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Perl fun der Yiddisher Poezie

How the book Perl fun der Yiddisher Poezie, first published in Yiddish in 1973 and published in English in 2010, was born

In the summer of 1970, shortly after I became the editor of the Forverts, Joseph Mlotek, then the Educational Director of the Workmen’s Circle, proposed to me that we introduce a poetry contest in the paper. He knew how eager I was to bring in new and interesting features, so he told me about the plan he had conceived, a plan that would be doubly useful: it would arouse the interest of the readers in the treasure of Yiddish poetry and it would draw the readers themselves into participating in it.
I had good reason to have serious doubts about the prospects for success. At that time I was reprinting works from the older Yiddish literature in the Forverts, and the response of the readers was very weak. If the classical prose creations hadn’t evoked any great interest, what could I expect from poetry? Nevertheless I decided to try. What did I have to lose? If there wasn’t a good response, we would discontinue it after a few weeks and no one would miss it.
In the Notes From The Editor in the middle of a week, I announced the new section, which appeared for the first time in the Forverts of October 25, 1970, under the rubric Perl Fun Der Yidisher Poezie—Ver Hot Zey Geshafn? fun A. Forsher (Pearls of Yiddish Poetry—Who Created Them? by A. Researcher.) In the present book, it is revealed for the first time that A. Researcher was Joseph Mlotek and his wife, Chana Mlotek, who is a well known researcher of Yiddish folksongs. That rubric was the start of this book. The morning after the first poetry contest appeared, I encountered a Yiddish writer near the Forverts building, and he saluted me for the new initiative. He would want it to be successful, he said, but he wanted to warn me that I shouldn’t expect any response from the readers. When I got to the editorial office, there were 15 letters on my desk that were addressed to A. Researcher. That was the first indication that the new feature was a “hit.”
How much of a hit it was we first began to comprehend in the succeeding days, when packs of letters kept arriving, both from New York and from the rest of the country and Canada. Later we also began getting letters from overseas.
This foreword, by the then editor of the Forverts, introduced the original book in Yiddish.

And the interest continues to the present time when these lines are being written (December 1972), more than two years after the first rubric of Pearls appeared in the Forverts. The success has been truly phenomenal. After a few months, it became apparent that the section had achieved much more than the goals that those in charge of the poetry contest and the Forverts Editor had set. In addition to rediscovering the great treasure of Yiddish poetry, the section had uncovered a true folk treasure that would have been lost forever, namely the poems that readers remembered. We had tapped the sources of a mass of Yiddish folksongs and their various versions, had established who the authors were of a number of songs that had previously been thought to be anonymous folksongs, and had discovered the composers of a number of songs whose music had previously been nearly unknown.

For such work as the two researchers Joseph and Chana Mlotek have done, people all over the world get doctorates and other kinds of recognition. We do not have such measures at our disposal. Therefore we have taken the initiative of seeing to it that these great findings should not go lost again (a newspaper, after all, lives no longer than 24 hours.)

On May 27, 1971, I published in the Forverts a personal appeal to the readers to help us perpetuate the newly found treasure between hard covers, by subscribingin advance to the planned book of the Pearls. Many readers responded immediately with contributions of more than the price of the book. My heartfelt thanks to all of them. They can also be proud to have been partners in a great Yiddish cultural undertaking. The book you are now holding in your hand contains a selection from the materialthat has appeared in the Forverts during the first 18 months of the section’s publication.
Simon Weber