Conference on Jewish lit set for U of T

Rachel Seelig

TORONTO — A one-day symposium featuring scholars of Jewish literature will offer a new approach to the field – one that has been redefined by today’s multicultural and multilingual world.

On Oct. 18, the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto will present Jewish Literature Beyond Borders, a conference that will bring together scholars from across North America to present panel discussions on the relationship between African and Yiddish Diasporas, German-Hebrew bilingualism, and a Canadian “Yiddishland” in Montreal.

“The [conference] topic comes out of my own research interests,” said Rachel Seelig, the Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellow at U of T’s Centre for Jewish Studies who organized the symposium.

“I’m especially interested in Jewish authors who don’t really adhere to conventional orders of literary history, be they linguistic, national or cultural.”

Seelig, who teaches courses at U of T on German-Jewish and Yiddish literature and culture, said that many of the authors she has studied work with multiple languages and lived in a number of countries.

“I got to thinking that since this is such a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary kind of idea, that it would be a great idea to build a conference that would bring together people from different academic departments, different fields and different universities,” she said.

“There are a number of interesting younger scholars out there working on this topic, and I was really interested in bringing them together and having the forum to showcase their work and talk to each other.”

The biggest draw to the event is Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor emeritus Dan Miron, who will be lecturing in Toronto for the first time.

Miron, a professor at Columbia University, will present the keynote lecture titled “Centres and Peripheries in Current Jewish Literary Studies.”

“The main reason I was really excited about inviting Dan Miron… is that he basically offers a new way of looking at Jewish literature as not being one literature, but being multiple literatures that coincide with other national literatures,” Seelig said.

“We’re really excited to have him. He’s never been here before and, in my mind at least, he’s the leading scholar today working on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and multilingual Jewish literary studies.”

Seelig added that she’s thrilled about each of the nine scholars who agreed to take part in the three panel discussions.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a short lecture by Rebecca Margolis, a Canadian scholar from the University of Ottawa who is considered an expert on Yiddish Montreal.

“She wrote a book that came out last year… about the status of this language that after the war was the most widely spoken minority language in Quebec and was stuck in the middle between English and French,” Seelig said.

“It’s a really interesting area of study that few people have even looked at.”

Seelig will also be presenting a lecture during the second panel discussion of the day about German-Jewish poet Ludwig Strauss.

“He is a really interesting figure because he became a bilingual German-Hebrew poet when he immigrated to Palestine in the ’30s. My talk looks at his transition from Germany to Palestine and from German to Hebrew, and looks at the ideological transformation that underlies the linguistic and physical transition.”

Seelig said she hopes the symposium, which is designed to be accessible to the non-academic community, will be well attended.

“My idea in organizing this event was to make it have as broad an appeal as possible. I know that people from the broader community are sometimes intimidated by academic events. But all of the people who are presenting have a really accessible, approachable way of teaching.”

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