Monday, December 17, 2007

Do You feel Jewish Today?


A few years ago I attended a conference on Yiddish translation which took place at Concordia, Montreal, organized by the Translations Studies programme which is under the department of French studies at this university. The star of the conference was no doubt Pierre Anctil, the author of several historical studies on the Montreal Jewish community and multi-ethnic context, and translation from Yiddish into French of works written by Jewish immigrants in the first half of the 20th century.

The conference took place in a medium sized hall, with some 80-100 people in the audience. Pierre Anctil spoke during the first session, explaining his interest in Yiddish and why he decided to learn this language and translate Yiddish writings into French. When it was time for questions and answers, I noticed that most of the audience were Jews whose main interest in the event itself stemmed from their excitement over the unlikely combination of a French-Quebecois writer and Yiddish literature. Their questions were all about how he viewed what he translated, why he was interested and what he could tell them about themselves.

I asked the last question which I had expected to be the first question to be asked, since this was a conference about translation. How were the translations received by the audience they were intended for?

For the translator, involvement with the source language is axiomatic. But translation is a craft of communicatiin, it has an aim, bring this piece of culture to the attention of another, recipient culture. In that conference, it was mostly about Jews discussing their own culture with the translation being just the elegant excuse to do so in a multicultural academic context. What I mean to say, quite plainly is, that the audience in that conference should have included greater numbers of French-Quebecois readers who actually read some of Anctil's translations. And that the Jewish attendees should have been at least as interested in the reception of their culture's products in translation by the target readership. I mean, wasn't this the point of the whole exercise? Reciprocal interest, inter-fertilization, rapproachement, etc etc?


Why was I reminded of this event today? Because I found this on "Engage" this morning:

Guardian Podcast: Matt Wells / Sounds Jewish "Welcome to the first edition of Sounds Jewish. And we start with a bang - but not of the Christmas cracker variety. I'm joined in the studio by author Howard Jacobson and critic and broadcaster Hephzibar Anderson and we'll review all things topical and Jewish - and there are a few that immediately come to mind."

From "Guardian Unlimited" comes a new podcast, described in this way:

"Sounds Jewish for December
The first edition of a new podcast for the Jewish community".

Listen to Jacobson and Andersen. They explain, from their own respective perspectives, what it means to be Jewish in Britain these days. And the podcast is designated for... "The Jewish community"!

Now I have to ask this question: do members of the Jewish community need to learn about what it feels like to be British Jews these days? It is my cautiously-formed guess that all Jews are familiar to some degree and in some way with the frustrations, angst and rewards involved in this identity. They are not the ones who need the knowledge and insight offered by Jacobson and Anderson. It's the general public that should be targeted with these podcasts, that should be made aware of how members of a centuries- old minority with a history that goes back to 10th century Britain, feel nowadays.

Why then this podcast is designated as serving the needs of the Jewish community, is quite a puzzle.



And about "feeling Jewish": An acquaintance of mine who is also quite a famous writer in Translation and Cultural Studies, loves spending months and months in India. I once asked her why she likes it there so much. Her answer surprised me: Because I forget I'm Jewish there. My own response took even me by surprise: You forget that you are Jewish in Israel..


Let me just remind everyone that the first British academic to boycott Israeli intellectuals in practice, was Mona Baker, who presides over "The translator" , a quarterly journal on translation, issued by St. Jerome press.

What does it all mean?

Here’s Sartre:

“The cause of the Jews would be half won if only their friends brought to their defense a little of the passion and the perseverance their enemies use to bring them down. ”


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