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May 23 2015

The Bodleian and otherwise Oxford

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Well, I heard once again that there was a long and terrible winter, but I barely noticed. It was pretty cold in the attic of the Yiddish Hoyz. It is already shvues and Memorial Day Weekend! So, I wrote. I submitted. Now, I wait. My defense is June 30, Maison de la Paix, as planned. Seth will be finishing his PhD and defending his dissertation by the end of this summer, amazingly, too. There were will be no graduations, which doesn’t bother me except for at this time of year, when I see friends hooded and robed and pompously processing for their mere 2-year master’s degrees or 3 year JDs or whatnot. Grmph. I should stay off of facebook nowabouts.

By the end of summer, it looks like Swiss Watching is going to become Oxford Watching, now from a postdoc instead of a PhD perspective. We’ll be making another trans-Atlantic move, older and grumpier this time around, and we’ll get to live down the road from the Bodleian Library. Swoon. When did I turn into someone who loved libraries? Moving again will be another enormous challenge (don’t even say adventure; we are not going on a safari here), but this time I’m insisting on traveling with my kitchen pots and the dog is going to have to enter England via France. Today, a friend went to look at a flat for us in Oxford while he was there, and the owner in response to his questions about heating, insulation, dampness, etc., described the windows as “English windows,” which he took to mean not such great windows in terms of keeping in the heat, perhaps single-paned. My friends, do any of you know what English windows are? Googling it turns up information about Microsoft Windows, no thank you. Oh, I will miss New York, where the things that don’t make sense still make sense to me. I guess you blog readers will have the opportunity to decode Britain along with me.

In honor of our upcoming move, we tried to watch an episode of Inspector Morse, a British detective drama from the 90s set largely in Oxford. That episode, as all episodes are, was 2 hours long and we only made it halfway through before falling asleep! And I still don’t like murder mysteries as a form of entertainment. Ghastly.


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Nov 06 2014

A Helluva Town

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New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down. The people ride in a hole in the groun’.

I have been involved with various Leonard Bernstein musical activities in New York in celebration of the publication of Carol Oja’s book on Bernstein’s work during WWII. And so, I have had the above lyrics from On the Town (excellent revival now on Broadway!) circling through my head. They seem very relevant to life, especially since I actually live in the Bronx, and I spent a lot of time riding in a hole in the ground, approximately 2 hours per day. A helluva town.

Yiddish Hoyz has indeed been an interesting experience so far. After fighting an almost-winning battle against fleas, we have lost all energy to do anything else, for example, trimming the crazily overgrown weeds in the front yard. Argh. Hopefully it will be winter soon and the weeds will disappear under snow?! It is extremely nice to be in a place where I can speak Yiddish regularly and do Jewish things that I like without having to organize a single thing. All I gotta do is show up, and sometimes it even happens in my house. It’s great. Yesterday we went to a Yiddish dance workshop/party, to live klezmer music with a room full of people who actually knew the basics of Yiddish dance, and all I had to do was GO.

I joined a choir, Essential Voices USA, which is great. Same deal…I am not paid for it, but on the other hand, all I have to do is learn music and show up! I get to sing with amazing musicians, and it is awesome. No choosing repertoire, making cue sheets, etc. We did said Bernstein things and we are singing with the NY Pops during their holiday concerts in Carnegie Hall! Come if you’d like and if you can find tickets! Oh, and consider listening to the beautiful, totally absorbing, magical combination of contemporary choral and Jewish music on the choir’s new CD.

Once the High Holidays ended, I breathed a huge sigh of relief (although also instantly I began to miss my role as a cantorial soloist) and got back to the work of being a PhD student and a CJH Fellow. For those of you who would like to hear the fruits of a small part of that labor or learn about Jews during World War I, I have just the conference for you coming up this Sunday. =) I am writing, writing, writing. My dissertation defense has been schedule for 10am on June 30 at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva–it is public, so, mark your calendars! With a real deadline ahead of me I feel more or less like I have a major paper deadline about two days away, and this is a constant feeling. It is not great, but, so far, I am still able to write. I am also looking for an academic employment for next year, an experience I do not recommend.

What else? My sister got married, mazl tov, which means I now know the sheva brachot and am available for hire (anyone?). I no longer have to drive anywhere and can instead return to my old routines of shleping heavy bags everywhere. My dog has decided our armchair will have to do as a couch and he has been experimenting with the best positions for armchair snoozing utilizing different combinations of sweaters and blankets for support. Seth has busily been providing said sweaters to said dog, and also working on his PhD and hanging out at Columbia. It takes the same amount of time to drive to New Haven as to subway to Brooklyn, where everyone we know practically lives. I bought fresh ginger at the Union Square greenmarket. Yesterday I ate lunch outside on a bench in the unseasonably warm sun, and a passing shih-tzu pooped right in front of me on the park path…and even closer to my open mug of tea standing by my feet. Did I drink my tea? Yes, i did. New York, ladies and gentlemen, a helluva town!!!! Catch me if you can, during the rare moments when I am not dissertating up in the Bronx, in the hole in the ground. Or, you know, at Carnegie Hall, the CJH, Geneva, or Yiddish dance parties.

