[Editor’s Note] On September 26, 1930, a mob of several thousand Jews gathered outside the Mograbi Theatre in Tel-Aviv to protest the first feature-length Yiddish-language talkie movie, Mayn Yidishe Mame (“My Jewish Mother”), starring Seymour Rexite. The “Army for the Defense of the Hebrew Language,” broke into the theatre to throw ink at the screen and smoke bombs at unsuspecting movie-goers. Many attendees refused to leave the theatre until the credits rolled.
Leonard Backus, a Passerby on the Night of the Anti-Yiddish Riot
at the Mograbi Theatre: Tel Aviv, 1930
Talkies, schmalkies: I’ve no interest,
though Tel Aviv’s gone mad for them.
Give me a good book, a live concert,
real theatre, or a radio recital or opera.
The silver screen’s filled with actors
even less realistic than silent picture players,
who at least had to show some emotion,
not rely on words—and nothing to rival
the Torah, I.L Peretz, or Sholem Aleichem.
An intellectual? Hardly! A cobbler.
In the evening cool, I decided to go for a walk,
but when I reached Mograbi Square,
a mob’s buzzing was growing: from a bee
swarm into a howling wolf pack.
“Join us!” one fellow beckoned,
“to preserve the purity of Hebrew!”
I kept walking, having learned Yiddish
at Mama’s breast, though I’m fluent
in Hebrew, German, and English:
you have to talk to your customers,
though I find shoes far more eloquent,
about the suffering they’ve endured
at their masters’ hands, and feet.
I confess sympathy for the Hebraists,
trying to create a new country,
or resurrect an old one, with the holy
tongue of Moses and King David,
though who knows if those stories are true.
But when the crowd started to mass
toward the Mograbi, I decided it was time
to continue my stroll in a quieter precinct.
Robert Cooperman is the author of 17 poetry collections, most recently City Hat Frame Factory (Aldrich Press) and Draft Board Blues (FutureCycle). Cooperman’s work has appeared previously in Free State Review, as well as The Sewanee Review, North American Review, and Mississippi Review.