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Jan 07 2014

Yiddishland in Switzerland

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It’s been awhile! Hi!

A friend of mine wrote an article for the Forward on his trip around Swiss Yiddishland. Take a look at it here (if you read Yiddish).

Leyzer writes that Jews came to Switzerland in the 17th century and spoke Western Yiddish. The particularly settled in 2 towns, not far from Zurich, Endingen and Legnoy. In the mid-1800s, Jews started leaving for the big cities (Zurich and Geneva). There isn’t much left of those communities now. No Western Yiddish speakers–but there is a project to document it.

He visited the towns and remarked that they did not have the typical church at the center of town. They each had restored synagogues, however–which are still in use, on occasion. The Jewish houses are distinguished by two entry doors. In between the towns there is a Jewish cemetery. He doesn’t see much of a Jewish future in the towns, but points out the history of these places has been mostly friendly, reminding readers that Jews lived peacefully with their Christian neighbors and left for economic opportunities.

I heard of these towns while living in Switzerland–they were depicted in paintings at an art museum I visited and I have wondered about them since. I’m hoping to be back in Switzerland this May or June for a short visit. Maybe I will get Sore to take me to Yiddishland while I’m there. In the meantime, I am writing my dissertation. Wish me luck.

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Jan 23 2013

from Jerusalem

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After a November (mainly) in Pittsburgh, Seth and I took off in December for the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, we stopped in Switzerland on the way. It was Seth’s first time back, and he enjoyed the familiarity and seeing old friends. I had a whole day to spend with my co-advisers, which went well, and also a day to spend in the League of Nations Archives, which has relocated to a really classy, large reading room, ousting the periodicals department of the UNOG library. We even spent a day in Mary&co’s recently renovated chalet in Morgins, and did some snowshoeing up there. Shortly after we left, Adar gave birth to a wonderful little baby #2. Also, we fled Switzerland just in time to miss Christmas altogether, which is definitely a bonus.

Now I’m supposed to be at the end of my stay in Jerusalem. But I have the flu. So I’m trying to figure out exactly what to do with myself, and also I’m thinking, what better time to update the blog?

It’s pretty amazing how in Israel, I have more close friends than in Pittsburgh. I guess this isn’t shocking, since I don’t spend enough time in Pittsburgh to form relationships, but it is interesting how so many of my friends are always passing through Jerusalem. Hands down, this is the best feature of my trip here. Friends, why do you never happen to be passing through Pittsburgh (I speak to everyone but Alex E. and Hannah Sarah, here, and Tal gets a special shout-out since she came intentionally)? If you take a road trip westward from the Northeast, you’ve gotta go by… so take a road trip to Chicago and we’ll feed you really amazing perogies and show you nice flowers.

Archival research is not easy to conduct here. The archives are like a labyrinth, in one case, all in Hebrew (including their finding aids and unique software package which is not exactly user-friendly), in the other case, in a hodgepodge of cultural and linguistic styles (Yiddish and French were useful here!). Despite having 5 weeks here, I basically only started actually getting to the point of viewing files I needed in week 4. This was WITH an excellent research assistant who I’ve been paying out of my own living stipend. If I had actually known what would be here, that it would easily compete with the collections of the Center for Jewish History in NY, I would have swapped to spend a few weeks in NYC now and the upcoming summer in J-lem. But truly, there is amazing stuff held here, and it is not secret it is just…rather inaccessible. While here, I went to talk given by an American professor I really admire on the history of Jewish archives–and she explained how both competing ideologies about what the Jews are and where there cultural resources should be, combined with the trauma of the Holocaust, means that pretty much anyone working in Jewish history is bound to travel the world like a luftmentsh, in search of pieces of collections that have been scattered across the globe. Oh well.

Yesterday was election day, which for me, meant a day to sleep. People keep asking me about it, but I’m reading the same sources as you–Haaretz in English, NYTimes, and +972 Magazine. Fascinating results. I have no special insights from being on-site, other than having heard some racist rants and being assaulted by mini-rallies/pamphleteers all over the place for the last few weeks which I did not understand in the least.

Seth is back in Pittsburgh and tells me it is about 8 degrees Fahrenheit there. I hear from Boston that it is even colder. Given this information, I am trying to decide if my wish for central heating and insulated walls (which are entirely lacking in Israel) would top the coldness of the exterior. I am nearly always freezing in Jerusalem because 50 degrees inside is chilly, even if it is fine outside. The week of the famed winter storm (which involved several days of heavy rain and wind before finally dumping a few inches of very wet, slushy snow) was particularly bad, with the archives closed, transportation pretty much non-functional, and being stuck crowded around a couple space heaters in a freezing apartment with drafty windows rattling.

