conference marking the centennial of the death of Sholem Yankev Abramovich (Mendele Mocher Sforim)
Date & Time: November 30th, 2017, at 14:30
Location: at the Academy, 43 Jabotinsky street, Jerusalem
On November 30, 2017, the Academy held a conference marking the centennial of the death of Sholem Yankev Abramovich, better known as Mendele Mocher Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), the father of modern Jewish fiction in Hebrew and in Yiddish. The conference was initiated and organized by Academy members Prof. Israel Bartal, Prof. Avner Holtzman and Prof. Chava Turniansky, with the assistance of Sima Daniel, the coordinator of the Humanities Division. The overflow crowd in the auditorium came to hear seven lectures on different aspects of Abramovich’s diverse work. The audience included a large group of students from the inter-university Yiddish program operated jointly by the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.
The conference opened and closed with two panoramic lectures. Prof. Israel Bartal presented Abramovich’s views on Jewish history and his dynamic responses to the dramatic changes in the situation of the Jewish people in the late nineteenth century. Prof. Dan Miron spoke about the complex relations between Mendele Mocher Sforim, the literary figure in Abramovich’s writings, and the author himself, a profound intellectual who expressed himself in a range of literary and philosophical channels. The other five lectures were devoted to various aspects of the writer’s world and heritage. Professor and author Haim Be’er discussed a scene from the novel Fathers and Sons that reflects the ideological tension between the “Jewish bookcase” and the new literature of the European Enlightenment. Prof. Yonatan Meir reviewed the history of the Mendele Project, which sought to make available a comprehensive academic edition of Abramovich’s writings, described its sad demise and talked about the feasibility of restarting the project in the future. Prof. Chava Turniansky spoke of Abramovich’s talents as a witty poet in Yiddish, as evident in his translations of Bible chapters, liturgical poetry and songs. Dr. Dror Burstein focused on the central role of animals in Abramovich’s writings, their portrayal in his book Natural History, and the humanistic ethos reflected in his extraordinary attitude toward non-human creatures. Prof. Avner Holtzman described Abramovich’s complex perspective on the “Storms in the Negev” pogroms in Russia (1881–1882), particularly his ambivalent attitude toward Jewish nationalism, the Zionist idea and the Hibbat Zion movement, whose leaders and spokesmen were among his close acquaintances in Odessa.
The President of the Academy, Prof. Nili Cohen, conducted the festive concluding session and addressed the conference participants. The chairman of the Humanities Division, Prof. Yosef Kaplan, announced the Academy’s plan to publish a collection of articles based on the lectures delivered at the conference.