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Avrom Ovinu Receives a Letter and Other Yiddish Correspondence: 2019 Pakn Treger Digital Anthology of Newly Translated Yiddish Works

Avrom Ovinu Receives a Letter and Other Yiddish Correspondence: 2019 Pakn Treger Digital Anthology of Newly Translated Yiddish Works

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Avrom Ovinu Receives a Letter and Other Yiddish Correspondence: 2019 Pakn Treger Digital Anthology of Newly Translated Yiddish Works

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Lançado em:
May 26, 2019


These translations of Yiddish correspondence and literature about correspondence cover a wide spectrum of human experience: intimate revelations, everyday issues, political activism, and literary creativity. The personal letters illuminate the relationships and struggles of great Yiddish writers. Letters published in the Yiddish press served as public and sometimes political statements. And letters used in stories and poems can be powerful symbols or serve as crucial plot devices.
Lançado em:
May 26, 2019

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Avrom Ovinu Receives a Letter and Other Yiddish Correspondence - Yiddish Book Center

Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue

Madeleine Cohen Translation Editor

Lisa Newman Executive Editor Lisa Newman

Sarah Quiat Translation Managing Editor

Greg Lauzon Copyeditor

Alexander Isley Inc. Art Direction and Design

Cover illustration by Douglas Jones

Support for Pakn Treger comes from

The David Berg Foundation

The Joseph and Marion Brechner Fund for Jewish Cultural Reporting

The Charles Corfield Fund for Pakn Treger

The Kaplen Fund for Pakn Treger

The Mark Pinson Fund for Pakn Treger

Copyright in each translation is held by the translator.

Copyright © 2001 by Chaim Grade. Translated and published by permission of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the Robin Straus Agency, Inc. New York, NY.

Yiddish Book Center

Amherst, MA


ISBN 978-0-9893731-8-0

Pakn Treger

Translation Issue



By Madeleine Cohen

Postcard from Marc Chagall to Sholem Asch

An Exchange of Letters between America and the Old Country

By Sholem Aleichem, translated by Curt Leviant

I Feel a Connection to You

By Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

A Letter to My Mother

By Mordecai Kosover, translated by Ruth Solomon

Letters to the Editor

By Yente Serdatsky, translated by Cady Vishniac

The Small Opinions of Great Men

By G. Selikovitch, translated by Corbin Allardice, Matthew Johnson, Jessica Kirzane, and Jonah Lubin

Excerpt from A Provincial Newspaper

By Miriam Karpilove, translated by Jessica Kirzane

Abraham Our Father Receives a Letter and Avishag Writes a Letter Home

By Itzik Manger, translated by Murray Citron

Dear Opatoshu!

By Peretz Markish, translated by Miriam Schulz

Letters from the Spanish Civil War: Selected Letters from Memories of a Botwinist

By Efraim Wozak, translated by Deborah Green

Letters, To Miriam Ulinover, and Letters

By Rivka Basman Ben-Haim and Miriam Ulinover, translated by Kathryn Hellerstein

Call It Destiny

By Jonah Rosenfeld, translated by Rachel Mines

An Open Letter and An Answer to Mr. Lilienblum

By Moyshe Leyb Lilienblum and Avrom Kunin, translated by Ruth Murphy

My Dear Beloved Brother

By Sarah Reisen, translated by Ri J. Turner

My Mailman

By Avrom Sutzkever, translated by Maia Evrona

My Dear Abe

By Chaim Grade, translated by Rose Waldman


They can teach you Yiddish in college? I remember the quizzical look on my grandfather’s face, always with a hint of a smile hiding somewhere in the background. Years later when I was in graduate school the question became, So what does it really mean to be a doctor of Yiddish? Even though—or perhaps especially because—he was a native speaker of Yiddish, it never quite clicked for my grandfather that Yiddish could be studied in college and graduate school. He learned it when he was a very young child, when his grandmother came to live with his family, as she didn’t speak either the Russian or English the family otherwise used. There’s a great symmetry that decades after learning Yiddish from his grandmother, Grandpa returned to it to communicate with me, his granddaughter. In fact, he never felt very confident speaking Yiddish to me and would smile or laugh when I tried out my Yiddish on him, but he liked writing me letters in Yiddish. I have almost ten years of postcards, letters, and notes attached to newspaper clippings saved in a drawer, mostly written in Yiddish but sometimes switching to English halfway through when my grandfather got tired (he admitted that he had to use a dictionary to compose these letters). I remember marveling that his handwriting was as much chicken scratch in Yiddish as it was in English—but because he wrote so often, I got used to it.

