- Introduction: The Bridge of Translation
As often happens with an issue of Bridges, the themes that emerge from the contributors' work operating in conversation with each other is much more interesting and complicated than our original ideas. When we starting talking about a translation focus for an issue of the journal—I believe it was our former Israeli editor Yosefa Raz who first floated the idea—we knew already that translation is a Jewish feminist problem. Women writers are simply not making it through the semi-permeable membrane of language with anything like the frequency of men writers. For a language like Yiddish, which has lost the vast majority of its speakers in the last 70 years, translation is critical if we Jews are to understand our own culture. For languages that have never had a huge speaker population, like Hebrew and Hungarian, translation tells us things about the specific Jewish experiences of certain places and times. Even major world languages like French and German are inaccessible to most contemporary Jews, and our impressions of French and German culture can easily ignore the fact that Jewish lives are led in those languages if we don't hear from [End Page 1] them via the medium of translation. Whatever language we look at, however, if women's voices are not among those translated, what we end up knowing about ourselves will be partial and problematic. Women's writing is marginalized, viewed as insufficiently skilled, as anthropological rather than artistic: this is even more the case when women write, as they often do, in "minor" genres such as letters, diaries, and fables. It often seems that women are left untranslated in the hope that they will be ignored or forgotten.
Bridges has always published translations—where possible with the original language on facing pages—in part because we connect our mission with these very issues. All of these same concerns came forward in the works writers and translators sent us for this issue. But finishing up the issue, as I read over the essays, translations, reviews, and poems, and looked at the artwork to be included, I came to see a more intricate pattern of questions and concerns for Jewish feminists.
Rita Falbel's years-long, loving re-creation of her family's extensive archive of Holocaust-era letters is stunning and terrible, and the translator's mission here is something more than an act of recovery. Even though it's hard, if we are to honor those individuals who perished, we must be willing to know their stories. Facing up to their endless, exhausting struggle to get visas, collect necessary documentation, and find countries willing to take them; the constant demoralization and the loss of material support; and the frantic efforts of family members in America and Palestine to find a way to get them out, is an undertaking in itself. After her and her brother and parents, none of Falbel's family correspondents did make it to America: but by making their words accessible in English, Falbel brings a part of them into contemporary American life.
Many of the translators in this volume find themselves engaged in feminist acts of recovery; much of what has been lost and hidden is material that supports women's rebellions. Toby Axelrod describes her work translating a biography of Regina Jonas, the world's first woman rabbi, which also includes Jonas' rabbinical thesis on women's position in the rabbinate. Jonas died in the Holocaust, but Axelrod feels her presence throughout the translation process, and is inspired to read the tracts of Talmud from which she quotes. Translation is this too: bringing women together across time and space in new conversations about how we can be Jews.
Elizabeth Loentz's work on Bertha Pappenheim brings another point into focus. Pappenheim was interested in using the folk tradition as a way of transmitting women's knowledge, and thus translated several folkloric texts from Yiddish into German. She then used this storytelling tradition to create new fables, two of which we publish here for the first time. By translating Pappenheim's German into English, Loentz extends the line of transmission to include Pappenheim...