Blog

Why this Yiddish text?

January 17, 2019 | Filed in:

I’m continuing to feel good about my idea of the pit with Jacob and prison bars; I am moving forward with that as my design concept. Here’s my little sketch.

So, now I’m delving into the text. There are traditional Hebrew texts I could use; for example, there’s a line that’s part of the daily morning blessing that translates to “Blessed is the One who frees the captive/imprisoned”. But even though I’ve never done a papercut with Yiddish before, somehow Yiddish feels very appropriate to this papercut. This Yiddish text is written in a language that many people spoke, it was, at the time, a living language of real people, many of whom were not rich and were not exalted and were looked down upon and oppressed by the people around them who were not like them (in Europe, in New York). The origins of this particular text intrigue me. It’s from a book of personal prayers printed in New York in 1916, just a few years after the unjust police action against a mostly Jewish community, in that same city, that Rothbaum talks about in his Ferguson/Fargesn d’var torah.

Today, so many American Jews are white and because we live in such a segregated society, our lives rarely overlap in any meaningful way with people who are targeted by the racist justice system, people most likely to be wrongfully imprisoned. This text, both because of the language it’s written in and the time it comes from, connects our very recent history with the current realities of many Americans today.