Until fairly recently, Israeli literature was understood as essentially monolingual, created exclusively in Hebrew. In the last few years, scholars have turned their attention to the many languages in which literature was, and still is, written in Israel. On February 16, the University of Michigan’s Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies Wieseneck Symposium will discuss Israeli literature written in Yiddish, Arabic, German, Russian, and English, as well as the interplay between these languages and Hebrew. Leading scholars from around the world will be in Ann Arbor to explore issues such as translation and self-translation, the politics of language in literature, and the historical shifts that enabled or restricted inter-linguistic contacts. Panels will be taking place all day, from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm, in the Rackham Graduate School and are open to the public.

The symposium is part of the annual theme of Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies: “Israeli Histories, Societies, and Cultures: Comparative Approaches.”  Throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, the Institute has been sponsoring events and panels on different aspects of Israel. The symposium is made possible by a gift from Gayle and Larry Wieseneck. This is the fourth annual Frankel Center sponsored Wieseneck program to explore Israel in various contexts since 2013.

The symposium will include eight participants: Frankel Institute Head Fellow and University of Michigan Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Judaic Studies Shachar Pinsker, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Judaic Studies Maya Barzilai, U-M graduate student Yael Kenan, Frankel Institute fellows Naomi Brenner and Rachel Seelig, Associate Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature at the University of Oxford Adriana Jacobs, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University Lital Levy, and Alex Moshkin, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Moshkin, who will speak on Russian-language culture in Israel explained, “I demonstrate how different contemporary Russian-speaking writers and artists in Israel invoke Soviet-era cultural models (intelligentsia, dissent, cosmopolitanism) in order to make sense of their new social reality. Inadvertently, they created a unique Israeli-Russian culture that is predicated on the interplay and translation between Russian and Israeli cultural forms, traditions and languages.”

Adriana Jacobs will explore the poetry of American-born Harold Schimmel and other English-speaking poets and translators living in Israel in the 1960s and 70s. She will discuss how translating his work from English to Hebrew affected the content of his work.

Levy remarked, “I'll be giving a talk about the current state of multilingualism in Israeli literature drawing on my own research in the area of Hebrew and Arabic, my sense of the field, and recent work I have done with my co-author Allison Schachter on Jewish literature and world literature.” Levy’s presentation will end the lecture portion of the symposium and lead in to a round table discussion.

Rachel Seelig and Maya Barzilai will talk about the interplay between German and Hebrew in the work of contemporary Israeli writers. Shachar Pinsker and Naomi Seidman will focus on the place of Yiddish in Israeli literature and culture, and Yael Kenan will examine the dialogue of Mizrahi Jewish poet with the Arabic poetry of the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish.

Shachar Pinsker, who organized the symposium, added that the event is as timely as it is unprecedented. It is timely because of the recent realization that “Israeli literature” includes what’s written in other languages, and also that Hebrew continues to be a diasporic language that is not limited to a territory or state. The symposium will be the first time that scholars who work on various languages in Israeli literature, will have a chance to present their work together, to share insights and to discuss challenges. He believes that this symposium will shape the scholarship on this topic for years to come.