New book celebrates Vilnius’ Litvak legacy

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Pranešk apie klaidą

Christine Neijstrom | The Lithuania Tribune

Jewish-star-of-davidIn an auditorium in Vilnius University, Professor Cecile Esther Kuznitz illustrated a time when residents of Vilnius and the region were encouraged to “go to the shtetl, go into the homes, find the grandmothers sitting in the corners next to the ovens and implore them for folktales.”

Kuznitz, Director of Jewish Studies at Bard College in New York, presented her book, YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture Scholarship for the Yiddish Nation on March 26 as part of the Colloquium Vilnense, a joint effort of Vilnius University’s Faculty of History, the Center for the Study of the Culture and History of Eastern European Jews, European Humanities University’s Faculty of History and the EHU Center for German Studies.

Kuznitz’s book centers on YIVO founded as the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut in a diverse and vibrant 1925 Vilnius. YIVO served as a national cultural center for the stateless nation of Eastern Europe’s Yiddish speaking Jews.  With a mission to serve through scholarship “from, for and with the folk”, YIVO preserved and promoted Yiddish language, culture and folklore through collaborations between the common people and the community’s leading intellectuals.

According to publisher, Cambridge University Press, “using newly recovered documents that were believed destroyed by Hitler and Stalin, Cecile Esther Kuznitz tells for the first time the compelling story of how these scholars built a world-renowned institution despite dire poverty and anti-Semitism.  She raises new questions about the relationship between Jewish culture and political work and analyzes how nationalism arises outside of state power.”

Dr. Laura Lampert of Vilnius University argued that the work is an important reflection of parallel movements in Vilnius.  “It is strikingly relevant.  The intellectual groups of Lithuania, including Lithuanians, Poles, they had similar ethnography movements.  They were also creating new institutions and ethnographic societies that were appealing to the folk in very, very similar ways.  The only difference was the language.  This was the same stream of work and thinking specific to Vilnius and the region at the time.”

Lampert further remarked, “YIVO is important for all Lithuanians.  In Vilnius we have a legacy of intellectuals and academic representation in the interwar period that was very influential.”

Kuznitz will present her book in Yiddish at the Jewish Community Center on Pylmio g. 4 on March 30 at 12pm.

Kuznitz travelled to Vilnius from Bard College in New York where she is an Associate Professor and Director of Jewish Studies.

The Colloquium Vilnenense Spring 2014, Towards a cultural History of Jewish Everyday Life will host seven more events before concluding in May.


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