Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe Marjorie Wolfe
by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe

In Yiddish, a “khosn” is a fiance and a “kale” is fiancee.

The Bintel Brief (which means “bundle of letters”) was a Yiddish advice column in the Forverts for 60 years. Abe Cahan was the editor; he answered the early letters.

How timely are the letters today? Do they resemble the letters we write to Ann Landers? To Rabbi Marc Gellman at the God Squad? Or to Ask A Rabbi? or “”?

Let’s look at just one letter—probably the most tragic letter—in my opinion. It was written in 1923.

Worthy Mr. Editor,

I was born in a small town in Russia and my mother brought me up alone, because I had lost my father when I was a child. My dear mother used all her energies to give me a proper education.

A pogrom broke out and my mother was the first victim of the blood bath. They spared no one, and no one was left for me. But that wasn’t enough for the murderers, they robbed me of my honor. I begged them to kill me instead, but they let me live to suffer and grieve.

After that there were long days and nights of loneliness and grief. I was alone, despondent and homeless, until relatives in American brought me over. but my wounded heart found no cure here either. Here I am lonely, too, and no one cares. I am dejected, without a ray of hope, because all my former dreams for the future are shattered.

A few months ago, however, I met a young man, a refined and decent man. It didn’t take long before we fell in love. He has already proposed marriage and he is now waiting for my answer.

I want to marry this man, but I keep putting off giving him an answer because I can’t tell him the secret that weighs on my heart and bothers my conscience. I have no rest and am almost going out of my mind. When my friend comes to hear my answer, I want to tell him everything. Let him know all; I’ve bottled up the pain inside me long enough. Let him hear all and then decide. But I have no words and can tell him nothing.

I hope you will answer and advise me what
I can do.
I thank you,
A Reader

Before divulging the advice given to this young woman, we should ask this question:
How relevant is the rape problem today?
FYI: The Yiddish word meaning to rape is “trenen” (taboo), according to Fred Kogos. Galvin and Tamarkin (“The Yiddish Dictionary Sourcebook”) says that the word meaning to rape is “fargvaldikn.”

Federal statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 5 women will be victims of sexual assault during their college years. Many of the women who do report their attackers are then victimized by complaint systems that are difficult to navigate.

We’ve had the Duke case, Kobe Bryant’s “acquaintance rape,” the William Kennedy Smith Case, and the case where CBS’s, Lara Logan was dragged off, beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tabrir Square. The New York Times (5/15/11) reported there is about l rape per minute, on average, of women in Congo, which United Nations officials have called the epicenter of sexual assault, as a weapon of war.

Rape is still one of the most underreported crimes. Approximately 61% of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported.

So, how was this letter answered?

In the pogroms, in the great disasters, this misfortune befell many Jewish girls like you. But you must not feel guilty and not be so dejected, because you are innocent. A man who can understand and sympathize can be told everything now, or not. In this matter you must take more responsibility on yourself. You know the man, and you must know, more or less, if he will be able to understand.
Source: “The Bintel Brief - Sixty Years of Letters From the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward,” Compiled, Edited and with an introduction by Isaac Metzker.

And now let’s f-a-s-t forward to 2012.

“The Ethicist” column (January 15, 2012, The New York Times Magazine) contained a letter written to Ariel Kaminer:


As a very broke and self-supporting 20-year-old college senior, I donated my eggs in exchange for money. It was a horrendous experience, and I rarely speak about it. Although I assume that some children resulted, I regret my participation and do not wish to know the results. I am now 35, engaged and planning to start a family. Must I tell my fiance that there may be teenagers walking around with my genetic material? Name withheld

Although this letter does not deal with rape, it does concern itelf with disclosure, “erlekhkayt” (honesty) and “emes” (truth). We can’t tell this young woman, “Makh nit keyn tsimes fun dem”—Don’t make a fuss about it. Grow up and get over it!”


Marjorie agrees with the following Yiddish proverb: “Ibergekumeneh tsores iz gut tsu dertsailen.” (It’s good to talk about troubles that are over.)

Marjorie Wolfe
  Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe