- They Wrote About Everything:Women and Yiddish
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Chava Rosenfarb died a few weeks after this conversation. We dedicate this essay to her memory.
Faith sent Irena these questions as a starting place for our conversation:
What are the most pressing issues for feminist Yiddish activists now?
How has our work with Yiddish women's texts contributed to Bridges?
How do we connect our own creativity and activism with that of the women whose work we translate? Does their work influence ours? Do we see ourselves as part of a tradition (or counter-tradition) of Jewish women artists?
What should we do next to promote engagement with women's Yiddish history?
I did think it was interesting that your questions were framed in activist terms and I'm not sure I view it that way anymore, though I know younger women who I believe still do.
How do you view it? [End Page 58]
I think Yiddish women's writing and related work is something I do—I know it's a cause, but it's not something I think of as a cause separate from feminism. They've kind of meshed in my head. Maybe because my primary work is teaching. And also because a lot of my teaching is done in prison where Yiddish women's writing is not a central issue—though certainly something that I share with my students there. But their needs are different.
I didn't really know about you teaching in prison. I'm sure it has a way of putting things into a different perspective. So here's a question: do the needs you attempt to address for your students in prison reflect or resonate with the Yiddish work you've done? Are there Yiddish texts you find particularly engage those students?
I've only used an occasional story there—like I say, their needs are different. But at Barnard in my Jewish classes I do introduce Yiddish women's writing...but what about you Faith—do you feel this is a central cause in your life?
It is a central part of my life, though not the only one.
What are some of the others and how does Yiddish and your work at Bridges fit in with them?
I do a lot of different kinds of political activism, and part of what I love about the Yiddish work is its grounding in a historical culture that was itself so political. But my work with the texts is creative, and gives me a creative outlet.
Do you feel that the Yiddish work parallels other work? mirrors it? what is it? Faith: So I guess it sort of bridges (Ha! unintentional) the political and creative sides of myself. I do work around economic justice (I live just beside the poorest neighbourhood in Canada) for example for prostitutes' rights. And work around Palestinian rights, and peace.
You said that my working at Bedford Hills must have changed my perspective. And it did. But I feel as you do, that Yiddish work grounds me. This year, I had a real urge to do a Yiddish translation workshop again and I initiated the project with YIVO and I hope enough people will register so I can do it this semester. There is something that feeds me by returning to certain discussions and questions—ones I think I've resolved but which are interesting to return to—and is very satisfying. I feel the same way about translating—it's almost like meditating for me.
The act of translating itself is very soothing for me too. Actually, I took a translation workshop from you about ten years ago, so maybe I learned that from you! But in addition, when you send the translation out into the world, it does things.
I forgot that—
My Yiddish was pretty basic back then.
But what you said about being grounded in a political culture. That might not be at the forefront of a poem or story—yet the act of translating affords you...