Weekly Reader Decade of Discovery Year 3 — Women in Yiddish

January 9, 2022

Yiddish can sometimes seem like an old boys’ club. During the heyday of secular Yiddish culture—from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries—men’s participation in the public sphere was encouraged and celebrated; women’s, less so. But this is a distortion of women’s true importance to Yiddish. As writers, artists, and activists, women created and shaped the Yiddish culture we know today. Their contributions—some famous, others forgotten, still others never fully appreciated—touch every corner and every moment of Yiddish creativity. The Decade of Discovery—launched in 2020 to mark the Yiddish Book Center’s 40th anniversary—is an initiative to foster a deeper understanding of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture. Each year, the Center is selecting an annual theme around which to curate and share content and collaborate with other organizations. This year the theme is women in Yiddish. Here’s just an appetizer of what’s to come.

Ezra Glinter

The Writers

There were plenty of Yiddish women writers, but we’re not always as familiar with their work as we should be. That’s why the Center put out a special translation issue of Pakn Treger a few years ago specially devoted to them. On The Shmooze podcast, editors Eitan Kensky and Sadie Gold Shapiro talked about the writers, the genres, and how this collection helps address the relative scarcity of translations of Yiddish women writers.

Listen to Eitan and Sadie talk about women writers

The Writers in Translation

On this episode of The Shmooze podcast, translator and literary scholar Anita Norich and Yiddish Book Center director of translation initiatives Mindl Cohen talk about their recently published articles about women’s Yiddish writing in English translation. Over the course of the conversation, they talk about where and how the works of these Yiddish women writers are finally coming to the forefront of the Yiddish literary world.

Listen to Anita and Mindl talk about writers in translation

The Correspondence

Loneliness was a problem for many Yiddish writers in the late twentieth century, as the ranks of Yiddish readers and fellow writers diminished. Story writer Blume Lempel overcame it in her own way: her astonishingly wide network of correspondents included many of the greatest Yiddish authors of her time. Thanks to family archives that story can now be told in all its richness and complexity.

Read about Blume Lempel’s letters

The Provinces

In Miriam Karpilove’s 1926 novel A Provincial Newspaper, the author’s parody of Yiddish publishing offers a unique window into that sphere through the eyes of a popular writer. Like Karpilove herself, the main character is underappreciated because she is a woman. The whirlwind pacing of the narrative lends it a flavor of slapstick comedy, but underneath it is the story of a woman longing to be recognized, but who finds herself in less than ideal circumstances for conducting her work.

Read an excerpt from A Provincial Newspaper