By Salomea Perl, translated by Ruth Murphy
Little is known about Salomea Perl (aka Perla); even the date of her death is lost. A brief entry in Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon is the only extant source. She was born in Łomża, Poland, in 1869, daughter of the Hebrew scholar Kalman Avigodor Perla, author of the well-known Oytser loshn khakhomim (Mishnaic Treasures), an alphabetical thesaurus of rabbinical sayings. She grew up in Lublin and eventually moved to Warsaw, where she ran a translation agency for many years. She completed a course of study at the Université de Génève in Switzerland and also studied in Paris and London.
Perl began writing in Polish at the beginning of the 1890s and published one book, Z pamiętnika młodej żydówki (From the Diary of a Young Jewish Woman), in 1895. Her short stories, also written in Polish and published in the reformist Polish Jewish journal Izraelita, caught the attention of the young belletrists active in the literary circles of the day. Among them was author and literary mentor I. L. Peretz, who encouraged her to write in Yiddish. She published several pieces in Peretz’s Perets’s bletlekh, but conflicts both with Peretz and in her personal life slowed her creative output; after that she published only sporadically in Yiddish periodicals.
This translation is a modernized rendition of Perl’s short story “Tsipke,” which was published in the Polish-Yiddish periodical Der Fraynd in 1903. Set within a wholly Jewish world, it is an unflinching look at poverty and the disdain, cruelty, and brutality meted out even among Jews to other Jews—in this instance aimed at Tsipke, the tragic central character who had the triple misfortune to be poor, female, and alone. Despite the harshness of the story, written in Perl’s singular narrative style that never hesitates, never relents, and never spares the reader, “Tsipke” is magical, a tale that is uniquely told and, once read, unforgettable.
It is itself a tragedy that despite her enormous talent, Salomea Perl published only seven short stories in Yiddish. I am in the process of translating her remaining stories and plan to publish a bilingual collection of her work.