Texts & Translation

אַן אָפֿענער בריװ צו יענטע סערדאַצקי

An Open Letter to Yente Serdatsky

Chaim Gutman

Translation by Faith Jones, Anita Norich and David Mazower

INTRODUCTION

Der lebe­dik­er” (The Live­ly One) was the pseu­do­nym of Chaim Gut­man (18871961), humorist and colum­nist, who wrote satir­i­cal essays and mus­ings on lit­er­a­ture and the­atre begin­ning in 1905, after immi­grat­ing from Belarus to New York. He went on to be an edi­tor of or lead­ing con­trib­u­tor to some of the most impor­tant humor pub­li­ca­tions, such as Der kibitser and Der groyser kundes, and to write humor columns and gos­sipy sketch­es about cul­ture for reg­u­lar news­pa­pers as well.

The piece below is a response to Yente Serdatsky’s essay in the Fraye arbayter shtime (The Free Voice of Labor), Our Lit­er­a­ture” (see the trans­la­tion at Asymp­tote). Ten years Gutman’s elder, with numer­ous lit­er­ary short sto­ries already pub­lished, Ser­datsky was bet­ter posi­tioned to muse on the Yid­dish lit­er­ary land­scape, which she did with­out men­tion of gen­der. Gutman’s response, how­ev­er, fore­grounds Serdatsky’s gen­der and uses it as the major objec­tion to her essay. At the time of his exchange with Ser­datsky, Gut­man was only 24. Gut­man con­tin­ued to mine such gen­der-based humor, notably in his 1937 book, Di eybike milkhome: Satirn, humoreskes, un lek­t­syes vegn man un froy (The Eter­nal War: Satires, Humor­ous Writ­ings, and Lessons about Man and Woman).

This piece appeared in Der kibitser, 22 March 1912, p.12. It was trans­lat­ed by Faith Jones with Ani­ta Norich and David Mazower. 

Fur­ther Read­ing:
On Der lebe­dik­er
On Yente Ser­datsky
Yente Ser­datsky: Col­lect­ed Sto­ries in Yid­dish
Der lebe­dik­er: Books in Yiddish

Dear Yente!

Finally we have our Deborah the Prophetess, a Judith, a Perovskaya, a Joan of Arc!

I found myself exclaiming these words three times while reading over your article, “Our Literature” in the last issue of the Fraye arbeter shtime.

Dear, beloved Yente! For years I have waited, longed, and waited again, for someone who would come along and drag our literature out of its impoverished state, to give it a parlor-ready face, and to get rid of the spreaders of disease.

Yente dearest! I must confess that I wanted a man to undertake this task: a hero, a giant, with a great head and impressive, broad shoulders, and I’m deeply disappointed that it’s actually a woman, a weak woman, who must do this work. It pains me, and my masculine pride is wounded.

But since this is the way things have turned out, I congratulate you and cry out: The petticoat lives in Yiddish literature!

What can be done when our strongest men are busy nowadays with chess, dominoes, and checkers? What can be done!

And when I happily close my eyes, I see you, dear Yente, standing in your kitchen, in your apron, your head to one side, one hand holding an iron, the other a wooden spoon, and you’re standing in the middle of your kitchen — it is daytime, your husband is at work, the house is quiet, the sink is running, the laundry is soaking, the dishes are dirty — you stand there, Yente dear and you call out: My dear colleagues, be strong! Be proud! Walk more firmly! Carry your holy tablets in your arms! Fight! Because you are the avant garde, the flag bearers! And when I see you like that, well, I want to embrace you and kiss you, kiss you just so, collegially and warmly, until the warmth reaches Yiddish literature…

Dear Yente! I am overcome, I can speak no more. I can write no more. I want to call out, scream to everyone: you are truly a mother and not a writer!

You have saved Yiddish literature from its didacts. You’ve chucked out their Bildungs-exam, and left Yiddish literature in fate’s hands…

You’ve given our “Young Ones” courage and bolstered their sense of superiority.

In a word, Yente dear, you —

Will this do anything? Will it convince everyone? This, my dear colleague, is in God’s hands. Who can know? In any case, I am by your side, and I heartily shake your plump little hand.

With love, respect, and in the joy of battle,

your Khayim’ke

MLA STYLE
Gutman, Chaim. “An Open Letter to Yente Serdatsky.” In geveb, December 2023: Trans. Faith Jones, Anita Norich, and David Mazower. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/an-open-letter-to-yente-serdatsky.
CHICAGO STYLE
Gutman, Chaim. “An Open Letter to Yente Serdatsky.” Translated by Faith Jones, Anita Norich, and David Mazower. In geveb (December 2023): Accessed Feb 26, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chaim Gutman

ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS

Faith Jones

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

Anita Norich

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

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.