The Yiddish Book Center's

Wexler Oral History Project

A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.

Sheila Horvitz's Oral History

Sheila Horvitz, history teacher and lawyer, was interviewed by Mark Gerstein on November 10, 2011 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Sheila tells the romantic story of how her parents met in Penn Station in New York City. Sheila was a founding member of the Yiddish Book Center; her mother, born in Russia, loved Yiddish and Yiddishkayt. She and Sheila's grandmother escaped during the Russian Civil War in 1921 and came to the United States after spending two years in Romania. Sheila grew up in a kosher Orthodox home but attended Workmen's Circle shule (secular Yiddish school). She recalls attending the "third seder" with its Yiddish Haggadah. Sheila was in the choir and sang the "Partizaner lid (Partisan song)" at the event. Her very religious grandmother was a strong supporter of socialist ideals. Sheila recalls the McCarthy era and political witch hunts even in the PTAs of local public schools. Sheila laughs about helping her relatives with English lessons and some of their mistakes, similar to the ones in "The Education of Hyman Kaplan." She is proud that her mother became the Executive Director of a large synagogue and organized one of the first yidish-vinkls (Yiddish reading groups) as well as grand entertainment events featuring Molly Picon and Theodore Bikel. Sheila's parents tried to pass on to their children the love of education and the importance of family and community. The advent of air conditioning and the upward mobility that enabled Jews to move to larger, less intimate spaces were two factors that changed the Jewish world as it was. Sheila began her career as a history teacher in the Boston area and encountered anti-Semitism for the first time. She recalls resistance from parents and even some teachers to her teaching Langston Hughes and tells an upsetting story about the principal's remarks on the day that Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. While working toward her PhD in history during the Vietnam War years, Sheila decided to go to law school. She eventually became a matrimonial lawyer in Connecticut and is active in Jewish causes in her community. She is also involved in local and statewide politics and participates in a politically focused talk show on TV. She started two foundations – one fighting domestic violence in memory of a murdered client and a second relating to Alzheimer's Disease in memory of her mother. Sheila talks about singing Yiddish songs with her mother during her final days and sings "Ikh hob dikh tsu fil lib (I love you much too much)" and "Sheyn vi di levone (Lovely as the moonlight)," two of her mother's favorite songs. Although Sheila tried to pass to her children her love of Yiddishkayt, she recognizes that it cannot mean the same to them as it does to her. She ends the interview talking about taping her mother telling her life story on the grounds of the Yiddish Book Center and how wonderful it is to have this recorded history today.

This interview was conducted in English and Yiddish.

Sheila Horvitz was born in New York, New York in 1944.

Artifacts related to this oral history