As I prepare my Introduction for this first of two issues of Nashim dedicated to the theme of Women and Books, I find myself turning to Agav orha (Incidentally, 1960), a collection of sketches, letters and translations by the Hebrew writer Dvora Baron (1887–1956), edited by her daughter Tzippora Aharonovitch. I am drawn to this book because, though its title declares it to be a book of incidental, archival materials, it speaks to the heart of what the editors of Nashim and I hoped to include in these two issues: writing that offers a varied, textured and revelatory sense of a Jewish woman's gendered position in and around the world of books.
As I open the volume, I am newly amazed that Tzippora, who dedicated her life to serving her chronically ill mother, self-effacingly refrained from having her name printed on the title page; she is memorialized only by the gender-neutral acronym —"prepared for the press by. . . ." I find myself straining to find Tzippora in this book, imagining her selfless labor of love during and after her mother's lifetime, her role in collecting the diverse archival materials represented in the volume, her negotiations with the publisher, Sifriyat Po'alim, to have the book published, and the sense of satisfaction and perhaps trepidation that she must have felt in bringing this book of personal miscellany about her housebound, idiosyncratic and exceedingly private mother to print. In the person of Tzippora, I imagine the many other women who played unrecorded roles in the history of Jewish publishing, writing and learning.
I find myself especially drawn to the section of letters included in the volume, not only because it includes a swath of letters from Baron to Tzippora, but also because of the lights it sheds on Baron's life as a woman among books. For more than a decade after she immigrated to Palestine in 1910, Baron served as editor of the literary supplement to the labor-oriented weekly newspaper Hapo'el hatsa'ir (whose chief editor was her spouse and Tzippora's father, [End Page 5] Joseph Aharonovitch). And so we see letters from Baron to some of the most notable, mostly male writers of her day, requesting submissions, complimenting them on their work, discussing what she might contribute to publications that they are editing, and so forth. My thoughts shift to Ellen Frankel, present-day Editor-in-Chief and CEO of the Jewish Publication Society, and her personal essay in these pages on the history and gender issues relating to her occupation of that august position. (And they turn, too, to the many months of correspondence between us, the editors of these issues of Nashim, and the numerous writers, scholars and reviewers whose work is represented here.)
In light of Brenda Bacon's essay on "Hakhmot nashim," a story dedicated by S.Y. Agnon to publisher and politician Shoshana Persitz (1893–1969), I feel particularly moved by a letter Baron wrote to Persitz, dated (Sunday, 21 Iyyar 5694 / May 6, 1934), acknowledging receipt of the first Bialik Prize from the Tel Aviv Municipality for her book Ketanot (Trifles):
It is a pleasure for me to tell you that it is with special satisfaction that I receive this certificate, the first such certificate of distinction among us that is given to a woman, and from your hands, Madame, the first woman to be head of [the department of] education and culture in our city.(Agav orha, p. 141; all translations my own—WZ)
I am similarly struck by a 1949 letter from Baron to publisher Yisrael Zmora, in which she refers to reading two books published by the Zmora Bitan press, each of which reflects a different aspect of Baron's own literary interests, as well as the interests of contributors to this issue of Nashim. "Of the books you sent me," writes Baron,
I have read up to now only Ugav Rahel (Rachel's flute) and The Soul and the Dance by Valery. The latter is a lovely book. Subtle as subtle can be: That man was a poet. And the translation, even it, like the original, is lucid and captures...