugubrious bent; spending most of his life in America, he was no troubadour, guerilla fighter, or escaped refusenik. Neither did he become the harrowing, post-war poet of Holocaust remembrance (like Jacob Glatstein), triangulating God’s absence with the calipers of Jewish history and the “goyim’s” nonchalance. His lyric conclusions are different, and more deliberate.Amerike-un-ikh2

More on the virtuoso of loneliness in a blogpost of mine (including some new translations of Leyeles’ verse) posted recently at In Geveb.

Maybe a law of gravitation was in force here too:

Suddenly I found myself attracted to a strange unknown city. This city wasn’t included in the itinerary of my voyage round the world by air. I didn’t even know its name, or whether such a clime was to be found on Earth at all.

It happened this way:Avrom-Sutzkever-2-420x250

When the airplane slid out of the slanted air onto the silky smooth runway, on its way to kick out some passengers to their connecting flight, glugging itself full of gas, or some other drinkable, en route to another nonstop across the sea — I nonchalantly grabbed my bag and in a daze followed the few passengers off the plane.

Read “A Smile at the End of the World,” this story by Avrom Sutzkever in my translation, thanks to the editors at B O D Y. The original is from his volume Green Aquarium. If you are a publisher who is interested in a fantastic volume of prose poems like this one, be in touch!

F9781627200141-OneNation-COV.inddor a polyglot midrashic poetic joyride on a Yiddish-English-Baltimore-American bassackward hybrid – with musical cantor-brown-300x200stylings too – come see me and Cantor Ariane Brown at Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, DC, on Sunday, November 8th. I’ll read from my book of poetry One Nation Taken Out of Another, which features the following main characters:

Avra(ha)m of Ur
Avrom Sutzkever
Matriarchs aplenty
Amy Weinhouse
et al.

Sent to the editor: manuscript for MAKING SENSE OF MEDICINE: Bridging Patient Preferences and Physician Guidelines

I stole this from the Town and Village Synagogue listserve. I used to be a member there and miss the place.

This is a wonderful talk by Batya Miller tracing the history of egalitarianism at T&V. It was presented to the congregation last Shabbat morning, July 18, 2015

Thank you Rabbi Sebert for giving me this opportunity to talk to the congregation today and for all your support and assistance in making this happen. In the course of revisiting a paper I had written in 1996, I spoke to many members who had lived through the story I am about to tell and would like to thank all of them for their help. Among them was Sy Beder who provided me with a joke to start my talk (I had told him that my father, a rabbi started every sermon with a joke to wake up the members). It goes as follows:

“Yeshiva University decided to field a rowing team. They lost race after race. Finally the Rosh Yeshiva decided to send Yankel to spy on the championship Harvard team. So Yankel went to Cambridge and hid in the bushes to watch the Harvard team practice. After two weeks Yankel returned to Yeshiva and announced ‘I have figured out our problem. We should have only one guy shouting and the other eight should row’.” After changing their “tradition,” YU began to win races. This too is a story of how a group of people changed tradition with a very successful outcome.
As difficult as it may be for many of you to believe, there was a time, in the not too distant past, when women did not “count” at T&V, at least not ritually – and politically – speaking. Where would the morning minyan be today if women didn’t count? And what would the bima look like if women did not get aliyot, did not read Torah, and did not assume positions of leadership? (more…)

“A half moon in black, rimmed in gold.”

An exciting day – In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies is live! Among the first batch of content is my translation of Avrom Sutzkever’s “A Funeral in the Rain,” one of his prose poems (it’s the length of a short story) from the volume “Green Aquarium.” If you don’t know Sutzkever, or know him only as a lyricist, please take a look and let me know what you think.

The seventh window

“The seventh window. Six. Seven. You need to knock seven times to get to Sister Ursula.” Photo credit: Madeleine Cohen.

Best of success to these hardworking academics who are so generous, helpful, and welcoming to literary layfolk. And may Yiddish writing of today find a place in their orrery.