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March 22: Itche Goldberg and the Soul of Yiddish

March 22, 2014
Itshe-pipeYiddish scholar, literary critic, educator, and activist Itche Goldberg was born in Opatow, Poland on this date in 1904. He lived for 102 years, founded and kept alive the Yiddish literary journal, Yidishe Kultur, from 1964 to 2004, and was an eloquent and important theorist and cultivator of secular Jewish culture. From 1937 to 1951, Goldberg was the educational and cultural director of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order, a branch of the Communist-connected International Workers Order. At its peak after World War II the JPFO had 50,000 members, and Goldberg was major force in shule (Yiddish school) and post-shule education, writing children’s books, curricula, librettos, and more. The murder of the Soviet Yiddish writers and cultural figures in 1952 completed Goldberg’s alienation from Soviet communism, but he remained enamored of the renaissance of Yiddish culture that happened under Bolshevik rule in the 1920s and ’30s, and he remained until his death an ardent lover of the Yiddish language as the seedbed of Jewish radicalism and cultural creativity for centuries. To read Yankl Stillman’s Jewish Currents article about Itche Goldberg and his mentor, Khayim Zhitlowsky, click here. To read our interview with him marking his 100th birthday in 2004, click here. To see him interviewed in Yiddish (with English subtitles), look below. “[S]ecularism is for us the only point of entry into Jewish life. We have ideologically and philosophically rejected for ourselves religion as the point of entry. Zionism — despite our positive stand on Israel — is not our link, either. National negation we eschew and reject. We therefore have no alternative whatsoever except a historic-cultural secular tie which binds us with the people. Realistically and historically we have no alternative. However, to influence others — yes, and to give identity to ourselves — we must raise secularism to a meaningful expression and link with the people. . . . Meaningful implies depth, knowledge, commitment, involvement, renewal and — yes, of course — tradition.”” -Itche Goldberg