Weekly Reader: A Deeper Dive into Eastern European Authors

Yiddishists have a peculiar relationship with the geography of Eastern Europe. We are familiar with many of its cities, towns, and geographical features from history and literature. They populate the novels and stories we know and love, and they feature prominently in both Eastern European Jewish history writ large, as well as in the particular histories of our families. But when it comes to the contemporary reality of those places we can sometimes be unaware of their deep connections to Yiddish literature and culture. Still, when we encounter them in real life, there is a thrill of recognition and curiosity—the feeling of a near-mythical place come to life, no matter how changed.

Since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the whole world has become more familiar with the country’s geography—not just big cities like Kyiv or Odesa, but also mid-sized ones, like Mykolayiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson, as well as many smaller towns and villages. And for us Yiddishists, the mention of such places on the news brings that thrill of recognition and curiosity—and horror at what is happening there right now. As an expression of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, the Yiddish Book Center has created a map of Yiddish writers who were born or lived or worked in Ukraine—the names of some of our most revered authors, as well as the places they lived and worked. To accompany that map, here are a few deeper dives into those authors from our archives.

Ezra Glinter

Songs and Stories

Eleanor Reissa singing at microphone in front of a person playing the guitar

The long and complicated history of Jews in Ukraine was not always a happy one, but it would be a mistake to think of it as an unmitigated series of upheavals. To the contrary, the region gave rise to some of the greatest achievements of Jewish literature and culture, as the collections of the Yiddish Book Center bear witness. As exhibit A, you can listen to this program of readings and songs from Yiddish works in translation by Yiddish writers from Ukraine including Blume Lempel, Mendel Osherowitz, Dora Shulner, and Sholem Aleichem.

Listen to “Yiddish Ukraine: Songs and Stories”

View our map of Yiddish writers who were born or lived or worked in Ukraine

“The Hidden One”

Drawing of a woman in black and white with a constellation and sun

The pen name of writer Pinkhes Kahanovitsh, Der Nister, literally translates to “The Hidden One” or “The Recluse.” And, like his title, his work tends toward the strange, the magical, and the abstruse. On this episode of The Shmooze podcast, Mikail Krutikov, professor and chair of the department of Slavic languages and literatures and Preston R. Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, joins us to discuss the life and work of this enigmatic Yiddish writer.


Listen to an interview with Mikail Krutikov about Der Nister



Mendele the Book Peddler

Cover of Pakn Treger, Yiddish in Nature, with a man overlooking a cliff holding a large pen with a leaf on top


Y. Abramovitsh (1835-1917), closely identified with his narratorial persona Mendele the Book Peddler (Mendele Mocher Sforim), was a foundational figure in modern Yiddish and Hebrew prose. He eventually embraced Jewish bilingualism, claiming that writing in both Hebrew and Yiddish was like breathing through both nostrils. His output of novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and scientific writing was staggering. In 1888, Sholem Aleichem memorably dubbed Mendele the “grandfather” of Yiddish letters. The piece of text translated here is one of several explanations of the Mendele character, variously narrating how the itinerant book peddler had gotten established in his trade or had chanced upon a particular story. This fragment became seamlessly integrated into a longer essay and occupied a prominent place at the beginning of Abramovitsh’s collected works.


Read a translation of Abramovitsh’s essay



An Evening to Remember

Rokhl Korn, photograph in sepia tones

Rokhl Korn is perhaps one of the most important Yiddish writers of the twentieth century, despite her relative obscurity. Both in Europe before the Second World War and in Montreal, where she made her home afterwards, she was a celebrated author and poet, particularly renowned for her works of lyric poetry. This evening in her honor, recorded in 1972 at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, celebrates the publication of her collection Oyf der sharf fun a rega (On the Cusp of a Moment).


Listen to an evening in honor of Rokhl Korn






High Doorsteps

Pakn Treger cover, A Collection of Newly translated Yiddish Works by Women Writers

Born in 1905 in Lithuania, Shira Gorshman did not begin writing until the late 1930s. By then she had lived in Palestine and Crimea, serving as a member of workers’ collectives in both locales. In Moscow she married the artist Mendel Gorshman and began writing as a response to the creative life there. She continued writing steadily until her death in Israel in 2001, often reflecting on the vulnerability and tenacity of Jewish life in different historical settings. In this story, “High Doorsteps,” she takes us into the world of Soviet labor communes. These utopian enterprises were not free of the power relations they sought to overturn. In this story Gorshman shows, through a gendered lens, how both resistance and solidarity are needed to create a more just world.


Read a translation of “High Doorsteps”