Celebrating Yiddish Women Writers

Highlighting the Voices of Yiddish Women Writers from the Yiddish Book Center's Collections

I am an acrobat,
and I dance between daggers
erected in the ring
tips up.

 

—Celia Dropkin, "The Acrobat"

Yiddish women writers wrote poetry, short stories, novels, essays, literary and cultural criticism, and autobiography, among other genres, exploring a wide range of topics—from domesticity, to desire and the body, to politics, the environment, and the ravages of war, and more. This March, in honor of Women's History Month and of the vital contributions made by women writers to the field of Yiddish literature, we've curated a diverse selection of items from our collections by and about Yiddish women writers. These writers, as the selections below illuminate, were brilliant and daring, complicated and compassionate, exuberant and quiet, and endlessly fascinating. Their work has much to tell us about the conditions and possibilities for women in the times in which they lived but also about Yiddish language and culture and modern Jewish culture, writing and publishing, immigration, and a multitude of other topics. Explore and listen to their stories. 

Note: This page is a work in progress, and we'll be adding to it throughout the month. It features only a sampling of the vast selection of work by and about women writers available through our website. 

Above: A Yiddish literary sisterhood, defying the almost uniformly male face of so many Yiddish writers’ groups and institutions. Back row (from right to left): Berta Kling, Esther Shumiatsher, Malka Lee. Front row (from right to left): Ida Glazer, Sara Reyzen, and Celia Dropkin, whose intensely erotic poems scandalized some male critics and whose painting of a vase of flowers is featured above in the header image for this page. Image from "Young, Gifted and Yiddish" by David Mazower. 

In Search of Yiddish Women Writers

"Where were the women writers?": A podcast episode in which editors Eitan Kensky and Sadie Gold-Shapiro talk about a Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue (below) devoted to writing by women

A special Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue featuring a collection of newly translated Yiddish works by women writers

"Problematic, Fraught, Confusing, Paralyzing—and Fantastic": An article by librarian and translator Faith Jones about a 1927 anthology of Yiddish women poets

"'The History That's Never Taught': On the Complexities of the Search for Yiddish Women Writers": Lesbian writer and poet Irena Klepfisz describes the complexities and methodologies of her search for Yiddish women writers

"Find Yiddish Through Women Writers": An oral history in which Zohar Weiman-Kelman, queer Yiddish and poetry scholar, describes their journey to Yiddish 

Blume Lempel soaks up the sun on a road trip to upstate New York, leaning against the family car, a 1957 Oldsmobile 98

Selected Articles 

"The Librarians" By Rachel Auerbach, translated by Seymour Levitan: a chapter from Auerbach’s 1974 memoir Varshever tsavoes (Warsaw Testaments) about the librarians of the Warsaw Ghetto who risked their lives to provide access to books for residents of the Ghetto

"I Feel a Connection to You": An epistolary exchange between Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

"Dynamite on the Train" and other Memoirs by Jewish Women: Three selected excerpts from memoirs by Yiddish women writers—Klara Klebanova, Chava Rosenfarb, Rokhl Faygnberg—featured in the fall 2019 issue of Pakn Treger

"Modern in Autumn: The Belated Discovery of Blume Lempel" by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Kadya Molodowsky: A Woman Novelist Rediscovered”: An article by Anita Norich 

"Why Read Celia Dropkin?": An article by Dropkin translator Faith Jones

Bronx Bohemians: A blog about the salon of Yiddish poet Bertha Kling in the early decades of the twentieth century

"Celia Dropkin’s Paintings": A From the Vault article by Michael Yashinsky and Eitan Kensky

Celia Dropkin
Kadia Molodowsky as pictured in Yidishe dikhterins

Selected Short Works in Translation

So, as you can see, I had no books to read. I myself do not know what pushed me towards literature . . .

 

Excerpt that in wintertime, I would sit on the daybed in the kitchen and look through the window on the snow-covered expanse . . . And I would read a dark calligraphy etched into the white snow, the tracks of wild animals that had emerged from the forest to pay us visits in the night: foxes, hares, does, and sometimes even a wild boar.

 

This was the writing that I read.

 

—From "Destined to Create," a speech by Rokhl Korn

*see Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue featuring a collection of newly translated Yiddish works by women writers for more translations—link above*

A New House” By Rokhl Korn, translated by Seymour Levitan

Destined to Create" By Rokhl Korn, translated by Michael Yashinsky

On the Landing” By Yenta Mash, translated by Ellen Cassedy

Circular Landscapes" By Dvoyre Fogel (Vogel), translated by Anna Torres

Sunday of Suburban Houses" By Dvoyre Vogel (Fogel), translated by Anastasiya Lyubas 

Search for the Woman" By Yente Serdatsky, translated by Jessica Kirzane 

An Old Woman With Young Dreams" By Yente Serdatsky, translated by Jessica Kirzane 

Excerpt from “Neighbors Over the Fence” By Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub 

Excerpts from “Nine Months” and “Birth" By Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein, translated by Beata Kasiarz

Letters,” “To Miriam Ulinover,” and “Letters,” By Rivka Basman Ben-Haim and Miriam Ulinover, translated by Kathryn Hellerstein 

Excerpt from A Provincial Newspaper, By Miriam Karpilove, translated by Jessica Kirzane