“In the Bedroom” - A Short Story by Rokhl Bernshteyn writing Under The Pen Name of Yehudis - 1908 - translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin in 2020 - published by The Yiddish Book Center
You may read this story here
Yehudis (pseudonym of Rokhl Bernsteyn)
Minsk - 1942
The Yivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews article
on her is here.
Yehudis was born into an intellectual Minsk family. She wrote short stories, dramatic pieces and poems. After the Russian Revolution she wrote articles for Soviet Yiddish language publications. The article on her in The Yivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews says she is today virtually forgotten. This story appears to be the first of her works to be translated into English. I offer my thanks to Professor Finkin for allowing those not literate in Yiddish to read this really quite amazing story.
As “In The Bedroom Opens” two young women, Mirel and Gine, are talking from their beds. Mirel shares some gossip:
“Mirel crooned quietly to herself and then burst out laughing. “Gine, are you asleep? Get this, Sarah just found someone to surrender her sanctum to, her innocence which she was guarding so daintily. Till her hair turned grey, ha! Oh, what a virtuous soul!”
“Why are you laughing, Mirele? You think old people can’t love?”
“Oh, no, I don’t think that. Just the opposite. I like to think of her first hot breaths, and for him—oh, the unfortunate man—hot breaths, wild kisses, and moldy innocence, ha-ha!”
This opens the women up to a conversation about their own sexuality.
“Gosh, the way you talk.” Gine scolded
“Do my words shock you? Not so elegant? You prefer holy talk!”
“So you’ve got a fiancé yourself, Mirel?”
“A sweetheart? Yes, no harm in that. A sweetheart for a while,” Mirel laughed.
“Stop talking nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense. Love’s only worth it for a while; longtime love is sad. You see, love spoils when it lasts too long, it turns sour, moldy.”
“How old are you, Mirele?”
“You’re worried about my innocence? Too late. I lost that a long time ago.”
“What do you mean by that?” Gine asked as she sat down.
“Don’t be afraid, my little kitten, a pair of fine strong arms took it from me. An electrical current passed from those arms right through me. I felt something new. I stared so searchingly into those eyes, as if I might discover the secret of my new feeling.”
“What play is that from? What role are you playing?”
“My own. I’m being serious.”
“You loved? And now?”
“Did I love, you ask? Yes, I loved. Myself. You see, I loved myself, my feeling, my pleasure.”
From here they begin to dicuss whether sexual passion reauires the sanction of marriage, on sexual feelings for other women and self gratification. As conversation goes on women open up more about their own experiences.
For 1908 in Jewish culture in Minsk this must have been very shocking. I hope Professor Finkin will bring out a collection of her work.
I could not find an image of her online, if you can Help with this please contact us.
Jordan Finkin is Rare Book and Manuscript Librarian at the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. A specialist in modern Jewish literatures, he is the author of several books as well as numerous scholarly essays and articles. His most recent book, Exile as Home, explores the work of the Yiddish poet Leyb Naydus. He is also the director of Naydus Press, a non-profit publisher of Yiddish literature in translation.