Viskonsin! Tales from Yiddish Wisconsin: Presentation abstracts

Project information

Project description
Symposium schedule

Friday, March 28, 2014

Note: All symposium events held at UW-Madison Memorial Library, 728 State Street, room 126. This room is on the public corridor of the library. This symposium is free and open to the public.

Registration, 8:30 – 9:00 a.m.


Welcome & Panel 1, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.

Henry Sapoznik, “When Yiddish Radio Came to Badgerland”
When Milwaukee station WISN joined the CBS network in 1929 it not only became part of one of the nation’s largest hookups, but also carried the programs originating from the CBS flagship station in New York City including a weekly program aired by one of the countrys largest Yiddish newspapers. Join Henry Sapoznik as he reveals the rich depth of its four years of popular programming linking New York’s Yiddish community with their Badgerland cousins.

Max Edwards, “Sincerely and Fraternally Yours: The Minnesota Workmen’s Circle and its Clash with Communism”
Since its founding in 1900, the Workmen’s Circle has strived to politically align itself with the majority of leftist Jews in America and around the world. This commitment to political openness, especially in the post-WWI era, left the Circle with undefined, rather malleable borders. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, a new wave of communism crept into the Circle’s historically socialist center. The fear of communism soon became an issue of importance throughout America, and Minnesota was no exception. In fact, Minnesota represents a perfect microcosm of the Circle’s struggle and ultimate rejection of the communist party. Through a number of written correspondences between the National Workmen’s Circle committee and Louis Lerman, the chair of the Circle’s St. Paul branch, one can sense a fear of communist takeover growing within the twin cities. Lerman’s dispatches detail Minnesota Circle happenings in 1929-1930. He outlines issues of communist influence in both the St. Paul and Minneapolis branches; referendums, committee meetings, and even physical altercations amongst members are all detailed in his correspondences. This paper explores these letters from a historical perspective, reconstructing the Minnesota Circle’s attitude toward communism while ascertaining the role these political battles played in shaping the future of the Circle and the Yiddish language in Minnesota.

Panel 2, 10:45 – 11:30 a.m.

Sylvia Grunes oral history interview, with Jonathan Pollack
Pollack will interview Grunes with a focus on youth activities in the Madison Workmen’s Circle, relations between the Workmen’s Circle and other Madison Jewish organizations, and the role that women played in building and sustaining the chapter.

Panel 3, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Mark Louden, “From the Pages of the Milvoker Vokhenblat
Wisconsin’s leading Yiddish-language periodical was the weekly newspaper Milvoker Vokhenblat, which was published by Isidor Horwitz in Milwaukee from 1914 to 1959. Like most American newspapers of its time, the Vokhenblat reported on events of interest on the local, state, national, and international levels, as well as on cultural topics. In this presentation we will explore a number of gems culled from the Vokhenblat that give us an important insight into twentieth-century Jewish life in Wisconsin, including how events playing out on the national and international stages, such as the Leo Frank case, the Great Depression, and both World Wars, resonated in Milwaukee and across the state.

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack, “Cohen v. Udelowish: Yiddish, Business, and Rabbinical Authority in Monroe, Wisconsin, 1898-1907″
Beginning in the early 1880s, Jewish merchants affiliated with Chicago wholesalers began to settle in the farm town of Monroe, Wisconsin. At this time, dairying was becoming the focus of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy, and Monroe, situated on the Illinois Central Railroad, served as a commercial center of this rising industry. Jews began holding services in Monroe in the mid-1890s, and by 1899, Samuel Cohen was the leader of a growing congregation. Shortly after Louis Udelowish, one of his congregants, married the daughter of the leading Orthodox rabbi in Chicago, Udelowish and his father-in-law claimed that Cohen was unfit to be a rabbi. Cohen sued for defamation, and soon the Green County courthouse rang with the sounds of Yiddish testimony.

Jonathan Nelson, “The Wisconsin Jewish Archives”
In 1953, Wisconsin Jews joined in the national celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Jews in America. As part of the observance, Rabbi Joseph L. Baron of Milwaukee proposed a statewide organization to promote research into Wisconsin Jewish history. From this idea was born the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning, the foundation of Jewish Studies departments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and, in 1954, the creation of the Wisconsin Jewish Archives (WJA) at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (now the Wisconsin Historical Society). Today, the WJA comprises nearly 140 separate collections with new collections or additions to existing collections added every year. As we look towards our partnership with the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture to preserve and provide access to a new collection of oral histories documenting Yiddish culture in Wisconsin as part of the WJA, we will take a look at the existing collection and discuss the valuable resources it contains.

Panel 4, 3:45- 5:00 p.m.

Frieda Levine and Paul Melrood oral history interviews
Frieda Levine will discuss what it was like to come from New York to Wisconsin as young bride in the 50s and how her Yiddish upbringing and music skills made her an organic part of a half century of Milwaukee Yiddish cultural literacy. Paul Melrood, a pillar of the Milwaukee Yiddish community (his father ran Milwaukee’s Yiddish shule/day school) will discuss, among other things, being part of the Perhift Yiddish theater troupe, his co-founding of the Milwaukee Yiddish club, and memories of Milwaukee Yiddish radio.

Panel 5, 5:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Closing discussion with panelists, interviewees, and symposium participants

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