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.
Yvette (Chave) Marrin's Oral History
Yvette (Chave) Marrin, daughter of Yiddish writers Malka Lee and Aaron Rappoport, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on April 11th, 2018, in the Bronx, New York City. Her mother always knew that she was going to be a poet and started writing as a very young child. Malka's Hasidic father did not approve and threw her notebooks into the stove; luckily her mother was able to save most of the pages. Malka also insisted that her daughter be the one to use the ticket to America sent by an aunt and meant for Malka's father. Arriving in America at seventeen, Malka quickly met a circle of Yiddish writers in the Second Avenue cafes, including her future husband. She would wake up with a poem in her head and rush to get it down on paper. Yvette describes her mother's charm and outgoing personality and her father's more internal, stern quality. She sometimes did the housekeeping because her mother could not be bothered with such things; her mind was always on her writing. Yvette thinks that the fact that she took the one ticket to America, leaving her family behind to die in the Holocaust, led to terrible "survivor guilt" in her mother. Many of her poems were about the Holocaust and about the loss of her family. Sometimes Yvette feels that she knows her mother better through her poems than from interacting with the actual woman. She also reminisces about her mother's politics; although left leaning, she took a strong anti-Communist stand after Stalin's murder of the Yiddish poets. Yvette also describes her father, who never really learned English and worked repairing sewing machines. His family came to America in 1916 and became farmers in upstate New York. Aaron struggled to align his Jewish ethical beliefs with carrying a gun during World War I. He was a very interesting writer as well and his daughter believes that living with a much more famous writer was difficult for him. To make ends meet, Yvette's parents created a "kokh-aleyn" ("cook-on-your-own") bungalow colony in upstate New York. She remembers some of the famous writers who came for the summer and the independence allowed to the children. During the year they lived in the Sholem Aleichem Houses in the Bronx; the cooperative lifestyle was significant because other families looked out for Yvette, who often felt lonely in her own family unit. Yvette talks about her path to a more religious life than her parents' and about the meaning she found reading one of her mother's poems and saying kaddish for her in a synagogue in Israel. She reads excerpts from several of Malka's poems and reflects that they can be seen as responses to the various events going on around her and back home in Europe. Although not observant, Malka and Aaron modelled themselves as good Jews and she believes that many of her ways of relating to the world and her own work with the Cristina Foundation were influenced by lessons learned from her two very different parents.
This interview was conducted in English.
Yvette (Chave) Marrin was born in Bronx, NY in 1937.
Video highlights from this oral history
Linen and No Harsh Words: Folklore and the Birth of Yiddish Writer Aaron B. Rappaport
1 min 30 sec
Slide 2 of 15
How Malka Lee Took a Stand Against Stalin After the Night of the Murdered Poets
3 min 1 sec
Slide 4 of 15
A Russian Jew Depicts American Industry: A Reason to Read Aaron Rappaport
5 min 48 sec
Slide 10 of 15