Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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53
LEFTWICH / ABOUT TRANSLATION FROM THE YIDDISH
friends, including Professor Isaacs and Lazarus Aaronson got to
know Hanna Berman, who became a sort of mentor to us in the
Jewish Association of Arts and Sciences that met in Toynbee
Hall. She had just established her reputation with her novel
M e lu to vn a
and her books of Sholem Aleichem translations—
S tem p en yu
and
Jew ish Ch ild ren .
We had none of us yet achieved
publication; and she was an established author. She was helpful
and understanding. I am sure that my devotion to Yiddish was
strengthened by her love and interest for it, and what seemed to
me then her wide knowledge of Yiddish literature.
The
Jew ish Ch ron ic le
in May 1914 had published a long in-
terview with her on the publication of
M e lu to vn a— ‘a.
striking
novel,” the interviewer called it. The interview soon wandered
to Yiddish, to her translations of Sholem Aleichem. “Your render-
ing of
S tem p en yu
was a success?” “So much so that I am often
tempted to leave aside my own original work to do more trans-
lations.” “Is there a future for Yiddish literature?” “A brilliant
future. Yiddish will infuse new blood into European literature.”
“You rank Yiddish very high?” “I do not think I overestimate its
place and power.” This was before the First World War, before
the break-up of the massive block of six million Jews in Czarist
Russia, out of whose midst Yiddish literature had grown. She
went on to speak with knowledge of Peretz and Sholem Aleichem,
Mendele, Sholem Asch, Bergelson, Weissenberg, Yehoash. She
spoke too of the art of translating Yiddish into English. “One
must translate the palpitating Yiddish mentality into idiomatic
English. Rigidity is fatal.”
Alas, Dr. A. A. Roback, author of several books on Yiddish
literature, dismisses Hanna Berman’s translations very brusquely.
“Hanna Berman,” he says, “cast her English into a Yiddish mold,
with the result that it was neither English nor Yiddish.” The
trouble is that she fell too often in her translations into the
“rigidity” she had condemned as “fatal.” It was a pitfall she did
not avoid. One sees the temptations. There is the fascination of
a discovery, enthusiasm over a precious find—“Here be jewels!
Come and share in my delight!” And wanting to pass on the en-
thusiasm the finder is anxious to preserve as much as possible,
faithfully. The danger exists in all translations. At the Warsaw
Translators Conference Edmund Ordon, an American professor
of Polish, spoke of the sin of being “too faithful to the original.