Nearly a thousand delegates from Yiddish cultural groups in the U.S. and Canada convened in New York for the first convention of the Yidishe Kultur Gesellshaft (Society) on this date in 1930. Khayim Zhitlowsky and Zalman Raisin, editor of the Tog, were the keynote speakers, with messages read from John Dewey, Simon Dubnow, and Yiddish writers’ organizations from Argentina, Palestine, and Poland. “Jewish culture in the Yiddish language,” said Zhitlowsky, “. . . is now world-wide. We in America are only a link in the great chain of Yiddish cultural creativeness. The Yiddish language is the national-psychic connecting force which links us all together.” Raisin described “Yiddishism” as a revolutionary movement, “to emancipate the Jewish masses spiritually from the fetters imposed upon them by religion.” John Dewey’s message suggested that the “melting pot” metaphor of American culture can only be progressive insofar as “there is an effort to conserve and nurture the characteristic values which each of the component elements has within.” The conference took place twenty-two years after the Czernowitz Yiddish Language Conference and five years after the establishment of YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute in Vilna, both of which served to elevate the status of Yiddish as a Jewish and world language, with some 11 million speakers worldwide before the Nazi assault.
“All Jewish movements throughout the world must make use of Yiddish if they wish to appeal to the Jewish masses.”—Khayim Zhitlowsky