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Conference of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs

IAYC Lifetime Yiddish Service Award Acceptance Speech
Speaker: Lilke Majzner

Marriott Hotel

La Jolla, CA

Oct. 25, 2008



Lilke Majzner, who sadly passed away some nine months after this conference,  was a Holocaust survivor from the ghetto of Lodz, Poland.


While living in Los Angeles, California, she gave of herself quite willingly to works that were involved with the preservation of the Yiddish language.

 

Lilke served as the Director of the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club and was a member of the Board of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language and Yiddishkayt LA. She will be sorely missed by all who came to know her.

 

 

 

Address by Lilke Majzner at the 2008 IAYC Conference
English translation by Hershl Hartman, Secular Jewish
vegvayzer

Honored attendees; honored guests; Board of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs; Friend Norman Serkin, Conference Chair; and our beloved Fishl Kutner, the tireless fighter, editor of Der Bay and the soul of this Conference…I thank my dear comrades, Sabell Bender; I thank Hershl, whom I often torment…I torture him, but that is the way of our world: he who allows himself to be tormented is tormented (laughter). Greetings to all of you. This is a celebration for all of us.

Many, many years ago I had a teacher in the Yiddish folkshul (elementary school) named for Vladimir Medem (a prominent leader of the Bund—trans.) in my hometown of Lodz, Poland, who would say to us in moments of deep emotion: “Children—words fail me, so let us kiss!” That is how I feel at this moment. So I send you all my kisses, the hundreds and hundreds of kisses that my teacher send out with her pupils. I send you my kisses and gratitude. Gratitude for the recognition that is not for me alone, but for the 83 years of activity of the Yiddish Culture Club of Los Angeles, which you also honor…the club which was founded by such inspiring spirits as the Yiddish writers Rosenblatt and Opotashu, who was here for a certain time, and others who had the vision to create an organization that would encompass the new trends that were born here in 1923 and proceeded from city to city. The Yiddish Culture Club became a presence, a presence in Jewish life that took wing and worked doggedly so that the Golden Chain of our cultural treasures might not be broken.

The doors of our Yiddish Culture Club were open to both old and young creators, so that, in the course of these 83 years we did not merely preserve old treasures, but welcomed young writers, young creators, and established one of the most prominent literary magazines, in existence for over 60 years, khezhbn, which has been read not only on this coast, but across the country and abroad.

This dogged determination of the activists…they were the bearers of our huge legacy who give us the will and energy to push, to push farther our Yiddish wagon that, in the course of history and of historical events, has become still heavier.

I belong to the generation that was murderously destroyed. I am a charred branch of that great, strong oak tree of Polish Jewry, ebullient, creative. Just as legendary Atlas was thought to carry Earth on his shoulders, so we — you and I — carry the legacy of our murder victims, the legacy of the unspoken words, unfinished songs, dreams not fulfilled. Their spirits hover in this room today, here, with me and with you.

May I be permitted to give thanks, to express my deepest feelings of love to my parents, who implanted in me a tremendous love for Yiddish; to my teachers in the Secular Yiddish schools in my hometown, all of whom taught me to dream in Yiddish; to my Bundist ideals of social justice, love for Yiddish cultural values and love for the Jewish people. To my Shloyme, who was my life’s companion and loved everything connected to Jewish values, and to our children and grandchildren who have understanding and respect for our destroyed world. And to the Yiddish Club in Los Angeles which gave me the opportunity to continue further my Yiddish cultural work and, together with its devoted membership, to spin further the tattered thread.

We have gathered here under the sign of the Centennial of the Czernowitz Conference that took place in 1908. In our academic circles, in cities where that great historic event is discussed, some facts are crippled and interpretations made that are inaccurate. But the event in and of itself is very important. The Czernowitz Conference was not only a language conference. It was the beginning of the creation of a new approach, a new path in our Jewish life. A new path in which Yiddish was the spoken national language. And with it we could reach masses and we could create and develop the strength that would build and enrich our Jewish life. That new approach of Secular Jewishness was called by Dr. Khayim Zhitlovski “our new cultural foundation.”

