Fellow Travelers 4: Journals By and For Children

The documents that happened to end up in Cornell’s IWO/JPFO collection are neither complete nor necessarily representative. It’s possible that precisely the ‘best’ stuff was removed from the JPFO’s office before the government raided them. What remains is nonetheless a gold mine. School magazines are a good example.

The collection has a large number and variety of school magazines and journals- a category I will use as a catchall to include yearbooks, annual concert programs, newsletters and magazines (making no particular theoretical distinctions among these) produced by individual schools, as well as journals or magazines written by adults for children.

The school-produced material heavily emphasizes the transitional period of the “Umpartayishe” schools. That is, the nineteen-twenties, when the communist faction of the Arbeter Ring founded their own schools, but before the I.W.O’s break with the Arbeter Ring was complete and the Ordn Shuln as such were established in 1930. Most of these are stamped with the name Isaac Hurwitz or Kalman Marmor.

Magazines produced for children are even more scattershot. In fact, the title with the most issues in this archive is the Kinder Zhurnal, which was produced by the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute. This is the magazine of those who the JPFO would have considered reactionaries. That is, not only non-communist, but officially apolitical. Though many of its members were very sympathetic to socialism, the Sholem Aleichem schools emphasized Jewish history and culture, and Jewish literature generally, without trying to unite behind a political program. Meanwhile, there is not a single issue of Yungvarg, the official children’s magazine of the Ordn Shuln.

School Produced Material

March 1929 Cover

Because different schools called their magazine, journal, almanac, program, bulletin, etc. different things, there is unfortunately no single search term that will return all of this material and only this material.

Here are the results of one sample search, using the word “Umpartayish”.

Here is another search, using the terms [“children’s essays” OR “children’s writing”].

A more serious research project might start with the word ‘children’, or ‘shuln’, and wade through the couple of hundred items that include those words somewhere in their title or description. Or with the link labeled ‘education’, at the bottom of the landing page (see my previous posts). But even just for the curious Yiddish reader, it’s easy enough to find a chunk of these, and fascinating to browse through them.

Here are some titles of the school-produced magazines: Unzer Zhurnal (our magazine, from Boro Park); Shul Bulletin (Trenton); Kinder Arbet; Shul un Arbet; Unzer Veg (from Harlem); Royt May; Kalman Marmor Prolet-Shul No 1 School Journal (Newark, NJ); Di Yung Kemfer; Arbeter Kinder; Funkn (sparks); Ershte Trit (first steps). Zikhere Trit (sure steps); Royte Blimelekh (red flowers); Serp un Hamer (hammer & sickle); Morgnshtern (morning star, from Trenton, again); Unzer Shul; Almanac; Bazaar Almanac etc. Prolet Shul; Naye Shtraln; Kveytelekh (little blossoms)…

I’m intrigued by the variability in how doctrinaire the different schools are at different times. Children’s essays are clearly heavily influenced by the curriculum and the individual teachers’ expectations. For example, children’s compositions from one Ordn Shul in the early 1930s are titled: Lenin; May Day; Impending War; The Poverty of Black Americans; The Soviet Union; Kentucky Miners; the Scottsboro Boys, and so on, clearly reflecting the left-wing party line, while in an Arbeter Ring Shul in Washington, D.C. in 1929, the children are writing about: Moses and his Mother; Washington’s Monument; The Lincoln Memorial; Sam and Benny (about a rich and a poor boy); My Little Brother; My Teacher in Public School; David and Goliath; and, A Stormy Night at Camp ‘Nitgedayget’.

But there are also schools where the two tendencies mix. You might still find an essay about Lenin in an Arbeter Ring school magazine or about My Puppy in an Umpartayish school magazine.

The more slickly-produced school almanacs or annual concert programs are clearly put out not just by a single teacher or by the children themselves, but by the administration. They often start with a formal greeting and essay by a principal or by someone from the Ordn equivalent of the board of education. These, too, include children’s writing, sometimes culling the best from more than one school. They also have greetings from other affiliated organizations, and they have ads. These often reveal something interesting about the environment in which the schools do their work. What stores and services were in the neighborhoods of the schools? Which ads are only in Yiddish, and which have English? The concert programs themselves help show what the aims of the school are, and how the work is distributed. Did the head teacher also write the school play? Is outside talent brought in?

almanac cover

Click to download a school almanac

Material Produced for the School Children

In addition to magazines produced by the schools, there is also material produced for the schoolchildren by others. Betzalel Fridman’s “My Book” is a school reader. Both the finished book, and unfinished galleys with penciled corrections are in this collection.

There are also the magazines Kinderland and Kinder Zhurnal. As I mentioned above, in this case, these are not reflective of the Ordn Schools, or of the secular Yiddish schools in general, but rather the opposite. If someone had a collection of the Kinder Tsaytung or of Yungvarg, it was gone before these materials were donated.

If you want a real overview of the subject of periodicals produced for the Yiddish secular schools, I enthusiastically recommend Naomi Prawer Kader’s book, “Raising Secular Jews”. It’s a mekhaye.

The Kinder Zhurnal achieved a high literary level under the editorship of the brilliant and prolific Shmuel Niger. Having once struggled through microfilms of the Kinder Zhurnal, I am delighted to have access to these clear scans. In addition to poems by Kadya Molodowsky and Yankev Glatshteyn, the June-July 1943 issue contains “The Old Gray Tailor”, an autobiographical story by none other than Solomon Simon. Characteristically, Simon does not confront the ongoing world war and the suffering of the Jews directly, but extols the virtues of the disappearing traditional way of life of his childhood shtetl. In his telling, the Jews try to do good by each other and value learning above everything else. Simon also gives voice to a mother’s frustration that while the men are off pursuing spiritual wholeness, the women bear the entire burden of keeping their families going.

[link]

In David Roskies’ introduction to the book “Raising Secular Jews”, mentioned above, he remembers how, unlike Jewish children’s magazines in English and in Hebrew, the secular Yiddish children’s magazines felt it important to inform children about the catastrophe overtaking Europe. You can see that in numerous places including, for example, the story by Daniel Charney, Vos is Geven in Kestele, in the January, 1943 issue.

[link]

It’s hard for me to describe how compelling I find all these materials related to the efforts of a subgroup of American Jews (differing with one another in many important ways, but all committed to Yiddish) to raise their children in the middle third of the twentieth century. I haven’t even touched on Itche Goldberg’s essays, talks, and handwritten notes. If I were a much younger person, starting out on graduate work in Jewish Studies, I would write my master’s thesis on the school material in this collection. But, alas, I must content myself with sporadic browsing. But even an idle hour or two of clicking, downloading and perusing is amply rewarding. I hope these blogposts are helping at least a few people to find a way in to that pleasure.

ads for books

January, 1943. Ads are extremely informative. Here, an issue of Kinder Zhurnal advertises Bar Kokhba, a book published by the Yidish-Natsiyonaler Arbeter Farband (the left-wing Zionists), right next to an ad placed by Farlag Matones, the Kinder Zhurnal’s own publisher. The divisions between right and left were not stark before the McCarthy era. People read, and even promoted, each other’s material.

One thought on “Fellow Travelers 4: Journals By and For Children

  1. david, just read your last 3, as always impressed by the depth of your work. the last on childrens journals really tugged me, and I tried to dig up memories of my own “shulie days. thanx r

    Like

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