This collection of new studies on women and Yiddish originated from a highly successful 1995 Di Froyen: Women and Yiddish conference. Spanning a wide variety of topics, the contributors reinforce the idea that women had a formative impact on Yiddish culture.
In her keynote address, author and self-described “secular Jewish activist” Irena Klepfisz uses the biography of Jewish Labor Bundist Anna Heller Rosenthal to discuss the connection between Yiddish and feminism. Klepfisz emphasizes how one of the goals of the conference could have come directly from the socialist Yiddish manifesto, “ale tsuzamen in gerangl,” “all together in the struggle.”
Papers on “Women and Traditional Yiddishkayt” range from a discussion of female role models in the Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln to an anthropological analysis of a Chasidic women’s performance of a Yiddish musical. Chava Weissler of Lehigh University is represented by an essay on women as religious subjects in tkhines, part of her ongoing research on these Yiddish women’s prayers. A section on “Women and Yiddish Literature: Some Historical Perspectives” has essays by Naomi Seidman on the sexual politics of the Hebrew-Yiddish “Language War,” a historical overview of women as readers of sacred and secular Yiddish literature, and an examination of the portrayal of women in the writings of the classical Yiddish writers Mendele Mokher Sforim, Y.L. Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem. Kathryn Helierstein, Goldie Morgentaler and Judith Friedlander examine various feminist concerns with translating to and from Yiddish. Morgentaler’s article about her translation into Yiddish of the French Canadian play Les Belles Soeurs is especially interesting. Other papers dealt with “Lebensveg,” or women’s ways, focusing on women in Yiddish political circles, educational issues and cultural representations and productions of women. One essay about a recently published Yiddish macrobiotic and mostly vegan cookbook written by a Chasidic mother of 12, reveals how modernity has insinuated itself into Yiddish-based Chasidic life. Essays on women’s literature, women and the Yiddish theater, and “Feminism, Yiddishkayt, and Jewish Identity” round out the academic portion of the collection.
Aside from the scholarly essays, also included are transcripts of workshops on various topics, ranging from “Identity Politics and the Role of Lesbians in the Renewal of Secular Yiddish Culture” to how one woman functions in her trilingual household. Her children speak Yiddish, in addition to English and the Tamil of their South Asian father (who also speaks fluent Yiddish!). An appendix with bibliographies of primary and secondary Yiddish sources, textbooks, and Yiddish resources and institutions completes the collection. “Di Froyen” is a must for anyone interested in the most current research on Eastern European Jewish women’s literary, cultural, religious and political history.