‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah’: Inside 19th-Century Yiddish Letter-Writing Manuals
Correspondence templates taught Jews both literacy and how to be modern. A new anthology shows their entertainment value.
“A trustworthy person, one of our friends, has told us that you have been seen going around late at night with young men. You are also seen very frequently at dances, masquerades, and picnics.” So starts a letter to a young Jewish woman from her worried father who warns her of the peril that awaits if she continues her misbehavior. The letter is one of many having to do with social mores and business concerns. It is also a fiction. That is, it is a sample letter dating from 1905. Sample letters were written in the late 19th and early 20th century to help teach people not just how to read and write, but also how to conduct themselves in all aspects of a modernizing world. These letters were written in different languages and targeted at different populations, Jewish and non-Jewish, across Europe. The specifically Yiddish sample letters that were collected in manuals, called brivnshteler, not only taught Jews across the Pale of Settlement literacy and acculturation, they also served as entertainment for their readers.
In Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals From Russia and America, Alice Nakhimovsky, a professor of Russian and Jewish Studies at Colgate University, and Roberta Newman, the director of digital initiatives at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, explore what these brivnshteler tell us about the world their readers would have lived in. Nakhimovsky and Newman join Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss how Yiddish letter manuals differed from letter manuals targeting non-Jewish audiences and why the letters so rarely grapple with political matters, and point out what strikes them in particular about a few stand-out samples, read for us quite memorably by Wayne Hoffman, Gabriel Sanders, and Amelia Kahaney.
- Vox TabletSo Long, FarewellAfter 11 years and 500 episodes, Vox Tablet signs off for good
- Vox TabletTanya’s StoryHow a young woman learned the painful lesson that there are times when trying to do what’s ‘right’ can go very, very wrong
- Vox TabletA New Kind of Prayer BookThe Conservative movement’s latest siddur goes way beyond traditional liturgy
- Vox TabletHey, Mister DJ: Put a (Diaspora-Blending, Genre-Bending) Record OnBooty-shaking new music from A-Wa, Sandaraa, and Schizophonia
- Vox TabletWhat’s Free Will Got To Do With It?Especially in election season, we love talking about the moral fiber (or lack thereof) of our candidates. But when it comes to ethics, no man—or woman—is an island.
- Vox TabletBuilders of a New JerusalemIn a new book, Adina Hoffman brings to life three architects who transformed the city in the days of the British Mandate
- Vox TabletBathe in the WatersA radio documentary asks: Is there a way for women to dunk ritually that doesn’t conflict with their feminism?
- Vox TabletBeyond DrakeA handful of personalities come to mind when we think of African-American Jews. Let’s change that.
- Vox TabletThe Saddlemaker, the Schindler, and the Miller of WlodowaGolems, messiahs, tradesmen, Nazis, and townspeople converge in the story collection ‘In the Land of Armadillos’
- Vox TabletA Year of FirstsAn audio portrait of Luzer Twersky, just after he quit his life as a Hasid, and long before he played one in films
- Vox TabletFor the Love of Suzie Louise: A Christmas StoryIn middle-century Skokie, a young Jewish boy searches for a stolen Jesus to comfort his bereft Christian girlfriend
- Vox TabletThe Most Haunted Leading ManIn ‘Son of Saul,’ actor Géza Röhrig defies our every expectation of a Holocaust movie hero
- Vox TabletGirlhood, InterruptedCynthia Kaplan Shamash fled Iraq 40-odd years ago, when she was just a kid. Her flight foreshadowed that of young refugees fleeing Syria now. Where did she land? Where will they?
- Vox TabletLet ‘Freedom’ Ring: A Flutist Gives Life to Musical Celebrations of LiberationsMimi Stillman’s new album features works inspired by upheaval in Europe and the Middle East
- Vox TabletPuzzle MasterFor years, scholars dismissed the Arabic on text fragments from Cairo’s genizah as unimportant scribbling. Then along came Marina Rustow, bona fide ‘genius.’
- Vox TabletMy Grandfather, the Secret PolicemanRita Gabis knew only that her mother’s Catholic family came from Lithuania after the Holocaust. Then she started asking hard questions.
- Vox TabletBeyond the PulpitWhat does a rabbi do in late August when he no longer needs to prep for High Holidays?
- Vox TabletAndré Aciman, Sarah Wildman, and Others Build a Summer Reading ListLooking for a good book to sink into at the beach in these waning dog days? Friends share what they’ve loved lately.