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.

Dan Opatoshu's Oral History

Dan Opatoshu, grandson of Yiddish novelist and short story writer Joseph (Yosef) Opatoshu, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on March 12, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Dan, the only grandchild, was very close to his grandfather, who died when he was seven. Opatoshu and his wife Adela, once they came to the United States from Poland, lived in the Bronx and Manhattan and had a little "dacha" in Croton Falls, NY. Every corner of their apartment was filled with books, art, and Judaica. Opatoshu, a member of "Di Yunge," and Adela enjoyed a rich social life and hosted what Dan described as a secular "Shabes tish (Shabbos table)" salon with countless other Yiddish writers, actors and artists. Opatoshu's writing was more erotic, modern and "edgier" than the writing of most of his Yiddish contemporaries. For forty years he wrote a weekly story for "Der tog." He loved to tell his grandson scary stories, which were often set in the Polish woods and featured Dan as protagonist. Dan describes life in their summer bungalow; the Opatoshus and their friends,were sexually adventurous and for many years traded mates with the couple Aaron and Fanya Glanz Leyeles for the summer. Dan describes his grandmother as a seductive, difficult woman; she enjoyed visits from many gentleman callers after she lost her husband and committed suicide when the last one of these died. Opatoshu died of a massive stroke as a relatively young man. Dan was devastated by the loss of his paternal grandfather only six months after that of his maternal grandfather. Many of the famous author's papers, photos and books were given to YIVO, and Dan has inherited the rest. He had no real connection to Yiddish until after twenty years as a screenwriter he pursued a graduate degree and needed to understand source materials written in Yiddish; studying in the summer programs in YIVO and Vilna, he fell in love with the language again. He recently gave a presentation on his grandfather's life and work at a conference in Regensburg. Unfortunately Opatoshu's work is no longer as beloved as that of many of his friends, in part because he did not focus on choosing translators and reviewing their work. Dan feels that this is unfortunate because his grandfather was an excellent historian whose work illuminates the times and places about which he wrote.

This interview was conducted in English.

Dan Opatoshu was born in 1947.

Artifacts related to this oral history