"The History That's Never Taught": Stories That Celebrate Women's Contributions to Yiddish

Highlights from the Wexler Oral History Project

At the Yiddish Book Center, we celebrate women’s contributions to Yiddish year-round, so for Women’s History Month, our biggest challenge was deciding which stories to highlight. Featured here are some of our favorites from our oral history collection. Together they represent the breadth of voices and contributions to cultural transmission found in our archives. 

This month’s feature is part of the Yiddish Book Center’s 2022 Decade of Discovery: Women in Yiddish.

“The History That’s Never Taught”

Irena Klepfisz, lesbian poet and writer, describes her search for Yiddish women writers, including encountering the erasures of the Holocaust and discrimination in publishing. She reflects on the remarkable contributions women made to Jewish life in interwar Poland and the connection she feels to that time and place.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

My Career as a Yiddish-Speaking Actress

Lea Szlanger, a Yiddish actress born in Poland, describes the beginning and development of her career as a professional actress—including working with Yiddish theater greats such as Shimon Dzigan and Joseph Buloff—from the Warsaw Jewish Theater in Poland and eventually to the Hebrew-language stage and screen in Israel.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Bella Sings Her Mother’s Transylvanian Shabbos Melody

Listen to Bella Bryks-Klein, Yiddish speaker and daughter of writer Rachmil Bryks, describe and then sing a beautiful Transylvanian Yiddish Shabbos melody that had been passed down to her matrilineally.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

In Memory’s Kitchen: Saving the Culinary Legacies of the Women of Terezín 

Cara De Silva, daughter of Yiddish writer Meyer Krawetz, recalls her experience editing a book of recipes written down by women in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) concentration camp.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Speaking Directly to the Bubbies

Zohar Weiman-Kelman—scholar of queer studies, Yiddish studies, and Jewish literature—discusses how they found the intersections between queer studies and Yiddish studies in the nuances of cultural transmission. They found the roles of lesbian Jewish writers and anthologists to be crucial in linking to a Yiddish past.

Watch their full interview and excerpts.

Anthologies of Jewish Women Writers

Frieda Johles Forman—feminist translator, editor, and writer—discusses anthologies of Yiddish women writers. She worked on two of the anthologies and was friends with writers of the third anthology.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

“My Mom Was Singing Yiddish Songs in the Concentration Camp”

Jalda Rebling—Renewal cantor and Yiddish performer—discusses how her mother, Yiddish performer Lin Jaldati, sang while a prisoner in concentration camps. Immediately after the Holocaust and World War II, Lin, with her husband, began performing as well as collecting Yiddish songs from people in refugee camps.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Reflections of a Jewish Feminist

Martha Ackelsberg, professor emerita at Smith College, reflects on the differences and progress she sees in Jewish life and academia after decades of working for change as a Jewish feminist. 

Watch her full interview and excerpts.