At the turn of the 20th century, Jewish families scattered by migration could stay in touch only through letters. Jews in the Russian Empire and America wrote business letters, romantic letters, and emotionally intense family letters. But for many Jews who were unaccustomed to communicating their public and private thoughts in writing, correspondence was a challenge. How could they make sure their spelling was correct and they were organizing their thoughts properly? A popular solution was to consult brivnshtelers, Yiddish-language books of model letters. Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl translates selections from these model-letter books and includes essays and annotations that illuminate their role as guides to a past culture.
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Alice Nakhimovsky is Professor of Russian and Jewish Studies at Colgate University, where she directs the program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. She has written extensively on Russian-Jewish literature and everyday life and served on the editorial board of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.
Roberta Newman is an independent scholar living in New York City. She is Director of Digital Initiatives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and was Illustrations Editor and Director of Archival Research for The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.Review:
"Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl delivers more than one would expect because it goes beyond a linguistic study of letter-writing manuals and explicates their genre and social function. It is appropriate for students of Jewish life generally and Yiddishists of any age." ―Slavic Review
"Such factors as a relatively high incidence of literacy and a widely scattered geographical distribution made Yiddish speakers prone to writing letters and, generally, committing to paper aspects of their experience. This book is a magic window into daily lives of people residing in various corners of the globe but sharing a common language and culture, epistolary culture in particular." ―Gennady Estraikh, New York University, co-editor of 1929: Mapping the Jewish World
"A great deal of history is covered in this book as the authors discuss the social and economic stresses
that Jews faced on both sides of the ocean throughout this time period. Each section begins with an
explanation of a particular issue, but the real delight of the book is in reading the letters themselves..
.. Highly Recommended." ―AJL Reviews
"The vibrant world of the brivenshtelers, indispensible Yiddish guides to the art of letter writing for geographically mobile Jews, comes to life in this riveting volume. For the first time, model letters for every occasion―from desperate requests for money to advice about romance and jealousy, from excuses about late rents to accusations about having a Christmas tree―are accessible in rich detail and variety. Through the window of these long-forgotten manuals, unique for their paradoxical 'fluent banality,' this new history of Jewish emotions, sentiments, social propriety, and everyday life in Eastern Europe and America blazes a fresh, pioneering trail." ―ChaeRan Y. Freeze, author of Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia
"...These manuals provide us with a lens to better understand Jewish life at the time, as they mirror many of the challenges and concerns that Russian and American Jews were experiencing, and as they resonate with the emotional registers found in Yiddish literature and letters more generally." ―Jewish Book Council
"...[C]overs a neglected aspect of Jewish popular culture and deserves a wide readership. For all serious readers of Yiddish and immigrant Jewish culture and customs." ―Library Journal
"Reproductions of brivnshtelers form the core of the book and comprise the majority of the text, providing a ground-level window into a largely obscured past." ―Publishers Weekly
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