This collection of newly translated Yiddish letters, as well as stories and poems featuring letters, shows us many examples of letters as essential aspects of day-to-day communication as well as symbols of the great distances across which relationships can stretch. Translator Rose Waldman has combed through a huge archive of letters that novelist and poet Chaim Grade wrote to his friend Abraham Bornstein for insight into Grade’s personal relationships. In the hands of Sholem Aleichem, letters help explore the growing gap between Jewish life in the Old World and the New. For Avrom Sutzkever, a memory of his old mailman symbolizes the impossible gulf between his life before and after the Holocaust.

Several themes arise from the materials presented in this volume. For some of the writers included here, letters are political tools. An early debate about Labor Zionism unfolds in the form of open letters in the press. Condemned Jewish soldiers who fought in the Spanish Civil War tell their stories through heartbreaking final letters to wives and children. In 1945 the great poet Peretz Markish, living in the Soviet Union, penetrates the Iron Curtain and the trauma of the Holocaust to reestablish communication with the novelist Joseph Opatoshu, living in New York, to celebrate the end of the war.

Another group of material illuminates the experiences of women writers in the male-dominated world of publishing. Yente Serdatsky shows her tenacity in overcoming a black mark from the all-powerful editor of the Forverts, Abe Cahan. An excerpt from Miriam Karpilove’s novel A Provincial Newspaper shows us a young woman editor’s first steps to build her career in spite of the limited expectations her male colleagues have for her. In letters to her brother Zalman, we witness Sarah Reisen’s efforts to act as agent for her brother Abraham’s literary career. And in letters between the writers Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb we witness the unfolding of a literary relationship.

Finally, as with my trove of letters from my grandfather, we see letters and writing kept, preserved, and now shared with the world by family members in Ruth Solomon’s translation of a poem by her father, written as a letter to his mother. With this poem, letters return to the realm of the personal, a record of Yiddish writing across time reminding us of the physical and cultural distances they originally helped to bridge.

Madeleine Cohen

Director of Translation and Collections Initiatives

Postcard from Marc Chagall to Sholem Asch

Dear ones,

It is raining, pouring, bucketing. What kind of world is this? Nevertheless, life is good.



This light-hearted postcard greeting was sent by Marc Chagall to Sholem Asch and his family in 1926. The Chagalls were holidaying in the newly fashionable ski resort village of Megève in the French Alps; Asch and his family had moved into a handsome villa with a walled garden in Bellevue, outside Paris, a short while before.

The two families had moved to Paris at roughly the same time in the mid-1920s and they were bound by close ties, especially among the women. Asch’s wife, Madzhe, and Bella Chagall were good friends, and their daughters, Ruth Asch (my grandmother) and Ida Chagall, were even closer. Holiday postcards from Chagall were a regular source of amusement in the Asch household. One card, written in Russian, read simply: Zdravstvuite / zhivyem / Shagal (Hi, we are alive, Chagall).

The relationship between Asch and Chagall had a rather different character: they were regular acquaintances over three decades, but many of the stories about them suggest the wariness of two big beasts rather than genuine warmth. And yet, Chagall drew portraits of both Sholem and Madzhe Asch in the 1920s (a pensive one of Asch, and a surreal caricature of Madzhe, now part of the collection of the reopened Sholem Asch House Museum in Bat Yam, Israel). But Asch, a keen collector of paintings by Jewish artists, never owned a major work by Chagall. The reason, according to critic Chil Aronson, was simple: Asch had hoped to acquire a painting for a rock-bottom price, explaining to Chagall that it would inspire him to write great works of Jewish literature. Chagall, reluctant to let the painting leave his hands, had proposed a swap for some choice Judaica from Asch’s collection. And there the matter had ended. —David Mazower

An Exchange of Letters between America and the Old Country

by Sholem Aleichem

translated by Curt Leviant

We all know Sholem Aleichem made his reputation as a humorist. But in the body of his work there are many stories that are satirical in nature but not funny. This story is one of his most somber, especially Yisrulik’s letter from the Old Country, which in its details about a pogrom and its victims rivals the pogrom stories of Lamed Shapiro.

The revolution that Sholem Aleichem refers to is the abortive 1905 revolution in Russia, which preceded by twelve years the more successful one against the czar in 1917. Readers of Sholem Aleichem, writing shortly after the events cited, would know to what the writer was referring. Now, more than one hundred years later, some explanations are needed.

The Krushevan mentioned (who, by the way, was not strung up, as Jacob assumes) is the notorious Pavel Krushevan, a Bessarabian politician and newspaper publisher. He was the first to issue the infamous anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and his newspaper regularly ran articles with the headline Death to the Jews.

In this story we also get hints of how young Jews themselves were part of the

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