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September 27: Anti-Yiddish Riots

September 27, 2012

A mob of several thousand Jews protested outside the Mograbi Theater in Tel Aviv on this date in 1930 against the screening of one of the first feature-length Yiddish-language talkie movies, Mayn Yidishe Mame (“My Jewish Mother”), starring Seymour Rexite. The rioters included several members of the so-called “Army for the Defense of the Hebrew Language” who broke into the theater, threw ink at the screen and smoke bombs at the crowd. The police eventually broke through the mob and made arrests, but the protestors returned a second time and forced the screening to end, although many of the viewers refused to leave the theater until the lights were shut off. This was just one of numerous violent attacks on Yiddish culture in pre-statehood Palestine, where Hebraists were intent on repressing the language that they held in contempt.
“Yiddish was a force to be reckoned with in this period. It provided the name for and was an integral part of the Yiddishist movement that posed an alternative to Zionism. . . . The language issue became a convenient tool of political conflict within contemporary Jewish culture.” —Yael Chaver, What Must Be Forgotten: The Survival of Yiddish in Zionist Palestine