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Yiddish Radio Project wins the Peabody Award

Yiddish Radio Project posterI first heard this on NPR, but Dan Peck was kind enough to post details to the Jewish-music mailing list. It is a wonderful series, and I am very excited that it won this recognition. There are some interesting ironies that I'll get to after the announcement:

"The Yiddish Radio Project, the 10 part series on the history of Yiddish broadcasting has won this years coveted Peabody prize. The Peabody Award for Excellence in Electronic Media is considered the most selective and prestigious award in broadcast journalism. The Yiddish Radio series was produced by Dave Isay and Henry Sapoznik.

"From the press release issued by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication which awards the prize:

"....A National Public Radio program special, "The Yiddish Radio Project," an exuberant celebration of memory, history, and nostalgia from Sound Portrait Productions provided the Peabody Board with some of its most enjoyable listening...."

"This is the first time in its 62 year history that a Peabody award has gone to a Yiddish program."

You can find out more at www.yiddishradioproject.org

What makes this especially sweet, is that while the series was running, NPR was getting an incredible amount of flack about presenting a "Zionist" series, as part of its propaganda on part of Israel!!!!

There are two items that make such ignorant hate-mongering so noteworthy. First, as most people know, there was a huge, nasty cultural war among the early Zionist settlers in Israel during the early 1900s of Yiddish vs. Hebrew, and Hebrew won. Yiddish was vanquished, to the point where people changed their names from their "oppressed" Yiddish names to bold Hebrew ones, and Yiddish language and culture were virtually banned from the Yishuv (Jewish settlement). So, associating Yiddish with Zionism is a bit like associating Communism with Confucionism (sp?) or some such. Truly, it is ignorance, exemplified

But, second, the American Jewish community, in its rush to become "American" abandoned Yiddish culture as quickly as it could. So, in a sense, reclaiming Yiddish (granted, for most Jews this does not mean abandoning the warm feelings for Israel that are very much a part of post-Holocaust world Jewish life, but which were not part of most socialist Jewish culture) symbolizes a rejection of '50s American Jewish culture, and symbolizes both a reclaiming of all of what "Jewish" meant for the majority of American Jews whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe, including the explicitly socialist culture that involved the majority (but far from all) of the intellectuals of that community. In a funny sense, there was a second cultural battle: For those Jews who had already left traditional Judaism, "Jewish" was symbolized by socialist culture as encapsulated in Yiddish, and this battled "Jewish" as symbolized by English, with polite synagogue attendance two or three times a year replacing an active living or wrestling with what "Jewish" meant.

For the small, but successful minority of American Jews who gave Modern Orthodoxy its impetus, losing Yiddish speaking meant, simply, losing Yiddish. Most of what we would call "Yiddishkeit" remained, and Jewish identity remained tied to halachic (tied to Jewish law) Judaism.

Conversely, for that smaller, and perhaps not so culturally successful minority of Jews who stayed secular and socialist, the Arbeiter Rings were also there.

But in all cases, American Yiddish culture of the early 1900s still comes out associated with something frequently anti-Zionist--these are the Jews who came to America, not to Palestine. Which leaves us with the conclusion that there is a lot of general, extremely ignorant antisemitism parading as "anti-Zionism" out there. Since, I myself am not a Zionist, this is quite painful. But at times like this, I'd rather be mistaken for a Zionist--and at least identified with my people and their survival--than mistaken for an antisemitic ignoramous. Ignorance is a tool of reaction and repression even more powerful than the world's tyrants.

And while running off at the pen, I forgot my original 2nd point--which is that NPR is perceived by most American Jews (not me, as it happens) as "anti-Israel". So, to be accused of being "pro-Israel" for running this series highlights the sad fact that there is no limit to how profound ignorance can be. While American Jews look at NPR's stories on Israel and many have issues, the antisemites see an affirmation of a Jewish culture and see "Zionism". Oh, right, that was the point I was making last paragraph. Here I'll just be explicit: "Being anti-Israel is absolutely not a progressive stand." (Neither, for the record, is being "anti-Palestinian" a progressive stand. If you are for peace, and for self-determination, then you are stuck in the very messy, and very small camp of people who recognize that peace works only when both sides can find the "pro-peace" in each other. Finding peace means eschewing demonization and hate.)

Anyway, enough of that. This article started off in joy, noting the Yiddish Radio Project's Peabody Award. And that is a good thing, and something to celebrate!

You can find out more at www.yiddishradioproject.org

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