19th Century Jewish Cultural Hero

I col­lect (Amer­i­can) Juda­ic lapel but­tons.
I have approx­i­mate­ly 3000 unique items. Each one rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent moment in the Amer­i­can Jew­ish expe­ri­ence.
Peri­od­i­cal­ly I share them here.

My uncle was named after Mendele Mocher Sforim (the “Grand­fa­ther of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture”). His old­er broth­er, my father was always called Nathan or Nate, though he was named Nechemia. I’ve not found any­one on the fam­i­ly tree for whom he was named, and com­ing from the anti-reli­gious fam­i­ly he did, I’m almost cer­tain that he was not named for the prophet. So while the anniver­sary of my father’s birth is not for a few weeks, his yahrtzeit coin­cides with some­one who was some­thing of a cul­ture hero of his, whose birth we com­mem­o­rate this day on the Hebrew cal­en­dar: the 29th of Iyyar.

Like my father, Isaac Leib Peretz (May 18, 1852 — 3 April, 1915) was a writer, on the side of “Labor” as opposed to “Cap­i­tal”, a man who felt close the “the folk”.

Dad died in 1986.

Peri­od­i­cal­ly I reflect about him and his life in these pages.

His three chil­dren have com­ment­ed to each oth­er how much he would have appre­ci­at­ed the per­son­al com­put­er and, espe­cial­ly, the World Wide Web. Were it not for the frus­tra­tions of a com­mand line inter­face and lim­it­ed hard dri­ve stor­age, he might have seen his own book pub­lished in his life­time. He would often say that “Knowl­edge is like a web or a net: the more you add to it the more you can catch.

He would be very con­cerned about the direc­tion our world is tak­ing… though rather pleased with the elec­tion of Barak Oba­ma. In gen­er­al I believe he would be quite hap­py (though, per­haps, some­what sur­prised) with the devel­op­ments of his prog­e­ny.

In hon­or of this, the 23rd anniver­sary of the yahrtzeit of Nathan Hurvitz, coin­cid­ing with the 157th anniver­sary of the birth of I. L. Peretz, this site is renewed and released.

Peretz is prob­a­bly best known for his enig­mat­ic sto­ry “Bontsche the Silent” and the peren­ni­al­ly told Yom Kip­pur sto­ry “If Not High­er”. You can hear these two and a few oth­ers of his sto­ries read in Yid­dish (and down­load pdf files of the text in Yid­dish) here. He wrote a great deal that has now been left to antholo­gies.

All the pho­tographs I’ve seen of Peretz sug­gest that he was a warm burly fel­low.


Not many of his writ­ings are avail­able in Eng­lish on the Web. For Rosh haShan­nah of 5755 (1994), I imag­ined a meet­ing of Peretz with Bruria at a cof­fee shop in Ramona, Cal­i­for­nia in which I shared one of his more polit­i­cal­ly ori­ent­ed poems.

Though he seems to be known today only in Yid­dishist cir­cles, you can read a cou­ple of inter­est­ing arti­cles about him on the Web: I.L. Peretz, Father of the Yid­dish Renais­sance by Paul Krein­gold and Faith & Doubt in the Shtetl; The con­tri­bu­tions of I.L. Peretz to Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture By Payson R. Stevens. I. L. Peret­z’s 100 birth­day was marked in 1952 with a vari­ety of com­mem­o­ra­tive activ­i­ties. It seems that the des­ig­na­tion of Peretz Square on the Low­er East Side of Man­hat­tan (though it occurred in Novem­ber) was part of these cel­e­bra­tions.

Where is Peretz Square?

When you get off the 6 sub­way at Lafayette and Bleek­er St. you can see a map (on the far right edge where E 1 ST meets FIRST, at the south­east cor­ner of that inter­sec­tion)…

…a cou­ple of blocks east of a pop­u­lar major food mar­ket,


…and one block fur­ther past Yon­ah Shim­mel’s


…if you blink, you’ll miss it:


The Street Sign at Inter­sec­tion of 1st St. and Peretz Square near Hous­ton & Orchard Streets.

Only two iden­ti­fy­ing signs appear on the “square”, one on each side of the nar­row strip:


Yes… that’s the park (seen from the east, a tiny wedge about a half block long and at most three meters wide):


There is no bench, but, I paused for an appro­pri­ate moment of read­ing.


A num­ber of lapel but­tons were issued at that time in cel­e­bra­tion. This is one of them (I’m wear­ing it in the pho­to above).

Date: 1952
Size: 2.54
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text י. ל. פרץ
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