Goldie Morgentaler Discusses Her Mother Chava Rosenfarb's Modern Yiddish Stories, "Survivors"
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Sunday, October 30, 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm EST
Video Recording Available
Dr. Goldie Morgentaler is Professor of English at the University of Lethbridge. She is the translator from Yiddish to English of much of her mother Chava Rosenfarb’s work, including the epic masterpiece The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto. Her translation of Survivors: Seven Short Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Modern Language Association’s Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies. She is editor of Rosenfarb’s essays Confessions of a Yiddish Writer (McGill-Queens University Press) winner of a 2019 Jewish Canadian Literary Award.
Many of you joined us earlier this year to complete Chava Rosenfarb's Tree of Life trilogy, translated collaboratively by Rosenfarb and Morgentaler. We found the trilogy to be arguably the most temporally comprehensive and psychologically immersive first-hand work of memoir or fiction of the Holocaust period. With unstinting patience Rosenfarb methodically detailed the decay and transformation of Jewish communal life under the Nazis in the Lodz ghetto. Dara Horn () calls the trilogy nothing less than a "masterpiece" of Yiddish and world literatures.
Thanks to Yiddish Shmoozers in Translation co-founder Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak for sponsoring Goldie Morgentaler's participation and filmmaker and poet Alexis Krasilovsky for providing Zoom access, video recording and closed-circuit captioning. Content begins at 1:27 min.
While impressions from The Tree of Life are still very much with us, we are excited to meet with Goldie Morgentaler on Zoom to talk about her translations of Chava Rosenfarb's psychologically acute stories of Holocaust survivors in Canada. Goldie has listened to our recorded discussion of The Tree of Life, Book II and tells me that she was fascinated and impressed by the group's passion and insight. She says she will be very interested to hear how we respond to the seven stories in Survivors, so please honor our guest with your thoughtful comments on at least one story of your choice. And make sure, everyone, to pay close attention to "Edgia's Revenge," "Last Love" and "Serengeti."
Goldie Morgentaler's Yiddish Book Center talk "Chava Rosenfarb's Montreal" describes the setting and background to the stories in Survivors
A few more notes about Goldie Morgentaler's work: A scholar of 19th century British and American literature at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Dr. Morgenthaler is known for her book and articles on Charles Dickens' work. At the same time, she is a prolific contributor as translator and interpreter of her mother Chava Rosenfarb's and other Yiddish writers' work--especially the lives, works and worlds of
Canadian Yiddish women writers (1, 2).
Goldie has found ingenious ways to bridge her seemingly disparate areas of interest. Shmoozers, I guarantee that you will get delight from reading Morgentaler's article, "When Dickens Spoke Yiddish," which examines Yiddish readers' enthusiastic reception to Dickens' works, which appeared in Yiddish translations, in book and serialized forms, from 1894 to 1939. After all, as she points out, there were then 11 million Yiddish speakers and readers, including children in modern Yiddish schools.(2)
As Goldie mentioned in our conversation on the phone this week, and as I have been coming to realize, American and Canadian readers alike are largely unaware of the Yiddish literary culture that settled and flourished in Canada (3). Readers like ourselves participating in today's explosion of Yiddish studies and language learning, will get satisfaction from the thoughtful translations, collections and analyses of these mainly Polish and Ukrainian Jewish Canadian writers (4). Chava Rosenfarb's stories in Survivors, are mainly set in Montreal, where the writer settled after the war.
Like New York and Tel Aviv, Montreal was a hub of communication among the refugee and diasporic Yiddish writers who, like Rosenfarb, remained committed to writing in the mother tongue despite the tragic diminution of linguistically capable readers. For this reason, the friendships and exchanges among writers such as Chava Rosenfarb, Rokhl Korn, Ida Maze, Kadya Molodovsky, Blume Lempel and others served a particularly crucial role as they wrote with one another in mind as both audience and inspiration.
We see clearly the importance of relationships among the women writing in Yiddish , for example, in letters between Rosenfarb and Lempel (5).
Chava Rosenfarb to Bluma Lempel, December 2, 1982
I’m home from my trip and have had time to read your book [A rege fun emes (A Moment of Truth)]—the lovely gift you sent. I wanted to be sure to read it before I wrote back to you. . . . because one’s style, one’s method of writing—these, I believe, truly reveal the face of one’s soul. I found what I was looking for—and I salute you as a writer and urge you to write and write, for the good of Yiddish literature. Because your intellect, your fresh words and images, the flights of your creativity, are original, contemporary, and I would say zaftik [juicy]! We need you!
Blume Lempel to Chava Rosenfarb, May 2, 1984
Your most recent story is realistic, modern, with a language unavailable in any other Yiddish writer. Sometimes I wonder where your knowledge comes from. It makes me want to fall on my knees and thank you for being who you are and for what your writing means to me. At times I feel very pessimistic—for whom are we writing? Then I think of you—you, who give so much and receive so little, who go on with your work—and in Yiddish! Who am I to complain?
Survivors will not disappoint you!
Do I have to say this?
Hurry and get your copy now!
--Gelya Frank, Originally published 8/17/22, updated 11/3/22
1. Morgentaler, Goldie. Dickens and Heredity : When Like Begets Like. St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
2. See, for example, the following articles by Morgentaler: “Chava Rosenfarb: The Yiddish Woman Writer in the Post-Holocaust World.” Canadian Jewish Studies, vol. 11, no. 11, 2003, pp. 37–51; “The Poetry of Chava Rosenfarb: The Joyful Drabness of the Everyday.” Canadian Jewish Studies, no. 18-19, 2010, pp. 207–20; “‘I Am Still There’: The Recreation of Jewish Poland in the Canadian Novels of Chava Rosenfarb.” Studies in American Jewish Literature vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 187–99.
3. Morgentaler, Goldie. “When Dickens Spoke Yiddish: Translations of Dickens into the Language of East European Jews.” Dickens Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 2, 2017, pp. 85–95,
4. For a treat, scroll down to two articles I am attaching for your reading pleasure! First, critic Norman Ravvin's 2010 interview with Chava Rosenfarb and Goldie Morgentaler. Second, critic Catherine Caulfield's 2021 analysis of the narrator Rella in Rosenfarb's extraordinary story in Survivors, "Edgia's Revenge. "