From the J-Vault: "in his own language"

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"For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant," writes Rabbi Henry Cohen, "one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language."

As you may have seen, our March newsletter featured a Reader's Guide to Jewish Languages, in connection with an upcoming event on Dual Language Public Schools. (March 26th, from 3 to 5. Click here to RSVP.) At the event, educators and scholars will discuss issues of language and education, especially as they relate to issues of culture and identity in the United States. This installment of the J-Vault explores related concepts.

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This week, from the J-Vault: The Immigrant Publication Society (1915)

You ask me to give you an account of our new society. I am very glad to do so, particularly at this time, when the need of making all our immigrants a vital part of the nation is greater than ever before...

For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant, one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language. This is the only way to reach him. Every stress must of course be laid upon the necessity of his learning English, and simple and practical books on learning it must be promptly offered him. But to the cleverest, the simplest English book is at first impossible. Not everyone has the gift of languages. Some few never learn any English at all, but, fortunately, experience gives abundant proof that the immigrant can absorb the spirit of the new country through his own language...

The first step in so essentially a patriotic American work was the preparation, curiously enough at the suggestion of the Royal Italian Immigration Commission, of an Immigrant's Guide, telling the newcomer the things which he needs to know, and which he knows he needs... The success of this "Little Green Book," as it was at once called, was immediate. With the cordial help of many interested Jewish societies, it was soon carefully adapted in every detail for the use of the English - speaking immigrants.

Describing the success of the book, and bolstering his case for the need of a new organization dedicated to publishing non-English books, Rabbi Cohen noted that the New York Public Library was in the midst of a sharp rise in demand for Yiddish books.

But ordinarily the librarian in opening a department in a foreign language is forced to depend upon a chance adviser, with consequences that are sometimes amusing, sometimes really disastrous. The problem presents serious difficulties. How can the librarian be sure of giving the immigrant the best books and papers in his own language, not only for his pleasure, but very practically to help him, explaining America and its opportunities, putting before him the means of learning English, of becoming an American citizen, and of satisfying many of the most important necessities of his new life? How can the librarian be sure that she is not innocently placing on the shelves books that are atheistic, anarchistic, propagandizing, indecent or simply "trash?" What hooks should she buy first? What size are they? What do they cost? How shall the foreigner be taught the privileges and rules of the library?...

How remarkable a thing it is that the first popular Yiddish bibliography published in America should be printed at the insistence of American librarians—one of a series that Mr. Anderson, with the practical experience of New York, says, are: "Exactly what we need to help us make the immigrant understand America and its institutions."

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Top Ten Downloads of 2011

Thank you for making 2011 BJPA's biggest year yet. You and over 40,000 other users have visited bjpa.org since January 1, 2011.

Every month, we on the BJPA staff select publications from our holdings on a different topic to share with you in our newsletter. But here at year's end, we thought we'd let you select some publications. So here's a list you created, with assistance from forty thousand of your closest friends:

The Top Ten Publications Downloaded from BJPA in 2011

1. Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults. Fern Chertok, Matthew Boxer, Josh Tobias, Jim Gerstein, Shirah Rosin. Gerstein|Agne Strategic Communications, CMJS, Repair the World, June 201.

2. Generation of Change: How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life. Jack Wertheimer. Avi Chai Foundation, September 2010.

3. Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey '97. Pini Herman. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 1998.

4. Six Key Trends Transforming Jewish Philanthropy. Lisa Eisen. The Foundation Center, February 2011.

5. The Demise of the "Good Jew": Remarks upon Receiving the 2010 Marshall Sklare Award from the ASSJ. Steven M. Cohen. ASSJ, BJPA, December 2010.

6. Demography of the Contemporary Russian-Speaking Jewish Diaspora. Mark Tolts, 2011.

7. Camp Works: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp. Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira M. Sheskin, Berna Torr. Foundation for Jewish Camp, Spring 2011

8. Are Young American Jews in the Diaspora Distancing from Israel? Colloquium Report. Esther Farber, Idon Natazon. American Jewish Committee (AJC), March 2011.

9. Making Jewish Education Work: Jewish Service Learning. JESNA, January 2011.

10. Moving Beyond the Limited Reach of Current "Social Media" Approaches: Why Jewish Digital Communities Require Rich and Remixable Narrative Content. Owen Gottlieb. CCAR, Spring 2011.

Happy new year!

(P.S. Repair Labs beat us to posting these on a blog.)