Oh, and how can I forget? While Seth’s parents were also in this slice of the Middle East, we took a short family trip to Petra and Wadi Ram by crossing into Jordan at Eilat. That was amazing. At some point I’ll put photos on flickr. Visiting Petra was a little like visiting a Roman city, except pink, and except largely carved rather than built. It really is a whole city, and not just the one facade that is always shown in photos. There was an equally stunning facade all the way near the top of a mountain which took about an hour of stair-climbing. Wadi Ram was also pretty amazing, looking somewhat like Sedona, Arizona, except less developed and without any desert shrubbery. Basically, like Mars.

Last but not least, I just got myself a Macbook Air, which I am still struggling to use properly. I needed a new computer, and I wanted to be able to get Devonthink, which is a program historians seem to rave about when it comes to research management. Workflow wise, I am planning to also manage references in either Sente or Bookends and write the dissertation in Scrivener. If any fellow historians reading this would like to discuss digital workflow, please let me know.

So that’s the report from the icebox under the sun and the inside of the archives. Next time…in Pittsburgh? DC? Ann Arbor? New York? You’ll just have to wait to find out.

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Oct 21 2012

For now in Cincinnati

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Well, hello from Cincinnati, where I am doing research at the remarkable American Jewish Archives as a fellow. It is on the campus of the Hebrew Union College, and I am staying in the spartan dorms with a peculiar set up for cooking…

Seth and I will be in Switzerland in mid December on our way to Jerusalem, and I will return on the way back in late January, so expect to see some Swiss posts, maybe even one by Seth, then.

I am compelled to write, for two reasons:

  1. This month-long adventure in Cincinnati, remarkably, feels a little like our adventure in Switzerland. It’s all about work, in both cases, but on the side, exploring a completely new place. This city has much to recommend it…for one, it is gorgeous. Who knew? Including the University of Cincinnati campus, which is across the streets. It certainly helps that it is sunnier than Pittsburgh, the trees are tinged crimson and yellow, the food has been very vegetarian friendly and good so far, EVERYONE has been so nice, and it is an innovative center of Reform Judaism. I have never felt particularly curious or happy about Pittsburgh; I think it has to do with my utter lack of relationship to it, the cloudy skies, its lack of good connections to the closest major cities besides individual car travel, and the fact that I know I have to live there for a long time. This is unfortunate, because Pittsburgh does have plenty of things going for it overall and we are so fortunate with our housing, and there is even a good local bagel place, but I don’t know, I just can’t get into Pittsburgh, at least not yet.
  2. There is one other fellow here with me, Rachel. For this, I am fortunate. She and I are both history PhD students working on American Jewish work in European Jewish communities, so we have a lot to talk about. (Typically, I am surrounded by people who haven’t a clue what I do or how I do it). It is nice to finally be able to compare notes! She has been traveling to archives for over a year, non-stop, including in Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, London, New York, and now here. I have had a chance to both reflect on the fact that I am supposed to be defending a dissertation less than two years from now, and that it will be a degree coming from a school in Switzerland. So, I am starting to panic, and also, I remain completely at a loss for what comes after PhD. What does an American academy, or otherwise institution/organization/museum/whatever, do with an American who got a doctorate from Switzerland? I’ll let you know in a couple years…

P.S. I have continued to update our flickr account with photos of summer, Pittsburgh, nephews, Ruben, etc., even if I do not often post here.

P.P.S. I am wondering if any of you dear readers would be interested in reading a blog about what it is like to be a history PhD student. I read some good history student blogs lately and feel inspired. Like this one. Alternatively, you can just go read that and already know what it is like to be a history PhD student.

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May 29 2012

Just One Week in CH

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How does Switzerland manage to be a place simultaneously serene/boring and where crazy things happen such that I have so much to blog about? I don’t understand it. More mini-stories:

