Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History

Kishinev, the rampage that broke out in late-Tsarist Russia, has been described as foreshadowing the Holocaust itself. In April 1903, 49 Jews were killed, 600 raped or wounded, and more than 1,000 Jewish-owned houses and stores were ransacked and destroyed during three days of violence in the Eastern European city.

Steven Zipperstein, Stanford University, discusses how the attacks seized the imagination of an international public, quickly becoming the prototype of what would become known as a pogrom and providing the impetus for efforts such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and the NAACP.

Zipperstein brings historical insight and clarity to a much-misunderstood event that would do so much to transform twentieth-century Jewish life and beyond. The pogrom was well documented but mythology played a key role in the aftermath of the event. Kishinev came to seem as the prelude to the Holocaust with its state-directed mob violence. Zipperstein explains why he is skeptical of this determinism and explores some of the distortions.

Watch — Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History with Steven Zipperstein

Oy Vey – The Strange Stories of Yiddishland

Unlike most languages, which are spoken by the residents of a particular area or by members of a particular nationality, Yiddish – at the height of its usage – was spoken by millions of Jews of different nationalities all over the globe.

Eddy Portnoy’s book mines century-old Yiddish newspapers to expose the seamy underbelly of pre-WWII New York and Warsaw, the two major centers of Yiddish culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He calls it an underground history of downwardly mobile Jews.

He relates true stories of Jewish drunks, murderers, wrestlers, psychics and beauty queens, all plucked from the pages of Yiddish dailies, revealing unusual and unexpected aspects of Jewish urban life to an audience at UC Santa Barbara. His book “Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press” is one part Isaac Bashevis Singer, one part Jerry Springer – irreverent, unvarnished, and frequently hilarious compendium of stories providing a window into an unknown Yiddish world that was.

Watch — The Strange Stories of Yiddishland: What the Yiddish Press Reveals about the Jews.

Dreams That You Dare to Dream

The annual Lytle Scholarship Concerts were inaugurated in 1996 to benefit the Preuss School at UC San Diego, a public college prep charter school for grades 6 through 12. The concerts are specific to a composer (e.g., Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Liszt) or to a musical concept or genre (e.g., gospel tunes, tangos, ragtime, Latin jazz). This format has led to some unusual performances, including one in which five jazz pianists performed on five grand pianos arranged in a circle.

The 23rd Lytle concert, “Jewish Music: From Bessarabia to Broadway” carries on the series’ thematic custom by focusing on the evolution of Judaic musical traditions from roots in Russia and Eastern Europe to such early 20th Century practitioners of popular song as George & Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. The creativity of Jewish emigres flourished predominantly in New York City, particularly in the Bowery, Lower East Side, and Harlem.

American musical theater – indeed, American popular culture as a whole – was transformed by the efforts of Jewish composers, songwriters, and performers. Themes of suffering and hope, and the tensions between the two, combined with a yearning for social justice to fashion a portrait of a people striving to endure and assimilate in their new home. Perhaps no other song of the era encapsulates these aspirations as poignantly as Somewhere Over the Rainbow, written by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg:

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true…

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?

The programming of the concert reflects the diversity of the Jewish repertoire, from cantorial songs of worship to jazz to classical forms to popular songs of stage and screen. While many of the works performed arose from, or evoke, a specific time or place, their cumulative effect is universal; a celebration of a rich religious and social heritage, and a reminder of just how much immigrants have contributed to our American identity.

Watch Jewish Music – From Bessarabia to Broadway – Lytle Memorial Concert