Texts & Translation

אַ פּאָר שעה אין פֿרױען־װעלט

A Few Hours in Women’s World

Chana Blankshteyn

Translation by Anita Norich, Faith Jones and David Mazower

INTRODUCTION

Chana Blankshteyn (1860?-1939) is best known for her polit­i­cal activism and essays and short sto­ries writ­ten in the inter­war peri­od. First with the Folkspartey and lat­er with Poa­ley Tsiy­on, she worked against the traf­fick­ing of women and on behalf of women’s caus­es and voca­tion­al train­ing, defend­ing women’s rights to social, sex­u­al, and polit­i­cal equal­i­ty. Just weeks before her death and the begin­ning of World War II, a col­lec­tion of her sto­ries—Nov­e­l­es—was pub­lished in Vil­na. (Eng­lish trans­la­tion: Fear and Oth­er Sto­ries, trans­lat­ed by Ani­ta Norich) 

Sore Reyzn was a poet, prose writer, and trans­la­tor. Giv­en the com­plaint voiced by Blankshteyn in the fol­low­ing essay, it is par­tic­u­lar­ly iron­ic that crit­ics often referred to Reyzn as the sis­ter of Avrom and Zal­men Reyzn.

This piece appeared as A por sho in froyen-velt,” in Der tog, 8 March 1927, p. 3. It was trans­lat­ed by Ani­ta Norich with David Mazow­er and Faith Jones. 

Fur­ther Read­ing:
On Chana Blankshteyn
Chana Blankshteyn: Books in Yid­dish
Chana Blankshteyn: Books in Eng­lish
On Sore Reyzn
Sore Reyzn: Books in Yiddish

The historical fate of the Jewish woman.

Biblical figures of women pass before our eyes: the heroic, devoted, strong, and gentle daughters of an ancient people.

The Middle Ages. Europe is engulfed in burning stakes. The Inquisition rages in Spain.

But Jewish daughters—young, blooming girls and happy, distinguished women—give up their futures. Proudly, heads held high, they go to their deaths in the name of their truth. There are no traitors among Jewish women: history has not recorded a single name of a female traitor. Better death in ocean waves than dishonor. The trustworthy wife drowns before the eyes of her husband and those who want to defile her. For the Jewish woman, modesty was always a debt she owed her people.

The woman of today. It sounds like an old fable, like lovely legends we have long forgotten in the tumult of daily life. But unwittingly, swimming to the surface of our consciousness, there comes the significance that women had in our past. We wonder: “Where did our great-great-grandmothers get that precious moral strength, so that behind the terrible walls of the ghetto they might instill in their sons enormous Jewish optimism, the powerful love of life? From what wells did Jewish women draw the fierce will that strengthened their men, drawing light and warmth, beauty and joy in threatened Jewish homes?”

A few words about the Haskalah and we come to today.

The modern woman. Those active in the realm of literature--Rokhl Faygenberg, Miriam Ulinover, Ida Glazer, and more. The voice of the speaker quivers, almost imperceptibly. A shadow hovers over her rather sad eyes. The fate of the Yiddish poet or prose writer is difficult, but much more difficult is the lonely path of the female Yiddish poet. Sometimes—very seldom—her lines appear: the book is printed! Tomorrow, the lonely woman will no longer be lonely. The lines will be read, they’ll make an impression. But the reviewers who direct the reader—the almighty reviewers—will ignore the book.

The critics are silent, passing over her lines in silence. The woman who walks the stony path of Yiddish literature is once again lonely, without support on the path she has just recently begun to tread. Oh, that awful, masculine silence!

At the end of the gathering, Sore Reyzn reads her own poems, although unfortunately only a few of them. They carry the stamp of modesty and purity that characterizes her poetry: an unpretentious calm, without screaming pathos, clear heartfelt mood-flowers that have grown in the ground of people’s daily lives, out of quiet joy, trampled ideals. Her poems sing of the hard work of seamstresses, of farewells. They reveal a woman’s warmth, steeped in the eternal yearning of a woman’s soul for “the little blue flower,” for a bit of happiness and beauty. Sore Reyzn’s poetry comes to us without blaring headlines. She is no “aesthete.” She gives us true, pure lyric, creates moods, calms, calls forth a pensive smile in her readers that reflects her own. Hearing her unassuming lines, one recalls what the great French lyricist Alfred de Musset said about himself: “My glass is not large, but I drink from my own glass.”

In one of her most successful poems, Sore Reyzn says, “I love you, Vilna.”

One wants to respond: And Vilna loves Sore Reyzn.

A few pleasant hours were spent on Saturday night in the Women’s Union.

MLA STYLE
Chana Blankshteyn. “A Few Hours in Women’s World.” In geveb, December 2023: Trans. Anita Norich, Faith Jones, and David Mazower. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/a-few-hours-in-womens-world.
CHICAGO STYLE
Chana Blankshteyn. “A Few Hours in Women’s World.” Translated by Anita Norich, Faith Jones, and David Mazower. In geveb (December 2023): Accessed Feb 26, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chana Blankshteyn

ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS

Anita Norich

Anita Norich is Tikva Frymer-Kensky Collegiate Professor Emerita of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.

Faith Jones

Faith Jones is a librarian and translator in Vancouver, Canada.

David Mazower

David Mazower is chief curator and writer of Yiddish: A Global Culture, the major new permanent exhibition at the Yiddish Book Center, where he is Research Bibliographer and Editorial Director.