By Dorothée Rozenberg – Reprinted by permission from May/June 2014 issue of Der Bay.
I was born and raised in Paris by Yiddish speaking Holocaust survivors who moved to Paris in 1948. Yiddishkeyt was the air I breathed at home. My father was a Bundist and both my parents were very involved with the Paris Arbeter Ring, and later with the Medem Library, where my father volunteered for many years. My parents maintained a close network of friends from around the world that included some Yiddish luminaries, such as Avrom Sutzkever. I grew up with a strong Jewish secular identity, with Yiddish and social justice being its cornerstones.
As a young adult, I moved to the United States, where I studied Yiddish at YIVO and did an internship at the National Yiddish Book Center. I settled in to life in the U.S., first working in publishing, and then translation.
In France, I was aware of only two types of Jews: Sephardim and Ashkenazim. As I acculturated in the United States, I came to discover that there was a wider range of Jewish religious identity than I was used to (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and even more). Paradoxically, even though I knew there were lots of secular Jews in the United States, being a strongly identified secular Jew made me feel somewhat unusual, because there didn’t seem to be anywhere to actively identify and affiliate as part of a community.
Later, when I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and raised my family, I was elated to find out that Boston had an active branch of the Workmen’s Circle, a warm welcoming community that exuded the Jewish values of Yiddishkeyt and social justice that I had grown up with. Even more important to me was the fact that the Boston Workmen’s Circle also had a shule, a secular Sunday school, where my children could get a Jewish education that exposed them to the Jewish values that my parents, a generation earlier and on a different continent, had passed on to me.
One of the pivotal figures in making the Boston Workmen’s Circle community what it is, is Mitchell Silver. For seventeen years, as education director of the Boston Workmen’s Circle shule, Mitchell shaped the shule educational program. Mitchell’s influencehas been felt well beyond his work at the shule, both in his role in adult education at the Boston Workmen’s Circle and as cultural director of Camp Kinderland for almost two decades, where his influence touched a generation of Jewish children (including my own).
I’m delighted that now people across the country will have the opportunity to share in the Boston Workmen’s Circle educational experience. One of the key elements of the shule program was a broad and deep curriculum in Jewish history. After much urging from his peers, Mitchell Silver has written a history of the Jewish experience for young adults, and it has just been published by the Boston Workmen’s Circle.
The Veterans of History: A Young Person’s History of the Jews is the first publication by the Boston Workmen’s Circle in its over 100-year history. Written for young adults, this 336-page work covers Jewish history from Biblical times to today, providing the historical basis for an exploration of Jewish identity, which is rooted in Jewish cultural literacy and the traditions of social justice. It reflects progressive and universalistic values and beliefs while remaining deeply Jewishly-commited.
This book deals prominently with Yiddish and Eastern European Jewish history, and giving substantial coverage to Jewish communal developments in Western Europe, without neglecting Sephardic history. American Jewish history is also given extensive coverage, as well as that of Israel.
Written in age-appropriate language, this is a very “serious” history, which has been read as well as appreciated by many adult members of the Boston Workmen’s Circle community. I am happy that it is now available to readers across the country.
[The Veterans of History is available from Amazon.com, as well as from the following bookstores: Israel Bookshop (Brookline, MA); Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA); Harvard Bookstore, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA).]
ISBN: 978-0-615-95734-0 • Price: $19.95
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