Women in Translation

Highlights from the Wexler Oral History Project

Translation plays an essential role in cultural, literary, and linguistic transmission and is an art in and of itself. As we continue to celebrate the profound impacts of women in the Yiddish world, we are showcasing some of the women translators of Yiddish from our collection. Below you will find a selection of clips from women speaking about the importance of translation, their own process of translating Yiddish, and the intricacies, nuances, and creativity of rendering works from one language to another.

Getting to Know a New Side of Chava Rosenfarb through Translation

Goldie Morgentaler, daughter of Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb, describes the deep respect for her mother’s writing she acquired through the joys and frustrations of translating her mother’s works—with her mother—from the age of thirteen into adulthood. Though she was resistant to doing the work as a teenager, Goldie’s translation work as an adult eventually allowed her to understand and appreciate her mother in new ways.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

The Use of Yiddish Words in Yiddish-to-English Translation

In this clip, Vivian Felsen, professional translator and granddaughter of Yiddish writer Israel Medres, discusses the importance of using Yiddish words sparingly in English translations. She explains how the overuse of untranslated Yiddish terms, or literally translated Yiddish grammatical structure, often misrepresents the sophistication and style of Yiddish writers.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

The Intimate Experience of Translating Poetry

Maia Evrona, poet and translator of Yiddish poetry, speaks on the closeness she feels with the poems that she translates and the way her understanding of each poem unfolds as she works on its translation. She describes the new lives and meanings a poem takes on through translation by different people, and how the subjective art of translation expands the original work in myriad ways.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Unfolding the Yiddish: The Connections Between Translation and Sewing

Chantal Ringuet, author and translator, reflects on the craft of translating Yiddish into French and connects it to her grandmother’s work as a seamstress. She describes how, like a tailor, she unfolds the text into French, meticulously checking every detail and subtle nuance to ensure that the beauty of the original text is rendered in translation.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

(in French with English subtitles)

The Importance of Accuracy in Translation

Ellen Perecman, founder and producing artistic director of the New Worlds Theatre Project, explains the importance of accuracy in translating and performing Yiddish plays. She offers examples of improperly translated Yiddish texts and shares how she developed her own approach to translation.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Translating Letters to Preserve Jewish Stories

Mindle Crystel Gross, native Yiddish speaker and translator, discusses her work of translating letters from Yiddish and the role that translation plays in preserving memories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Through these translated letters, she explains, people can access their family stories, traditions, and values.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Inventing New Yiddish Words

Thelma Oldak Finkler, Yiddish translator based in Mexico, shares the surprising experience of having to invent new Yiddish words to represent modern concepts—such as vebplats (website)—when hired to translate New York City’s regulations and advisories into Yiddish.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.