Call for Abstracts on Jewish Service Learning

Call for Abstracts

The Jewish Communal Service Association in partnership with Repair the World invites submission of abstracts for a special issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, to be published winter 2012, on the topic of Jewish service-learning.

To be considered, abstracts must be submitted with a working title via e-mail by July 14, 2011 at 9:00AM EDT to the Journal’s project manager Ruthie Warshenbrot at ruthie@werepair.org, and must be submitted as double-spaced Microsoft Word documents of no more than 350 words in length. Collaborative works written by multiple authors will be considered.

Click here for complete information.

Four Decades of Vital Jewish Discourse

Listen

If you subscribe to our newsletter, then you already know that the journal Sh'ma and BJPA have recently officially launched the complete collection of the journal, from its inception in 1970 until the latest issue. Read the press release here.

This collection has already become a crucial part of BJPA's overall holdings -- not only in size (Sh'ma articles currently make up over a third of BJPA publications), but also in broadening the scope of the archive. A bird's-eye view of the context of Sh'ma within our other holdings will help to explain:

Our other largest single content contributor, the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (with its predecessors, Jewish Social Service Quarterly and the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service) is professionally oriented, and for much of its history, focuses mainly on social work. Many other of our publications are studies, reports, surveys, and other research-oriented publications. (For a few recent examples, see Limud by the Lake Revisited or Child Poverty and Deprivation in the British Jewish Community.) Also common among BJPA publications are professional analyses and recommendations. (For example, see this AJC Statement on Religious Pluralism, or Celebrating Distinctions: A Strategic Plan for the LGBT Alliance.)

Each of these types of publication (and more) provides a different kind of perspective on topics of Jewish policy. One element that makes Sh'ma unique among these sources, however -- and one reason that this launch is so significant -- is that Sh'ma is a platform for such a diverse range of approaches. Academic research is important, but so are the free-wheeling commentaries on traditional texts in Sh'ma's NiSh'ma series. Professional best practices and social work methodologies are important, but so are the more informal reactions of influential Jewish leaders and authors to the pressing issues of the day. Detailed analyses and reccommendations are important, but so are the dynamic and multi-voiced debates presented in the pages of any given issue of Sh'ma on any given topic.

Additionally, and not unimportantly, Sh'ma is reader-oriented and accessible. To be sure, the journal is policy-relevant and substantive, but it is also  accessible to the general reader in a way which some of our other material is not. This is not an insult to that less accessible material; professional literature and social science demand a high level of detail. But as we officially launch the complete Sh'ma collection, it's important to recognize that emphasizing strong writing (as Sh'ma consistently does) can also be a powerful policy tool.

JTA Launches Digital Archive

Last night JTA celebrated the launch of its new digital archive, which now offers access to over 200,000 articles from its 90 years of reporting. Fittingly, the event was held at the Center for Jewish History and featured the usual set of hors d’oeuvres  and Jewish cocktails (i.e. kosher wine), as well as remarks from JTA Editor-in-Chief Ami Eden, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, and two writers describing how they have used the archive to unlock riches from the past. Sarna demonstrated how the archive can be used to access in-the-moment reporting on all of 20th century Jewish history, from the most significant events (such as its coverage of Israel’s declaration of independence) to the more banal (for example, the untold story of Jews and dolphins). In particular, Sarna emphasized JTA’s coverage of the unfolding of the Holocaust – often the only source to cover this atrocity as it was happening (at least in English – the Yiddish papers were much more attuned to it).

The connections between BJPA and JTA are strong. In addition to sharing a key funder (thank you as always, Charles H. Revson Foundation!), BJPA staff also served on the JTA Archive Experts Committee. But most importantly, BJPA and JTA share key founding principles. Both archives see themselves not simply as a static storehouse of historical material; both are also public educational tools that seek to use the past to create a more substantial and informed discourse on the Jewish community’s present and future. As BJPA director Prof. Steven Cohen said in a video produced for the event (see below), “for anyone who wants to see how Jewish history has meaning and implications for us today, we need the JTA historical archive.”

Like the BJPA, the JTA archive provides free and open access, and is very attentive to the user experience, offering multiple ways to engage with the site’s rich material – including different ways to browse, search, and save the archive’s material for future reference.

BJPA is pleased to welcome the JTA into the community of Jewish digital archives. 

Publications on Difference at Passover

Four Cups

Across Barriers

 

Publications on the mixed, modern Seder

 

The First Cup: Mixed Marriages

Passover, a Lesson in Inclusiveness

Adam Bronfman, Kerry M. Olitzky, 2009

 

The Second Cup: Jews and Christians

Is Every Seder Kosher for Passover?

