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.
Susan Bloch Leach's Oral History
Susan Bloch Leach, granddaughter of Yiddish writer Solomon Simon, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on May 25, 2017 in Huntington, Long Island, NY. Simon, her zeyde [grandfather] died when Susan was six years old, so she knows him mostly from his books and from others' descriptions of him. He had a strong personality and was a dentist; one of her few memories is that he was missing fingers from holding X-ray films in patients' mouths. She vaguely remembers him leading large family seders, and that he smelled like cigars and Juicy Fruit gum. Susan recalls being read his children's stories about Chelm when she was a child; she in turn read those stories to her children. She and her cousins each get a small royalty check every year, as his books are still sold today. She believes that his works are still read because they remind people of their roots. Susan can understand some Yiddish which she learned from her bobe [grandmother] and from attending a Sholem Aleichem shule and Camp Boiberik, but she can't read the language. She was close to her grandmother; she was allowed to fly down to Miami Beach on her own to visit. She was a wonderful baker and taught Susan how to bake blintzes and honey cake. She could be irritable, judgmental, and caustic, but there was a sweetness underneath. Susan describes Camp Boiberik. She started attending at age nine. Her zeyde would give lectures to the adults and her bobe continued staying on the guest-side all summer before he died. The camp was Yiddishist and socialist and she remembers the "Felker Yontef" [Holiday of Nations] ceremony at summer's end and Shabbos services. Susan is involved in yoga now and is often at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, which is on the site where Boiberik used to be. She assumes that she is one of the few who experienced both incarnations, and comments that the yogis wear "whites", just like the campers did for Shabbos. Susan has become more in touch with her spiritual side through her yoga practice and has learned about the similarities among religions, including Judaism. She muses about the connection between her zeyde, herself, and her children and feels that we live on through our DNA and, in the case of writers, through our ideas on the page. She attributes some of her creativity and writing skills to him. Susan, who is a photographer, has catalogued the family photos. She thanks the interviewer for preserving people's memories through the Wexler Oral History Project.
This interview was conducted in English.