Itche Goldberg

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Itche Goldberg (22 March 1904 - 27 December 2006)

Goldberg, a Yiddish advocate who lived to be 102, wrote and edited and taught Yiddish despite critics who thought that keeping the language alive was a lost cause.

Born in Apt, Poland, he was called from his early childhood Itche, a diminutive form of Isaac. In 1920 in Toronto he taught Yiddish at the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring School. When he moved to New York City, he broke with the socialist Workmen's Circle and embraced communism, seeing the Soviet Union "as the salvation for Jewish national and social problems," wrote Ari L. Goldman in The New York Times obituary.

In the 1950s Goldberg repudiated Communist ideology upon learning that Jewish writers and others were being executed by the Stalinist regime. Once threatened with being deported, he was allowed to remain and eventually became an American citizen and a Yiddish language and literature teacher at Queens College in New York City.

Goldberg's life and works have been described in Wikipedia and The New York Times, the latter writing of him,

  • Mr. Goldberg was a veteran of the heated ideological wars of the 20th century over Judaism, Yiddish, socialism and communism. He quit a job at a Yiddish summer camp in Canada in the 1920s after a fight with the anarchist Emma Goldman over the Sacco and Vanzetti case. And he was no fan of the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978. He published an essay criticizing Singer as failing to reflect the humanist and social ideals that Mr. Goldberg felt were the central themes of Yiddish culture.
  • Mr. Goldberg was decidedly secular. But as he told an interviewer not long ago, “Just because I’m secular doesn’t mean I’m antireligious.” What was important about Judaism, he said, was its progressive values and not its religious rituals. He pushed for more Jewish content in the Yiddish schools of his day, including more study of the Bible and of Jewish holidays, to the dismay of some of his anti-religious colleagues.