Preserving Heritage through Sholem Aleichem
This spring, Tel Aviv University leaders and friends gathered to unveil a new addition to the TAU campus landscape: a sculpture of Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem. Situated on the lawn between the Isaac and Rosa Gilman Building of Humanities and the Cymbalista Synagogue and Jewish Heritage Center, the bronze work will serve as a symbol of the importance of preserving and reviving Yiddish culture among other cultural legacies, the project founders hope.
A Mirror of the Past
“This project took more than three years to complete and it finally found its place at TAU at a symbolic time to mark Israel’s 75th,” said Dr. Mark Zilberquit, a US-based author, publisher, and founder of the Yiddish Heritage Preservation Foundation, whose goal is to preserve Yiddish language and culture.
He said the monument is to serve as “an epigraph” for the expansion of Sholom Aleichem and Yiddish studies at TAU. “The legacy of Sholom Aleichem encompasses not only his literary achievements but also the history and struggles of the Jewish people during a turbulent period marked by revolutions, wars, and the clash of ideologies. His writings capture the essence of Jewish life and provide insight into the experiences of the Jewish people. It is therefore essential to systematize Sholom Aleichem studies and take them to a new, comprehensive academic level.”
“TAU is one of the most important centers in the world for the contemporary Yiddish revival. Choosing it as the home for our project is no coincidence,” Zilberquit concluded.
A Gateway to the Future
The next stage of the project is envisioned to include the study of Sholom Aleichem’s archive and literary heritage, the realization of a large-scale program in Yiddish cultural studies, the establishment of a Sholem Aleichem creative writing prize for outstanding students in the Humanities and Arts, as well as various scholarships and grants.
“We’re launching a new program in Yiddish culture with a yearly theme,” said Dr. Yair Lipshitz from the Department of Theater Arts at the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts. He explained that the program will be open to outstanding graduate students across all departments, who will conduct research on a given annual theme. “But the output will not necessarily be a paper—we’re interested in embodied, artistic, practice-based research through music, theater, and film, which would encourage adapting Yiddish culture to contemporary themes and narratives,” Lipshitz said.
In Israel, he said, Yiddish is often at best seen as nostalgic, traditional, and warm - and at worst mocked as old, diasporic, and grotesque. “Yet Yiddish culture included many voices which were young, modernist, radical, sensual, and avant-garde. We wish to retrieve these voices in contemporary Tel Aviv, and allow our students to experience and explore the surprising relevance of Yiddish culture's legacy to their lives today,” Lipshitz concluded.
Currently, TAU is one of the world's main modern research centers of Yiddish literature, home to the Jona Goldrich Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, and the Naomi Kadar International Summer Yiddish program. The university has regular language courses and organizes annual Yiddish festivals, which include conferences, lectures, and concerts, drawing thousands of participants.
The sculpture unveiled at TAU was created by Yuri Chernov, a Russian sculptor of Jewish origin. It is a replica of his Sholem Aleichem statue located in the historical Jewish quarter of Moscow. Its installment at TAU and the projects associated with it were organized by Dr. Zilberquit with the support of a large group of international public and business figures and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.