Samuel Davidson; Led Yiddish Culture Revival

Posted: December 05, 1989

Samuel Davidson, 86, a longtime teacher of Yiddish and a leader in the movement to perpetuate Yiddish literature, language and culture, died yesterday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He lived in the city's Wynnefield Heights section.

Mr. Davidson was born in Florest, Romania, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 16. He came to the United States for a conference, where he met Chaika Newman. They married in Canada and settled in New York.

He studied at the Yiddish Teachers Seminary in New York, then moved to Philadelphia in 1934 to become a teacher in the secular Yiddish movement.

Mr. Davidson worked to help establish the Holocaust memorial sculpture on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

"In Yiddish circles, he was highly respected," said his daughter, Felice ''Fagie" Perlmutter, a professor of social work at Temple University. ''He lectured on history, Yiddish language and literature."

He also had a deep interest in the 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, according to his daughter.

"He represents a whole movement that was so alive in the '20s and '30s and '40s," Perlmutter said.

She said that her father had been "exhilarated" by the revival of Yiddish in recent years.

Mr. Davidson rejected the notion that Yiddish was a mere dialect. He maintained that it was a language "because it had a literature and a culture attached to it," his daughter said.

He taught his three grandchildren - Shira, Saul and Tova Perlmutter - Yiddish language and culture.

Mr. Davidson lived in Miami Beach from 1970 to 1976. While he was there, he helped develop Yiddish pride among Jewish residents and nurtured "a flowering of Yiddish culture there," Perlmutter said.

He helped organize the Jewish collection at the Miami Beach public library and organized a Jewish cultural organization that met monthly, eventually drawing an average attendance of 300 to 400 people.

He returned to Philadelphia after his wife died.

Although he was not employed by a college or university, he was a true scholar and intellectual, said his son-in-law, Daniel Perlmutter, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

He was also active on behalf of Israel and a variety of social causes. And he prepared boys for secular bar mitzvah celebrations and officiated at secular funerals.

Mr. Davidson was a founder of the Philadelphia Friends of Israel and was active in the Yiddishe Kultur Farband.

In addition to his daughter and grandchildren, he is survived by his second wife, Reva Platt Davidson; two sisters, and a brother.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at Goldsteins' Funeral Home, 6410 N. Broad St. Burial will follow at Mount Jacob Cemetery, Darby.

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