by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
LETTERWRITING IS “VUNDERLEKH”
The Yiddish word meaning letter is (der) “briv.”
In the Talmudic times the use of letters became a necessity and nearly every town had its official letter-writer (“libeliarius”). The Rabbis forbade a scholar (“gelerntner”) to reside in a city where there was no such functionary.
In the Jan. 2, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Roger Angell wrote a piece titled, “Life And Letters.” He writes about tweets and texts, Facebook chat, e-mails, and “snail mail.” But he says that “Letters aren’t exactly going away. Condolence letters can’t be sent out from our laptops, and maybe not love letters either..”
Angell says, “Writing regularly to several people—a parent, a friend who’s moved to another coast, a daughter or son away at college—requires one to keep separate mental ledgers, storing up the weather or the idle thoughts or the disasters we need to pass on.” He admits that some letters ramble; some are boring; some are funny (“komish” in Yiddish).
And in the 2011 book, “Bread to Eat & Clothes to Wear - Letters from Jewish Migrants in the Early Twentieth Century” by Gur Alroey, we read,
“Between 1870 and 1898, slightly more than a half-million Jews immigrated to the United States. Upon arrival, they began to send letters to their families, and infor- mation about the New Jewish communities was printed in the newspaper. In this way, a worldwide network of communication developed between the massive Jewish populations in Eastern Europe and the new Jewish communities overseas…”
Yes, as historian Irving Howe says, Jews came to America because they were hungry (“hungerik”), persecuted, and because life in Russia or Poland had become insufferable/intolerable (“nit tsu fartrogn”).
One of the most touching letters in Alroey’s book was written in 1913 by Hasi Bogoklavske.
October 9, 1913
Esteemed, prominent gentlemen of the Removal Office. I can thank you many times over for saving a family from the miserable life of being tormented by hunger because my husband left me in Russia with five children and came to New York and was unable to make a living even for himself. Imagine, , dear friends, what it was like with him unable to help my five children and me. Then we found the benevolent Removal Office which was our savior. Perhaps you remember that on April 22 you sent my husband to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And since he has been staying there my eyes have opened. He started to earn money little by little and started to send me money to live on. His name is Yoysef Bogoslavske. But, my dear friends, I have one more urgent request for you. Perhaps you can do my children and me a great kindness and help us out with the ship tickets. Although my husband is now earing $12 a week, he must still keep enough to live on. My children and I must live, and everthing is so expensive now, we barely have enough for food and for the children to study Yiddish at the very least. But it costs good money and the children are becoming ruined because I can’t put them with good teachers, and their aptitudes are very good. And my husband writes that in America it doesn’t cost anything for children to study. Therefore, my dear gentlemen, please have pity on my children and save them from this cursed place Russia.
Dear gentlemen, best friends, how could I have dared to go to you with such an urgent request? Because my husband writes me frequent letters and I have yet to receive one in which he doesn’t thank you for doing him so much good. So I figured that you won’t refuse my request and you will do me a favor. I think my children will be forever grateful to you and if you won’t do this for me, I don’t know how I will ever be able to bring my children to America and whether I will be able to make respectable people out of them. The names of my family: my name is Hasi Bogoslavske. I’m thirty-four. My older child, a girl, Yate-Mirl, eleven years old, my son Borekh nine years old, my daughter, Menye, seven years old, a little boy Shmuel- Meyer, five years old, and a little girl, Nekhome, one year old. This is my family. I beg you not to be cut off from your good hearts and that you do for my children the good that you do for the whole world and we will not forget you. There is no one here in Russia who we can count on for a favor, so I have my hopes pinned on you.
Be well, from me, Hasi Bogosklavske.
This is my husband’s address:
And this is my address:
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