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Jul 05 2014

to New York for 2014-2015

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Announcement: I will be a graduate research fellow in New York this coming academic year, at the Center for Jewish History! You can find me in the Big Apple starting in August, but you’re going to have to come to the Bronx.

In other news, I just launched my new website, Seth took that home page photo, which features an SBB train in the foreground and hints of the Maison de la Paix, the new campus at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in the back.

We were recently on a three-week trip to a combination of Geneva, Norwegian Fjords, London, Leipzig, and Berlin. Returning to Switzerland feels like returning to Boston. A place I love, and hate, and which feels like an old home. It is familiar, but the changes are bewildering. Just to make sure we knew we were in Switzerland, we got to experience:

  • Bagels, my friends, are taking over Western Europe. But they are all wrong. In Geneva Cointrin (airport) is a “bagels and beer” stand, and EPFL now has a cafe advertising “soft” bagels. SOFT?!!! Blech. I think I prefer no bagels. Well, London has some real bagels, still.
  • A helicopter lowering a boat into Lac Leman. Rich people these days, can’t afford to live on the lake and have their own boathouse…
  • Geneva Cornavin, the newly remodeled train station. It is like a shiny, ugly mall with train tracks in it. So, not much improvement there. The SBB seems to have transitioned to almost totally accessible train cars, though. Nice. There is also now a new station between Lausanne and Renens. And Geneva ticket machines (TPG) still require you to have so much change in your pocket that I missed my abonnement generale desperately.
  • Strawberry picking, the best, reddest, juiciest!!! And then we returned to Pittsburgh, where fresh, local strawberries were small, sour, or rotten.
  • Getting lost in the Maison de la Paix. You know it is going to happen when you get told you have a meeting in room 501, in petal 1, on the 5th floor, which is actually the 3rd floor. There is much good to be said about this new building, like a nice library, a cafeteria which exists, a general information desk, fizzy water that comes out of all drinking taps, and walls you can write on. Also, I really like how the toilets are in the stairwells. 😉 I hear some people have complaints, though.
  • We walked into France from Mies to Grilly. We got told at a restaurant in Grilly that at 1:20 pm, the kitchen was closed for lunch. We found another place, in a horse showring, willing to feed us at such a late hour. We then found two old men hanging out by the Versoix river who were astounded, simply astounded, that we could have possibly walked in from Switzerland. Which was just on the other side of the river, which you might also call a creek…
  • We finally went to the Bains des Paquis for dinner. And we couldn’t eat fondue, because fondue is not allowed in the summer. No fondue, all trip!!! But we were expecting that, because we know Switzerland has a fondue ban in summer. We still ate plenty of cheese, because I knew just when and where to be at the Lausanne market.
  • I ran into a student from the history master’s program at the Graduate Institute in, of course, the train station. She recognized me, but not my name. =/ I needed my regular reminder that Switzerland is small. We had an awkward conversation in which I spoke French while having an internal mental battle to shut out the Yiddish that wanted to come out.
  • That referendum, the immigration one, is creating mayhem in the Swiss academic and research worlds. If I had hoped to go back some day, that chance seems slimmer than ever. =(

Did you want to hear about fjords, London, or Leipzig? Hope not. This is SwissWatching, after all. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear about New York. We will be living in something of a reality-show setup, in a Yiddish-speaking coop in the Bronx. That should provide some fodder. On the other hand, I am going to be finishing my dissertation, so maybe not.

Happy July 4! It is not raining in Pittsburgh!



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Feb 09 2014

Swiss vote against immigration

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And….Switzerland has just narrowly voted for xenophobia. What might it mean for Swiss higher education and research, where there are lots of non-Swiss? What does it mean for non-EU potential immigrants? What will the EU when quotas are re-instituted, and how should it react? What does it mean that Suisse Romande is more welcoming to immigration and the European idea than the rest of the country? What about the urban/rural divide? So many questions.

Swiss immigration in the BBC: “This goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole. In this context, the Federal Council’s position on the result will also be taken into account.”

Swiss curb immigration in Swiss news in English: “Voters in Switzerland have narrowly approved a rightwing proposal to curb immigration. It imposes limits on the number of foreigners allowed in and may signal an end to the country’s free movement accord with the European Union.”

I’m watching this closely…and glad I’m not there for this vote.

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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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