- Thoughts on Yiddish and Bridges
So, about Bridges . . . Some disconnected remarks:
It was an intimidating magazine for me, at the beginning at least. (Appropriately enough, I became a subscriber in an indirect way; Genesis 2 went out of business, subscribers to that magazine were invited to become subscribers to a number of other magazines, the first part of the new subscription being paid for by the money already contributed to the old subscription. I chose Bridges.) Intimidating in its radical feminism, for one thing—"for Jewish feminists and their friends" was the slogan, and would these feminists in fact regard me as a friend?
Then there was the connection with Adrienne Rich, whose essays consistently made me uneasy with myself, made me feel bland and insufficiently radical. But of course the radical feminism and Rich were also the draw, I've always been drawn to what I found intimidating—a non-comic version of the Groucho Marx comment, "any club that would have me as a member I wouldn't want to join." And in this particular case I thought that what was intimidating was also what was rigorous and challenging. [End Page 64]
I think the intimidating feeling is connected with my never having tried to publish in the magazine, except a letter on war tax resistance. Only as a war tax resister was I pretty sure I'd be welcome; it was the only radical card I had to play.
The first time I attended services at Havurat Shalom in Somerville—I've now been a member there for six or seven years—I was welcomed by Ruth Abrams, whose name I knew from the Bridges email list. Which is to say that as I came to have a Jewish life more in accord with my secular and religious politics, it was a person from Bridges who welcomed me into it.
And then there was Yiddish, of course. I think the first Yiddish story Bridges published—in Yiddish and in English—was one by Yenta Serdatsky called "Vide," translated to English by Irena Klepfisz. Coming across that was amazing. In those days, so far as I knew, it wasn't so easy to come across Yiddish texts, you had to go to New York. So opening the pages of Bridges and finding this beautifully printed bilingual edition filled me with great joy even before I began to read the story. I remember the story vividly—the texture thin, in some ways, but haunting in the voice of the doomed consumptive speaker; the politics unfamiliar to me in a Yiddish context, more didactic and radical than anything I'd encountered in Bashevis or in Sholem Aleichem.
I can't recall many of the Yiddish works published subsequently; I do remember that they too were politically challenging, less inside the mainstream tradition than, say, the Yiddish texts now published in the Pakn-Treger, and I remember that remarkable essay by Irena Klepfisz that offered portraits of some of these extraordinary figures—"Feminism, Yidishkayt, and the Politics of Memory," I think.
And translation, of course. If it was in fact me who asked you what feminist translation might look like, the question that our Prooftexts symposium centered on, it was by way of Bridges. But, to be frank—because I'm assuming that any issue of Bridges will want frank contributions rather than pious ones—I sometimes found myself at odds with what seemed to me some of the talk about translation in the magazine. I'm a judgmental evaluator of translation—Seth Wolitz likes to call me the Savonarola of translation studies, he's not wrong—and I have become that by what I think of as philological rigor. What I was coming across in Bridges was, as noted, sometimes at odds with that. Maybe the contributors were in the right; they were focused on celebrating the translation of women's unjustly unknown work, on validating the importance of women as translators, less on pleasing Savonarola. And heaven knows much women's literature is indeed wrongly unknown and untranslated, and the accomplishments of women translators wrongly downplayed, indeed...