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  • My Father
  • Rosa Palatnik
    Introduced by Myra Mniewski and Translated from Yiddish by Myra Mniewski, Chana Pollack, Miriam Leberstein and Renata Singer

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"Things I Rack My Brain Over Flow Easily from Another's Mouth"

In the summer of 1986 Irena Klepfisz and Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz attended a summer program at the National Yiddish Book Center. They informally called a session of women who were interested in translating Yiddish women writers. There they informed those gathered that this work needed to be done and that we were the ones to do it. They made it very clear that if we didn't do it there wasn't going to be a Yiddish women's canon. We had to do it: find them, name them and translate them.

This session inspired Chana Pollack, one of the founders of our group, to reach back and gather the 'froyen in undzer mishpokhe' whom Molodowsky claimed 'hovered in her dreams at night.'

But that meant learning Yiddish and not just a catch phrase here and there, actually studying it—seriously—the foundation on which our group exists.

Chana's mother responded enthusiastically [End Page 116] to the Yiddish endeavor by sharing news of a 'cousin,' Rosa Palatnik, who had been a published Yiddish author. Despite having studied and worked in Yiddish, it was at that moment of discovering the "found treasure" in her own family album that her personal journey into Yiddish peaked.

As an undergrad, sorting books at the National Yiddish Book Center, Chana found several volumes of Palatnik's work there as well as a lexicon entry. But, just as the gates of froyenyidishland were about to give her access—they just as fiercely jammed up as Palatnik's Yiddish, generously sprinkled with earthy Galitsyaner dialect, began to overwhelm her.

Over the years she attempted several dry runs at reading Palatnik, but it was only when she met Myra Mniewski, in an advanced Yiddish class, that her flight took off in earnest. And so at night, when Chana and Myra tired of looking up sexy words in the Oytser, a voluminous Yiddish thesaurus, the idea of a women's Yiddish reading group was conceived.

A number of Yiddish-studying froyen the pair consulted were amenable to plowing through Palatnik's oeuvre together, thus creating the "Oxygen Svive" or the zoyershtofnitses, as our svive currently calls itself.

The group's setting is Manhattan, but its roots are Diaspora, contributing a vocabulary palette whose range is in no small part due to Jewish post war wanderings. Renata Singer is from Australia while Miriam Leberstein was born to Brooklyn. Myra was born in Lodz having begun life on the mother ship Poyln, and Chana Pollack hails from Canada.

Some of us enjoy pursuing visual clues in the material, as a way of following the writer's wanderings, and some can handily find their way through a Russian dictionary. For example, in this story, the aspect of an early model gramophone recording sound perplexed us. We thought we were not understanding the text correctly. We researched Rosa's descriptions of a machine that mimicked people's speech, finding many pictures of early phonographs along with instructions on how they could be made to record, with a little tinkering, just like in Rosa's tale. We found, via Mama Google, that Palatnik's descriptions of this early technology did indeed exist. The machine that so captivated the shtetl folk also captured a daughter's love for her father, as it emerged from the depths of the mysterious horn.

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An artist/inventor, or tinkerer, as the more practical mother was want to refer to him, Rosa's father encapsulated the essence of what she herself would later become—a conjurer of images, made up of words, that appear like Fellini-esque little scenes when read aloud in the company of fellow travelers.

Alongside her stories that colorfully render shtetl parshoynen, Palatnik also devoted a major portion of her work to depicting Jewish immigrant life colliding with the tropical breezes and folk of Rio de Janeiro, where the author wound up after WWII. [End Page 117...


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pp. 116-122
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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