  • I went on a hunt for a mushroom brush.  My friend Quinnie knows what I’m talking about! They are these cute little brushes that look like a mushroom to be used for scrubbing mushrooms clean.  They also come in potato, and I think carrot, form. I have regretted since we left that we gave away our mushroom brush instead of taking it back to the States. Switzerland apparently takes seasonality to a new level—when I finally found someone in Migros (amazing! friendly!) to ask about mushroom brushes, I was informed that she knew exactly what I was talking about, but that they were not in season. But…doesn’t mushroom season happen in spring and fall? Anyone?
  • Ran into one of of my favorite professors at the Nyon train station that I thought I wouldn’t have time to see!  This place is so small!
  • On Monday night, I had dinner at Natalie’s in Renens, our old haunt. We talked late, and I was deciding whether or not I should take the train to Nyon for the night in Alex’s empty apartment, or sleep at Natalie’s. Good thing I chose to sleep at Natalie’s, because at the exact same time I would have gone to the station, there was a big fire there! When I went in the morning, however, I didn’t even notice that a big section of the station was charred…
  • Hm. Everyone is still white in all advertisements. But, whoa, so few advertisements, mostly for cultural activities or political referendums. Refreshing. Speaking of political ads, there is a vote coming up on childcare in Geneva, so there are lots of posters of babies, or, in one case, of a couple in bed working on baby production (it says, “Make love…we’ll take care of the rest. YES to the initiative on babyhood, NO to the counter project.”).  Then there is another ad floating around for milk, with a mama cow on a bike with several bike trailers carrying baby cows…that’s the kind of product ads that exist in this country.
  • For the first time when I was visiting archives at the UN, I was apprehended by UN Security.  They said (in French), “excuse me, but why are you in this staircase?”  I answered, “Well, because if I took a different way to the library I’d have to go down a big hill and then climb all the way back up to the top of the building where the League of Nations archives are.” They said, “True,” looked at me hard, and then walked away.
  • Apparently, if you have a car in the countryside, you can buy insurance against these small, cute martens who chew the wires in the hood.  This has actually happened to someone I know TWICE in just a few years!

My conference went well.  I flew back through Dublin, which, as it turns out, has a full US Customs on site, meaning I did the whole agriculture and passport inspection thing in Dublin and landed in domestic arrivals upon reaching Boston Logan.  How convenient, given the wedding I was rushing toward.

Now, we’re in New York (mostly) for the summer!


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May 21 2012

A Return Visit

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So here I am once again, running around the stretch of Lac Leman between Geneva and Lausanne for the week, still suffering from jetlag.  I am here to present at a conference on the history of international organizations at my school on Friday.  As it was in February, it is strange to be back.  At least this time it is not frigidly, unbearably cold.

Events and observations so far, since Friday’s landing:

  • I got myself from a landed airplane through customs and my bag from the belt and onto a train in less than 30 minutes. I love Geneva Cointrin!
  • There are thermal baths in Geneva! Who knew? They were pretty nice!
  • Geneva continues to mess with my mind by changing the whole public transit system and train station around. Gah.
  • Fresh peas! Fresh fava beans!  Asparagus galore! The best tasting strawberries ever! Cheese! I miss these markets!!!
  • I found a coton de tulear wandering outside the thermal baths in Geneva, with a collar but no owner or tags.  She was just like Ruben, and came running over to be pet when I called to her. Then I freaked out and called the ASPCA, then animal control, and was continually re-directed because of the lack of things being open on a Saturday, until I was finally told automatically to “take the lost dog to the local police station.” That would require knowing where the police station was.  Instead, I picked up the Ruben doppelganger (albeit with a terrible haircut) and marched her around the nearby park until I found a bichon-frise owner who thought she recognized the dog and promised to care for her until Monday when things re-opened.
  • I stayed a night at a friend’s parents’ house in Lausanne.  Their kitchen comes equipped with a built-in steamer.  I was like, “What is that?!”  She said, “What, I always assumed all kitchens in America had them! You don’t recognize it?”  Um, nope. I think it is something along these lines.
  • A confiserie/chocolatier in Nyon was selling chocolates that looked like iPhones.  They were remarkably accurate, but brown instead of black and not as shiny.  They had a batch of them created to be children’s party favors, with each child getting an “iPhone” with his/her name on it.

Yep. I am not in Pittsburgh anymore.

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Jan 25 2012

CJL celebrates 10 years!

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Hi!  It’s been awhile.  We’re living in Pittsburgh, USA, now, but I’m still a student in Geneva.  I will be back in Switzerland in a few weeks to defend my dissertation proposal (the proposal, not the actual dissertation) which, if I pass, will mean I am officially all-but-dissertation.

I will also happen to be back for my Swiss choir’s first of many celebrations of its 10 years of existence.  Please consider supporting the choir by attending the banquet on Saturday, February 18th.  See for details about the banquet (“repas de soutien”) and upcoming anniversary concerts.

And, please watch this adorable, joyous little film they made for the occasion on YouTube, Hosanna, CJL a 10 Ans:

If you are wondering, I am not in a choir in Pittsburgh.  I leave it too often for research to commit to a choir’s rehearsals.  However, I am finding activities to do and still singing.  Seth is working really hard as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University. Here’s us in Pittsburgh:

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