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


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

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.
Gutman, Chaim. “An Open Letter to Yente Serdatsky.” Translated by Faith Jones, Anita Norich, and David Mazower. In geveb (December 2023): Accessed Jun 13, 2024.


Chaim Gutman


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.