A. James Rudin, 1999

 

The Third Cup: Jews and Palestinians

Sharing Pesach with a Palestinian

Lawrence Baron, 1988

 

The Fourth Cup: Jews and Jews

Keeping Peace at the Seder Table

Sally Shafton, 1984

 

Explore many more publications about Passover at bjpa.org

Jews in Congress, Then and Now

San Fransisco's J Weekly highlights Kurt F. Stone's recently released The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, calling the book a "meticulously researched, well-organized and highly readable compendium of historical facts and biographical information about the Jewish experience in Congress, past and present."

The book is available via Amazon.com, but for those interested in dipping into some Jewish Congressional history right away, have a look at Biographical Sketches of Jews in the Fifty-Seventh Congress, from the American Jewish Year Book of 1903.

(Hat tip to Jewish Ideas Daily for the link to the J Weekly's piece.)

On Digital Word Clouds, Ancient Manuscripts, and the Privilege of Living Today

I just stumbled across Sixty-Six Clouds: Visualizing Word Frequency in the Bible, a site that has generated a word cloud for each of the 66 books of the Christian Bible (39 "Old Testament", 27 New Testament).

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept, a word cloud is a computer-generated image of many words of different sizes, which gives you, at a glance, a picture of which words are used most frequently in any given text: a newspaper article, or a political speech, or an author's oeuvre, or -- in this case -- the Word of God. The more frequently a word is used in the text, the larger it appears in the word cloud, allowing the viewer an instant and visceral appreciation of word frequency, and, one hopes, some new insight as to the content of the text. Sixty-Six Clouds (henceforth SSC) generated their Biblical word clouds using Wordle.net, a free online service that lets users enter any text to create instant word clouds. For their source text, SSC used the New International Version of the Bible.

I found the Old Testament section of SSC simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. On the fascinating side, it was neat to see prominent themes at play in various books of Tanach represented with such visual simplicity. For example, you can see at a glance that one or the other (or both) of the names "God" and "Lord" (standing for Elo--him and the Tetragrammaton, respectively) tends to dominate each book of Tanach, with the arresting and much-noted exception of Esther. You can also see the prominence of "father" in Genesis, of "Moses" in Exodus, of "offering" in Leviticus and Numbers, and of "land" in Deuteronomy. Less obvious themes also appear: I was surprised to see that "gold" seemed to be just as large in the Exodus word cloud as was the word "Israelites". And the enormous stature of the word "king" in the book of Esther, dwarfing all other words, lends special resonance to the famous midrashic view that instances of the word "king" in the megilla are hidden references to the King of kings, despite the lack of any plain-text reference to God.

On the frustrating end, seeing these images only makes one wish for a similar treatment of the Masoretic Hebrew text itself. For the record, Wordle.net does allow users to create word clouds using Hebrew text, but in quite a useless way. The same verb in different conjugations is counted as two different words. For example, I gave Wordle, in Hebrew, the famous verse Lamentations 5:21, "make us return/repent to you, God, and we will be returned/repented; renew our days as of old," and, sure enough, it created a word cloud that counts "make us return/repent" and "and we will be returned/repented" as different words. Prefixes and suffixes wreak similar havoc, rendering Wordle useless for Hebrew text. (Does  anyone know of some equivalent Israeli site for Hebrew text?)

Despite this limitation, I found SSC to be quite an interesting exercise. It got me thinking: what would Ezra, or the Rambam, or the Vilna Gaon, have thought of this kind of analytical technology and possibility? Would any of them object to the instant gratification factor, or to the surface illusion of instant understanding? Or would they have sanctioned the use of such tools as a supplement to (without being a replacement for) traditional study?

My own view is that, whatever drawbacks there may be to the digital age (and these drawbacks may be real), I feel profoundly blessed to live in it. The BJPA's resources on the topic of technology reveal that the Jewish community is expanding its capacities in many incredible new directions. Read, for example, this exciting glimpse into how the Center for Online Jewish Studies is making high-quality photographs of original ancient manuscripts available to everyone, everywhere. (And check out the Great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, in beautiful photographic reproduction of the original.)

We at the BJPA aim to be part of this exciting and important trend ourselves, making available Jewish policy documents from across a great and growing range of time, space and topic.

Imagine what the great Jewish scholars of the distant past could have done with these tools and resources. If we who live today fail to become the great Jewish scholars of the present and future, it will not be for lack of tech support. This incredible good fortune should give us pause, and inspire us to take advantage of these opportunities.