The historical and political canvas was quite different in those formative years. The past hundred years have seen the blossoming of Jewish creativity and establishment of the new day. The idea of doikayt (here-ness), which the General Jewish Workers’ Bund had as its ideology, created the foundation on which were based all stages of Yiddish culture: Yiddish education, the advanced concepts of sport leagues, higher education, teachers’ seminaries, institutions that reflected and impacted Jewish folk-life. That blossoming period, for all its difficulties of antisemitism and assimilation, was so tragically interrupted. Six million of our people were cut down. The physical and cultural-spiritual banishment in the former Soviet Union erased Jewish life. And yet…and yet we are here!

The emergence of the Jewish State did not solve the issues of the diaspora. We live in dispersal and will live on. We must go on with our Jewish life, wherever we are, wherever we live. It is that here-ness that demands of us responsibility, demands of us a historical duty. Jewish cultural values that have existed for a thousand years cannot and dare not be discarded.

Language is the instrument of creativity. Our creative treasure is collosal. It is not only the legacy, it is the wonderful metamorphosis of the wandering process of now. Our yesterdays must be historically woven into today. The road is hard, not easy. We live in a new technological world.Technology brings both good and bad. But Yiddish vitality and endurance will come to our aid. We must have faith and we must have great stubbornness. Together…together we will preserve our values and build new values. Our language and culture must be a component of our Jewish existence. May the words of our great writer Leivick, “I rise up again and stride off farther,” become our motto.

We must also bring order to our path. We must have a certain structure, the discipline of a creative path. We no longer have a specific Jewish quarter that might stimulate us, so we must stimulate the so-called “Jewish street.” Our work is grouped around academic circles which is good and well, but the beginning is not there — that is not the nisn (biblical first month—trans.). We must lay the foundation among the very young…children…children’s schools. If we are not able to create such schools, we must bring our baggage — our great Yiddish cultural baggage — into the Jewish day schools in the cities in which they exist. We must create institutions that will develop new Yiddish teachers and inspire them with the idea of teaching Jewish children, to acquaint them with our great creative road. We cannot easily return to our old paths, no. But if we were all to be determined — all together — we will have the strength to transmit to our young generation our stubbornness, our deep belief that Yiddish culture lives, that it will live, that the heritage that was created enriched Jewish life and existence. It enriched them then and it will enrich them now. The legacy lies in our hands. It must lie in secure hands. And the further creative process will go on…it will go on if we become determined.

May the Conference, which will conclude tomorrow, or Monday, be the beginning of our great, determined path to create — not more conferences, but wherever you live and wherever you are — to exert yourselves, to enthuse your youth so that they may understand you, that they may hear from your mouths that long, long, hundred-year history of the Jewish people…and the old, old history that is thousands and thousands of years old. Let us discuss the issues practically and roll up our sleeves and begin the labors. Words alone cannot help. Work must be done, and all of you must believe in it. We must believe. We bear a heavy weight. But if we do this, it will become lighter, and perhaps, after 120 years, they will come and say to us “you were right, and now we will take over the rudder.”

We dare not negate one thousand years of life, a thousand years of creativity. We dare not and we cannot. So let us erect the bridges, the bridges to the youth, and let us with them greet our great will and determination to continue our Yiddish cultural work with the great treasures that we bear.

I want to thank you and I would like to conclude these few words with a poem by a great Yiddish writer (Moyshe Shklar) who lives with us in Los Angeles, who has written these words:

The Sound of Yiddish

Oh no, oh no, not gone is Yiddish sound;

it is laughter and tears,

it is the song the generations found.

From generations’ path through joy and woe,

through darkness to the morning’s glow —

and lasting sound, and lasting sound, and lasting sound…”

Thank you.

 

 

 

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