#39 / Editorial


A “language war” between Yiddish and Hebrew took place in Eastern Europe from the middle of the 19th century. The issue at stake was which of the two languages would be culturally hegemonic among the Jews of the East. But the Holocaust and the birth of a state for the Jews settled the issue: the Yiddish people disappeared in the turmoil and the state for the Jews made modern Hebrew flourish. The Yishuv and then the State of Israel banished all the languages of the migrants, including Yiddish, especially Yiddish, which was considered the lingo of the exile. And the latter declined, almost to extinction. Almost. It still survives, on the margins, in Orthodox circles. And its flame is kept alive at university, as well as in the Yung Yiddish, that “secret shelter of Yiddish” in Israel as Danny Trom calls it. Both a huge library and a performance space, this place created by Mendy Cahan almost clandestinely animates the spirit of Yiddish, without reviving the language war.

Another figure who also balances between extinction and the desire for renewal is presented to us this week in K. In France, “l’israélite” was a form of integration of French Jews into the nation that the policies of the Vichy Regime rendered obsolete. In today’s France, one no longer speaks of “Israélite” except in the language of far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour, who, in order to rehabilitate the term, completely rewrites its history. Through a tribute to Georges and Marcel Wormser, the latter recently deceased, Milo Lévy-Bruhl tells us the story of the man he calls “the last Israélite.” We read in it both the greatness of the articulation between Jew and French and its inactivity.

Back to Israel and a move to fiction for the third text proposed by K this week. Moshe Sakal, author of the novel The Diamond Setter (Other Press), offers us a short story about a writer (Ashkenazi), a literary critic (Sephardic), a urologist who has just immigrated from France – and a little black scorpion…

Mendy Cahan is an actor, singer, and collector of books, all in Yiddish… He has stored 90,000 of them in an unlikely location in the Tel Aviv bus station. The piles of accumulated books seem to hold up the walls. And it is in this piece of Eastern Europe stuck in a zone of the Middle East that those who frequent this place gather to revive a Yiddish language that has become a minority in the middle of Hebrew. Visit the Yung Yiddish and meet its creator.

The term “Israélite” has recently come back into the news following its repeated use by a polemicist-cum-presidential candidate in the French elections. However, the Israélite model that he claims to embody has nothing to do with the reality of what Israélitisme was. Through a vibrant tribute to Marcel Wormser, recently deceased, and to his father, Georges Wormser, Milo Lévy-Bruhl recovers the essence of this pre-war French Jewish phenomenon and discusses the reasons for its ultimate disappearance.

First he heard a thud. Then he felt a dull blow and the handlebars crumpled into his ribs. He knew he’d hit someone—a male, fair-skinned, slightly curly-haired pedestrian. But he had absolutely no idea that the person he’d hit was a literary critic. He’d had the opportunity to run over all sorts of people with his electric bike on the sidewalks of Tel Aviv, but never a literary critic.

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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.