Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman, 2014, 248 pages, Indiana University Press
Late 19th century and early 20th century Eastern European Jewish society was in flux. People were leaving their ancestral homes in Russia and Poland for America, mostly New York City or Montreal and Toronto. Rarely did they speak English. They often lacked formal literacy in any language. All sorts of matters had to be handled via correspondence. The authors show us the great importance letter manuals, called brivnshtelers, became very popular.
There were letters for all sorts of needs. Marriages were still often at least semi-arranged. There are numerous sample letters for this as well as letters declaring love. All sorts of issues between parents and children show up in the sample letters as well as business letters. The authors explain very well the way the manuals were employed. There are separate treatments of letters for people in Russia and America. There are lots of letters in Yiddish literature and the authors do talk about the classic writers. One of my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem.
There are lots of examples of letters in Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America. From them you can increase your understanding of family dynamics, emotional attitudes and much more among Eastern European Jews.
This book will interest anyone into Yiddish literature. Heritage readers wil be equally fascinated. This is what most refer to as an academic work. I am so glad I read this book.
In conjunction with this book I recommend two works on the immigration experiences of Eastern European Jews. Dealing with Canada, The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home After the Holocaust by Zelda Abramson and John Lynch. For New York City, there is World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made by Irving Howe.
Alice Nakhimovsky is a 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 the Director of Digital Initiatives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and was the Illustrations Editor and Director of Archival Research for The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.