New Yiddish cinema
Professor Rebecca Margolis
About the project
My current research project investigates a 21st-century corpus of film and television created in a Jewish diaspora language that few of its creators, actors and viewers speak.
The rapid expansion of Yiddish-language cinema in the 1930s in its European and American centres came to an abrupt end after the decimation of the Nazi Holocaust, which marked the rupture of a thousand years of Yiddish civilisation in Europe. After some seventy years of silence, some two dozen movies and television series with spoken Yiddish-language dialogue have appeared over the last twenty years in the United States, Canada, Israel, and Europe.
These films fall into four main areas:
- depictions of traditionalist Ultra-Orthodox Jews (Hasidim), who comprise the main group of daily speakers of the language today (the 2017 feature film, Menashe and the 2020 Netflix series, Unorthodox);
- representations of the Holocaust and its aftermath (eg the 2014 feature film, Di Shpilke/The Pin and the 2015 Oscar winning Son of Saul);
- movies where Yiddish is spoken to invoke the supernatural or haunted (eg. the prologue to the 2009 Hollywood black-comedy drama, A Serious Man and the 2015 Polish horror movie, Demon); and
- comedy, the smallest category due to the complications of transmitting humour via translation (eg. the webseries YidLife Crisis, 2014-ongoing).
Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the project examines this corpus of transnational cinema as well as the processes of film translation in the production and reception of cinema in a lesser-used language, which is simultaneously undergoing revitalization in the areas of music, performance, teaching, and translation.
“New Yiddish Film and the Transvernacular”, In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies, December 2016.
“Language as Home in New Yiddish Cinema”, History & Film, Milwaukee, November 2017.
Related talks & events
“Yiddish on Screen” lecture series, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation in partnership with Kadimah, June/July 2020.