A chance meeting at Village Shalom in Kansas between volunteer teacher Bob Becker and Yadviga Finkelstein, a 93-year-old student, sparked the beginning of a monumental project.
Finkelstein asked Becker if he could find volunteers to translate a Yiddish book written by her late husband, Chaim Finkelstein, and containing articles from a newspaper he edited in Warsaw from 1908 to 1939. The paper was called HAYNT: A Tsaytung Bay Yidn, and the book was a chronicle of its history, giving an intimate picture of Jewish life in Poland during this period.
Becker corralled 29 volunteer translators from Poland, France, the Netherlands and Australia — all working via e-mail — and after two years he has finally completed this “labor of love.” The archives will be available to the public on CDs — in an English edition as well as in Yiddish.
Of the many who might benefit from the venture is Aviva Blumberg, the newspaper editor’s own daughter. Ruth Fisher Goodman, a translator from Wilmington, Del., commented:
“I thought that the HAYNT translation was a very important work, and that is why I agreed to do it. Polish Jewry had a rich history. Last May my husband and I visited Poland and were dismayed (to say the least) that there is still virulent antisemitism. There is virtually no trace of Jewish life in Warsaw and Krakow, the two cities we visited. In fact, I went to the shtetl that my mother grew up in, and the local priest and mayor denied that Jews ever lived there. Later, in Warsaw, at the Lauder Institute, I was told that over 1,100 Jews lived in the little town. Poles still fear that Jews will come and reclaim property. The government has absolutely no intention of paying any reparations to Jews. I think the world needs to know what a splendid people Polish Jewry was, and that can be learned only by the translations recording this vanished society.”
“Unfortunately, I am ignorant of Yiddish, although this ignorance is in part what saved my life during the war,” said Blumberg, a psychiatrist in New York City. “My flawless Polish enabled me to pass and ultimately join my father in America in 1945. However, now I have the opportunity to read his book in English.”
“It was Chaim’s dying wish to see his book, which he called ‘his baby,’ translated into English so that it would have a wider readership,” said his wife, who moved to Village Shalom after her husband died in 2001. “At last I have seen Chaim’s life’s goal fulfilled.”
Hindi Diamond is a writer living in Florida.