Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a Jerusalem-born novelist and poet.  He is a 2018 National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and received a 2020 MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Literature.  He is the author of the acclaimed novel Sadness Is A White Bird and his writing has been published in the New York Times, The Paris Review, Haaretz, and elsewhere.  Moriel’s second novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2022.

Welcome to the world of Yiddish poetics and politics from the 1920s and early 1930s, in which being an ardent socialist would situate you squarely on the right-wing of many conversations, as with the poet Jacob Glatstein or the newspaper Forvetz (The Forward). While not every Yiddish poet of that era was a communist-- many, if not most, of the important ones were. In the wake of the October Revolution of 1919, there was suddenly a global superpower, the Soviet Union --situated in what had historically been the global locus of anti-Jewish murder sprees, known as pogroms-- in which antisemitism was now declared illegal; in which racism and colonialism were officially condemned, even as Jim Crow stood at the sickly, brutal heart of the American social structure, and the colonial projects of the Western European empires were raging at full frenzied throttle. In this heady time, the Soviet Union also officially supported not only the brotherhood of mankind, but also the Yiddish language and its innovators. Yiddish was made an official language of the Soviet Union, and Yiddish newspapers, journals and theatres were given the official state support and funding. Rothman-Zecher addresses the work and legacy of some of these poets and their writing, including that of Abel Meeropol, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, (and the eventual adoptive parent of Ethel and Julius Rosenbergs’ two sons), who was a communist poet and schoolteacher in New York, and who wrote the poem “Strange Fruit,” which Billie Holiday turned into one of the most prominent protest songs of the movement against lynching.

In addition to talking about the lives and legacy of these poets, and others, Rothman-Zecher will perform their work, in both original and translation, as well as a number of his own poems inspired by their legacies.

This lecture is supported by the Syliva & Hyman Tillow Fund, the Program for Jewish Studies, and the Department of Comparative Humanities.

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