A moving story that captures much of the fabric of Jewish life in the early 20th century in Minnesota, a sensitive rendering of the accounts of the Holocaust survivors, a compelling narrative of the most recent wave of Jewish immigrants from what was the U.S.S.R. compelling and insightful...a touching, and important contribution...
Annette Atkins, renowned historian, author of Creating Minnesota: A History From the Inside Out
The paintings allow the viewer to feel the heartbeat of the subject and their testimonies open the doorways to create an emotional connection to historical moments.
Meryll Levine Page, co-author of Jewish Luck
A lovely and lavishly illustrated book. . .The book refers to its interview subjects, and the larger community of Jewish immigrants, as “a living archive,” and seeks to understand their legacy. We Spoke Jewish explores an older generation of Jewish immigrants who wrestle with the modern Jewish community . . .In the end, the books settles on Yiddishkeit as a concept that could unify the older and younger generations. . . [that] can create a bond between the Old World and the new.
Max Sparber, The American Jewish World
ABOUT THE BOOK
We Spoke Jewish: A Legacy in Stories explores the stories of the three waves of Jewish immigrants of the 20th century. What does it mean to speak Jewish? The phrase “speaking Jewish” is often used to describe the Yiddish language and in the community of Eastern European Jews of the 1920s, virtually everyone spoke Jewish. Many of the subsequent immigrants also spoke Jewish in different ways. Survivors spoke the Jewish of remembrance, carrying with them the memory of once thriving Jewish communities and the people who populated them. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union could not openly practice Judaism.
Despite these restrictions, they spoke the Jewish of culture, carrying their heritage forward through song, food, and of course, story. Collectively they represent our language, memory, and culture, all vehicles that convey important aspects of identity.
Susan Weinberg is an artist as well as a writer, stepping into each story, capturing the emotional responses of her subjects and the visual elements that accompany their stories. Out of this process, she creates artwork on their stories, exploring their words through image and creating a multi-layered storytelling experience.
Susan's curiosity about identity led her to initiate the Jewish Identity and Legacy Project. What better way to understand identity than to explore the paths of those who formed this community?
When she first reached out to Sholom, a residential facility for elders, Susan was exploring exhibiting her artwork. As they spoke, an idea took root. "Wouldn't it be interesting if I could interview elders at Sholom and do artwork on their stories?" she asked.
Meanwhile many of her interviewees passed away. Most had been in their 90s when interviewed. Susan went to a lot of funerals and shivas. When it came time to set aside this work and move on to something new, it felt like yet another death. Susan realized this project was not quite ready to conclude.
While the interviews were held in theBerman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, Susan recognized that these were important stories to preserve, not just for historians and archivists, but for the larger community. That called for a book that created context for these rich stories, framing them in a way that reached out to the community from which they came.
Grants from the State of Minnesota legacy monies, administered through the Minnesota Historical Society, funded the interviews through Sholom, enabling Susan to interview elders as well as some of their children and grandchildren.
She was interested in how identity and legacy were formed and transmitted, but soon realized immigration was a central element.
With the interviews completed, she began to create artwork on the stories. The artwork gave the stories wings. When she exhibited the artwork, she shared the stories as well as video from the interviews.
Susan drew on her early partnership with the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, an organization that shared her belief in the importance of preserving and telling the stories of this community.
Support for publishing through the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest came once again from the State of Minnesota, drawing on the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. The creation of this book is in large part possible because each of these partners saw the potential in this project and lent their support.