For this year’s Jewish Cultural Heritage Month celebration, I worked with Steve Sass of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California as well as several of the contributors to Mapping Jewish LA (Max Baumgarten, Karen Wilson, Max Daniel, Cate Roman, Naya Lekht and Saba Soomekh) to create an exhibit for the Bridge Gallery at City Hall called “Jewish of Los Angeles: A Sense of Home, A Sense of Place.” The exhibit would not have been possible to put together in just a few months without extensive collaboration, so many thanks to the folks who helped me pull it off!
I was particularly delighted that Los Angeles Yiddish culture was front and center, both in the exhibit (which featured a panel on the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club) and in the chambers ceremony. I got to read one of the first Yiddish poems published in Los Angeles – “Los Angeles” by Ben Ein, published in 1915 (see below) – and the band for the day, the Ellis Island Band, played “Ale Brider” (We are all brothers), one of my favorite Jewish labor movement anthems, this time featuring verses in Spanish and Korean (!!). Perhaps my favorite moment came, however, when the band leader took a moment to honor my friend and teacher, Hershl Hartman, as “the keeper of Yiddish culture in LA.” To see Hershl blush takes a lot, and I was delighted to see him celebrated for all he’s done to keep local Yiddish culture alive her in dos durem-land baym yam.
Ben Ein “Los Angeles” (1915) – translated with help from Hershl Hartman
A bright new morning breaks in laughter today
opens its eyes in youthful delight,
and jubilant and sparkling like a bubbling wine,
and floods the earth instead, breaking into your heart.
And carries there an ebullient stream of purest joy
that spreads out like an unnoticed prairie fire
and ignites your nerves enflames your tear-soaked eyes
driving you out of your bed and into the broad street.
And as you step in bright rays over the threshold of your home
a wave of pure brightness washes over you
resounding in soundless song from all around;
You are confused by too much joy and remain in wonder, dumbed,
and bend down to the earth your fair-bedazzled gaze.
But now a well of frothy joy erupts in you —
you do a saucy quick flip of your hair,
your eyes shining as clearly as the morning dew,
and as a ripe maiden you laugh with passion in your voice
and dive, head first, into the sunlight.
Intoxicated, as though in a fever, you stride on the sidewalk,
shoving your way through people and with each shove
burns more intensely and warmly in your breast
a tender feeling of pure childlike taste:
you are not lonely and the world is indifferent to you no more
a good, loving smile receives you at each turn
and all the streaming masses become near and dear to you
every man a brother, every woman a delicate person;
you want to kiss each one — right and left, young and old —
and happily clap your hands and cluck your tongue.
A bright new morning happily breaks today
like a young blossom, just opened, shining,
just like yesterday’s dawn and perhaps tomorrow’s too —
the enchanted dawn of the Southland by the sea.