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Milgroym, Rimon and Interwar Jewish Bilingualism

From: Journal of Jewish Identities
Issue 7, Number 1, January 2014
pp. 23-48 | 10.1353/jji.2014.0009

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This article is dedicated to Chana Kronfeld, who introduced me to Hebrew and Yiddish literatures and their intersections.

In 1922, a Jewish reader could have walked into several shops in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, Max N. Maisel’s bookstore on Grand Street in New York, Hasefer on D’Arblay Street in London, or Farlag Yiddish on Robert Street in Toronto and come across the striking covers of two related new magazines, the Yiddish Milgroym and the Hebrew Rimon, both of which mean “pomegranate.” In contrast to the small dense typography of Hebrew journals such as Ha-shiloach, with businesslike front covers that channeled its scholarly intentions as much as its modest budget, or the hand-drawn covers of the Yiddish literary journal Shtrom, which reflected the aesthetics and ideology of Soviet Moscow, the covers of Milgroym and Rimon, designed by German Jewish artist Ernst Boehm, were filled with bold imagery and color: the temple in Jerusalem, fantastic creatures, birds, foliage, all inspired by traditional Jewish imagery drawn from medieval illuminated manuscripts and Ukrainian and Polish synagogue paintings. At the same time, the animal figures and colors also brought to mind the work of Soviet Jewish avant-garde artists such Natan Altman and El Lissitzky. These magazines, with their distinct but related images, anticipated the artistic, literary, and scholarly contents of these bilingual belletristic magazines.

Two of many Jewish periodicals produced in Berlin during the early 1920s, Milgroym and Rimon were exceptional in their design and content. First issued in 1922, the magazines were part of a remarkable surge in Hebrew and Yiddish culture, specifically Hebrew and Yiddish publishing, in Berlin. In the years following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic’s staggering hyperinflation gave Jewish publishing houses, supported by readers’ foreign currency, access to top-notch German printing facilities at remarkably low cost.1 The Rimon Publishing Company, founded by historian Mark Wischnitzer and art historian Rachel Wischnitzer Bernstein, his wife, took the opportunity provided by the weak German economy to create visually stunning periodicals in both Hebrew and Yiddish, featuring high quality art reproductions and illustrations along with essays on art, theater, music, and literature.2 Backed by

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Milgroym cover, 1922.

Russian-Jewish businessman Ilya Paenson, six issues of each magazine were published at irregular intervals between 1922 and 1924. Though produced in Berlin, American readers’ dollars were critical for the publishing company. By 1924, with attempts to stabilize the German mark succeeding, Wischnitzer Bernstein wrote that “the dollars we received for copies sold in the U.S. [were] losing their astronomical value, the magazines had to be discontinued.”3

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Rimon cover, 1922.

Yet within this brief period, the Wischnitzers and a series of literary editors created magazines filled with contributions from many of the Yiddish and Hebrew writers and artists who passed through Berlin during the early 1920s, as well as those from noted German Jewish scholars.4 The magazines averaged forty to fifty well-designed pages per issue, featuring carefully chosen typefaces and lavish illustrations. Their oversized pages shared the same wide-ranging articles on art, theater, and music, which were edited by Rachel Wischnitzer Bernstein, and translated into Hebrew and Yiddish as needed. But each magazine maintained its own distinct literary section comprising literary texts and critical essays.5 In their survey of Yiddish publishing in the Weimar Republic, Leo and Renate Fuks comment on Milgroym: “The journal can be considered the highlight of Yiddish publication in Germany, combining the talent of the writers and artists with the technical know-how and skill of German printing.”6

Milgroym and Rimon, however, were unique precisely because they were highlights not just of Yiddish publication, but also of Hebrew publication in Germany. Both Hebrew and Yiddish culture flourished in Germany for a brief period in the early 1920s, spurred by radical transformations of East European Jewish life during and immediately after World War I and Weimar Germany’s vibrant intellectual climate.7 But there is no consensus on the extent to which Yiddish and Hebrew writers interacted in this multilingual metropolis: Joseph Sherman, surveying Hebrew and Yiddish literary developments, emphasized that “the worlds of...

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