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Berkeley undergrad maps California Yiddish

culture with help from Magnes Collection
by maya mirsky , j. correspondent
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Spreading a page of Yiddish type in front of her, 21-year-old Erin

Faigins eyes light up.
The flimsy, stapled book with hand-drawn lettering is a 1960s-era edition of
Kheshbn, a literary journal published for six decades by the Los Angeles Yiddish
Culture Club. Its one of the items Faigin is researching as an undergraduate
through a program at the U.C. Berkeley-affiliated Magnes Collection of Jewish
Art and Life one of the worlds pre-eminent Jewish museum collections.

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I really like these journals, she said.

Faigin, who gave a talk on her work on Dec. 2, has

been at the Magnes for three years as part of Cals
undergraduate research apprentice program. She has
been focused on Yiddish works (books, pamphlets, journals and the like)
published in California over the past century; the bulk date from the 1940s and
50s, and most were published in Los Angeles, where Faigin is from.

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Berkeley undergrad maps California Yiddish culture with help from Magnes Collection | j. the ...

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Erin Faigin


Working so closely with the Magnes has allowed her the kind of access to
primary sources that undergraduates dont always have. According to Magnes
curator Francesco Spagnolo, giving undergraduates access to concrete items in
a research museum setting gives them a new perspective.

The past, or culture in general, is a very unruly thing, he said.

Faigins interest in Yiddish began with one of those serendipitous moments. Interested in the American
West, she had enrolled in a Spanish-language course but it didnt agree with her. Spanish class was
very stressful and awful, she said with a laugh.
Looking for another language to take her into local history, she hit on Yiddish and never looked back,
even becoming involved in summer immersion and travel programs, including one sponsored by
Yiddishkayt, that took her to Poland and Lithuania to learn about the language in historical context.
Its really been the best thing Ive ever done, she said.

The undergraduate research project brings six to

10 students into the Magnes each semester.
They start by learning how to handle the objects
in the collection and soon segue into research.

We create research projects that are also

targeted to the students skills, Spagnolo said.
As a Yiddish learner and history major, it made
sense for Faigin to begin by cataloguing the
California Yiddish books and pamphlets at the
Magnes. She then moved on to research the
lesser-known literary and cultural publications of
West Los Angeles, where the focus was less on
politics and more on keeping Yiddish culture

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I feel they did it pretty successfully, because

Kheshbn was published [from 1946] until 2008,
she said.
One result of her work has been the creation of a
digital map that overlays about half the collection
D.A.R. lern-bikhl far birgershaft, published in 1938 by the
onto a map of California, with clickable links to
Daughters of the American Revolution in San Francisco
the digital versions of the documents. With so
many of the books and journals published by
individuals or committees, Faigin was able to find home addresses to pinpoint exactly where the people
creating the works lived.
The map, made using the website Findery, also can be viewed as a composite with all Findery maps
created by other users. Faigin likes that part of it.

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By putting these books on this map we see that these books exist in a wider context, she said.
Having tools like Findery and Archive.org is part of how the Magnes Collection is encouraging the young
scholars it works with, or as Spagnolo calls them, digital natives.
We all learn from that, he said.
Besides research, the Magnes has galleries open to the public and hosts regular programs and lectures.
In her talk, Faigin spoke to a midday audience of about 25 and answered questions. The talk was part
of the Magnes series of pop-up lectures, combining a presentation with objects from the collection in
this case a typewriter and a copy of a Yiddish childrens book published in Los Angeles in 1947.
It may have been Faigins first time presenting her work, but thats part of the Magnes mission, too
giving budding scholars a chance to shine.

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