In Geveb and Yiddish Studies Online with Jessica Kirzane and Saul Noam Zaritt

Jessica Kirzane and Saul Zaritt join the podcast to talk about their work on In Geveb, an online journal of Yiddish studies.

Jessica Kirzane is the Lecturer in Yiddish at the University of Chicago, and she’s the editor-in-chief of In Geveb. She recently published a translation of Miriam Karpilove’s Diary of a Lonely Girl, or The Battle against Free Love (Syracuse University Press, 2020).

Saul Noam Zaritt is an assistant professor of Yiddish Literature in Harvard’s Department of Comparative Literature. He was also one of the founding editors of In Geveb.

In Geveb is a really exciting journal that publishes important peer reviewed research in Yiddish studies, translations, and also on topics relating to pedagogy. We hope you enjoy our conversation about In Geveb, what it represents as part of the field of Yiddish studies, and how we can think about open-access and what that means for the question of making Jewish studies and Yiddish studies accessible to a wide audience.

Articles and topics discussed in the episode include:

An edited transcript of our conversation follows:

Jason Lustig: I think that what you guys have been doing is really cool. I’m a big fan of In Geveb, and so I was really happy that we could get you guys to come on the podcast to talk about it. When I think about what we have on the podcast, it’s a lot of people talking about books, about monographs. And I’ve tried to have some people also talk about projects that are really doing interesting and innovative things. And here we have a journal, and I’m interested in thinking about In Geveb kind of as a whole. At least the way that I see it—and maybe you see it differently—it’s not just a collection of articles; it really represents a vision of creating something. I think maybe one place for us to get started is, if you want, is to talk a little bit about the origin of the project and what you’ve wanted to accomplish with it and where you see it going.

Saul Noam Zaritt: I guess I’ll start since I was there in the beginning. I think I’m still listed on the website as a co-founding editor. A while back, in 2008, one of the last Yiddish literary journals stopped publication. That’s Chuliot, which came out of the University of Haifa. David Roskies, professor at JTS, always wanted to start a journal just for Yiddish Studies. He always wanted something that would just be about Yiddish, and he pitched this idea to the Naomi Foundation, a foundation that honors the memory of a Naomi Kedar, former Yiddish teacher, that funds a lot of Yiddish projects.

They were very keen on the idea, but they wanted to find young people to take it on because the idea was that it would be not only just a journal, but an online journal. This was Roskies’ idea from the beginning; and being himself, not exactly the most skilled in digital tools, he wanted to bring on younger people to look at the project.

It took them a while to find the right people, and then eventually came to both Eitan Kensky and to me. Eitan Kensky was, at the time, a lecturer in Yiddish, and it was just finishing his dissertation at Harvard, and I was still a graduate student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. We decided to take on the project, but we didn’t want to do exactly the things that Roskies had wanted to do.

He wanted, more or less, to have a simple, straightforward peer-reviewed journal, and on the side to have what he called a repository for Yiddish texts: a place to gather all the things that people had scanned over the years. We thought this was an excellent idea, but not enough for the kind of things that can happen on the Internet and with various digital opportunities that were out there.

So Eitan and I came back to David and to the Naomi Foundation with a much expanded idea of a journal that would have a peer-reviewed section, but also one that would have a large section devoted to translations to a whole pedagogy section that would allow teachers of Yiddish and students of Yiddish to exchange materials and to think about the teaching of Yiddish in a more collective way.

And then finally, because we were both children of the blog nra of the ‘90s and early 2000s, we wanted to have a place where people could write about Yiddish not just in an academic way, but in a more popular way. This took a little bit of time to formulate and we had to convince the Naomi Foundation that we were interested in it.

What we felt from the beginning of that was it couldn’t just be a project of the two of us, that one of the major values that the project could embody would be a new way of collaborating in Yiddish Studies or even in Jewish studies or in the academy at large, to bring in as many of our friends and colleagues and other people doing exciting things in Yiddish into the project from the very beginning.

So we brought in Sarah Zarrow, who was then a PhD student at NYU and Madeleine Cohen, who was a PhD student at Berkeley at the time. We started planning and building an editorial board of other young people, securing nonprofit status, all those things, and trying to think about the different sections and more compelling ways until finally, we were ready to apply for funding from Naomi Foundation, get very generous seed funding from them.

And then after two years of prepping in August, 2015, we launched, right when I was moving from New York to St. Louis. So that was a little bit insane, but we launched then with all of these sections happening at once. This is sort of this large and growing and very new kind of project, that was ready to be tested out in the world.

Jessica Kirzane: And from the beginning I was also involved, although my involvement changed and grew substantially over time. But I will say that at the beginning I was just a member of the editorial board and I was part of this early process of thinking through and collaborating.

And one of the things that was very exciting about the journal was that it was trying to address certain holes that all of us were feeling in our experience as Yiddishists and Yiddishists academics. One of them was this feeling that we found stuff and had no place for it, a place to publish our translations. I had translated a very long story by Opatoshu about a lynching, for paper as a graduate student, and felt that there was no good place for it. It was just sitting on my laptop.

Also, this sense of building a community among scholars through online publishing, which I think happened for me sort of right away by sitting in the room at the AJS with Yiddishists I didn’t know and had never met before, who I now, worked very closely with, including Mandy (Mendelein Cohen), who I hadn’t met before that.

So I think it was, in some ways, a kind of top-down endeavor of conscientiousness: Planning and looking for funding and thinking about what these different sections would be, from the group of people who were in the room and each of us expressing what we needed a journal to be or what kind of public sphere we wanted to create free Yiddish.

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