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At the Sewing Machine (from Songs of the Ghetto)

Poem by Morris Rosenfeld (1862-1923) with translation from Yiddish by Berthold Feiwel (1875-1937). Illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874-1925). 

Berlin, Benjamin Harz Verlag ca. 1902.

Collection of Yeshiva University Museum (1996.023). Gift of Michael Cohn.

A haunting image from the famed and groundbreaking Zionist artist Ephraim Moses Lilien sits next to a poem about what it was like for workers in one of the most common occupations for Jews at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century: sewing. Work at the sewing machine, “Day after day,” and “Year after year” was indeed an occupation, but certainly not a healthy one, as poet Morris Rosenfeld and Lilien seem to argue. Rather, it was a way of working that ultimately robbed the body of its spirit, its vim and its vigor! This piece appeared in the intensely beautiful book, Lieder des Ghetto (Songs of the Ghetto), a poetic and graphic piece of from a Zionist point of view against what they saw as the spiritually and physically impoverished state of Jews in the Diaspora. 

This book is currently displayed in YU Museum’s exhibition here at the Center, Trail of the Magic Bullet: The Jewish Encounter with Modern Medicine, 1860 – 1960, on view through August 2012. Click here to find out more about the show.

Submitted by Zachary Levine, Yeshiva University Museum.

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