January 2022: Handpicked

Each month, the Yiddish Book Center asks a member of our staff or a special friend to select favorite stories, books, interviews, or articles from our online collections. This month, we’re excited to share with you picks by Susan Bronson


Susan Bronson, the Yiddish Book Center's executive director, holds a PhD in Russian history and Jewish history from the University of Michigan and has worked in nonprofit culture and higher education for nearly thirty years.

After delving into her selections, scroll down to read a short interview with Susan about her choices.

Di Froyen: Women and Yiddish, a Tribute to the Past, Directions for the Future

The “Di Froyen Women in Yiddish Tribute to the Past Directions for the Future” conference proceedings were recently scanned and made available through the Center’s Spielberg Digital Library. The conference took place 26 years ago and was a seminal event recognizing the contributions of women to the study and ongoing creation in Yiddish. The proceedings are fascinating, in part because the challenge of placing women at the center of our understanding of Yiddish culture is ongoing. The Center plans to commemorate this conference and bring many of the original participants together for a weekend program in November 2023.

Celebrating Yiddish Women Writers

This curated selection of items from the Center’s collection highlighting women writers is incredibly rich, featuring articles, podcasts, oral histories, translations, and much more. One could spend hours exploring the materials in both English and Yiddish.

"I Feel a Connection to You" by Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb  

I love reading letters, and this correspondence between two wonderful women writers, Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb, illustrates how they found sustenance and solace in each other’s work. This is my favorite excerpt: “I still can’t understand why I learned about you so late—I can’t forgive myself. But better late than never. I feel a connection to you, not only because we belong to the same generation, but also because of our spiritual longings.” Much more can be found on both these women in the Center’s collections.

The Librarians

Rokhl Auerbach is best known for her memoirs of the Warsaw Ghetto. Shortly after the German occupation of Poland, she joined historian Emanuel Ringelblum’s secret Oyneg Shabes group, which was dedicated to documenting daily life in the ghetto. About the hunger for books in the ghetto, Auerbach wrote, “The ghetto child, robbed of the world—the river, the green trees, freedom of movement—could win all this back through the magic of the printed word.” If I ever need inspiration for my work at the Yiddish Book Center, I think of the heroic figures who risked their lives to rescue books in unimaginable circumstances.

The Last Maximalist  

As a Russian historian, I have a particular interest in this memoir of Klara Klebanova, a middle-class Jewish teenager who becomes a Maximalist revolutionary fighting for the rights of peasants and factory workers during the first Russian Revolution of 1905. Translated and brought to life by Center alum Caraid O’Brien in a 12-part radiocast, this memoir is a fascinating window into a fraught historical moment.

Women and Yiddish with Anita Norich

Going full circle, Anita Norich, the Tikva Frymer-Kensky collegiate professor emerita of English and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan and a participant in the Di Froyen conference, joined us recently in a virtual public program to talk about women in Yiddish. We explore how Yiddish women writers have come to be recognized in recent years. It is a tribute to Norich and so many of her peers that women in Yiddish are finally becoming a central part of the narrative in the field of Yiddish studies and that many younger scholars are taking up the mantle. We are the lucky benefactors of their work!


Susan Bronson talks to the Yiddish Book Center’s Director of Publishing and Public Programs, Lisa Newman, about her Handpicked choices:

Lisa Newman: “Di Froyen: Women in Yiddish” the conference commemorative is not what most people think they’ll find in our digital library—it’s in English, and it was produced 26 years ago, but it’s an incredibly important addition to the Digital Library, as it was a pivotal moment. It is so tied to this year’s Decade of Discovery: Women in Yiddish, an initiative that you launched. I wonder if you can share a bit about how it tells a larger story, as it were, one tied to the Decade of Discovery and why it is so important to have scanned it and added it to the library?

Susan Bronson: When I was asked by Jessica Kirzane, editor of In Geveb, if the Center would be interested in co-sponsoring an event to commemorate the Di froyen conference, I tracked down these proceedings (before we had them scanned) and read through them. It was fascinating in part because many of the women at that event are leading scholars in the field today and their work around women Yiddish writers has laid the foundation for the many younger scholars doing this work today. But it was also a bit dismaying that 26 years later we are still having a conversation about “discovering” women writers. It speaks to the challenges faced in disrupting all notions of a “canon,” and almost always a male canon, no matter the field. We scanned it and made it available as part of our Digital Library because the conference was so important and the women who organized the event and whose work was featured deserve to be recognized and read.

LN:  Were you surprised that these women writers were writing in Yiddish into the late 20th century?

SB: I can’t say I was surprised, but that is only because here at the Center I am immersed in this world and over the last decade have learned so much about the richness of Yiddish literature produced after World War II. But it certainly does upend conventional notions of what Yiddish literature is, who was writing in Yiddish, and when Yiddish literature was produced. It must have been bittersweet for many of these writers, and for these two women, to understand that their readership was disappearing. All the more reason to make their work available today!

LN: Klara Klebanova’s, The Maximalist, is such an amazing memoir and a story that is little known—at least it was for me until we included it in Pakn Treger and then worked on the radiocast with Caraid O’Brien. Were you surprised that this true account is that of a Jewish woman, or were you aware of the many Jewish women revolutionaries whose stories we hardly know?

SB: Again, as a Russian historian I was not surprised by this account and by the fact that it was written by a woman. There were many women revolutionaries of that era—and it was central to revolutionary ideology that women be equal to men. Many early Russian feminists and ordinary Russian working women actively participated in the revolution. I’d venture to guess that most Americans don’t know the stories of many Russian radicals, whether male or female.

LN: Last question, tied to your selection of the recording of Anita Norich’s recent virtual public program. Why “Women in Yiddish,” and what do you hope for this year’s programming—curation, discovery, and all else we have planned?

SB: Well, this goes back to my answer to the question about the Di froyen conference. In spite of the work highlighted by that conference more than 25 years ago, there is still a need to bring the work of women in Yiddish into the center of the field, alongside their male counterparts. Anita Norich asks a wonderful question in her recent virtual program that I chose as one of my “Handpicked” selections. She asked, Who decides what the canon is? I hope that in some small way, our focus on “Women in Yiddish” over the course of this year will highlight and celebrate the many women in Yiddish literature, theater, politics, and art, as they deserve to be celebrated.