Joseph (Yosl) Mlotek and his wife, Chana (Eleanor) Mlotek, have been names to conjure with in the world of Yiddish culture for more than half a century. Yosl was a Yiddish poet, a Yiddish teacher, an editor of the Yiddish Forverts, a Yiddish educational administrator (Director of the Educational Department of the Workmen’s Circle), and the nexus of a world-wide communication network of writers and other users of Yiddish. These multiple activities were recognized and celebrated by the award to him of the sobriquet: “the address for Yiddish in America.” Chana is a distinguished Yiddish musicologist and historian of Yiddish folklore, and is a leading archivist of Yiddish music today at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research; she and Yosl are the authors of four highly regarded volumes of compilations of Yiddish songs. In 1970, Yosl and Chana initiated an extremely popular column in the Forverts that was devoted to bringing the greats of Yiddish poetry and their poems to the attention of the readership, often rescuing some of them from relative obscurity, and often correctly demonstrating their rightful authorship of songs and poems that had been considered anonymous folksongs. As a result, they have been characterized as “the Sherlock Holmes of Yiddish poetry.” Yosl died in 2000, but Chana is still publishing the column at biweekly intervals. The current volume is a compilation of 37 of their most important columns, spanning a century of Yiddish poetry, from Mikhl Gordon to Abraham Sutzkever. It was published in Yiddish in Israel in 1974; this English translation by Barnett Zumoff (which also presents the Yiddish originals of the poems) is in honor of the 10th anniversary of Yosl’s death. Yosl and Chana’s son Mark, who edited this volume, is himself a distinguished scholar in the field of Yiddish culture.
Barnett Zumoff is probably the most prolific translator of Yiddish literature working today: he has published 18 volumes of translation of novels, short stories, biography, drama, essays, songbooks, and poetry, including the current volume. His poetry translations include five volumes by single poets: two by Abraham Sutzkever and one each by Jacob Glatstein, Peretz Miransky, and Reyzl Zichlinsky, as well as three anthologies: Songs to a Moonstruck Lady, Yiddish Literature in America, 1870-2000, and the current volume, Pearls of Yiddish Poetry. He has also been a leader of Yiddish community organizations, as President or Vice-President of the Workmen’s Circle, the Forward Association, the Congress for Jewish Culture, the Atran Foundation, the Folksbiene, and the International Association of Yiddish Clubs.
Yosl and Chana Mlotek shared their love of Yiddish poetry with generations of
readers. They freshened their appreciation of familiar songs and poems, introduced
them to new and unknown works, and invited children and grandchildren to claim
the treasures they hardly knew existed until the Mloteks showed them off. This new
English edition of their charming columns invites a brand new readership to delight
in the cultural gems that they unearthed.
Ruth R. Wisse, The Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor
of Comparative Literature at Harvard University