AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING BY JEWISH WOMEN 2004 By Irena Klepfisz and Helen Epstein Recent years have witnessed a growing interest in memoir as a genre on the parts of the international publishing industry as well as the academy, where memoir is now a frequent focus of non-fiction courses. Memoirs by Jewish women have been very much a part of this trend. Increasingly, scholars are examining the autobiographical writings of women rabbis, politicians, physicians. psychologists, community leaders and artists, and literary figures for a greater understanding of Jewish life. As Jewish women writers, we have both been asked to lecture on Jewish women’s memoir and are confronted with the lack of a definitive anthology that is inter-national (including Europe, Israel, South America, North and South Africa and the U.S.) and inclusive of all parts of the community (observant and secular; lesbian and heterosexual; Ashkenazi. Mizrachi and Sephardi). We are particularly interested in texts that are out of print and texts which have not yet been translated into English but that we can translate ourselves. In 2002 we were funded by what was then theHadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women to begin work on a bibliography.
We have selected an international group of authors and texts and annotated them, thereby opening up a resource through which scholars might address such questions as: when did Jewish women begin writing memoirs and why? In what contexts did they locate their lives? Did they view themselves as exceptions or, as Mary Antin saw it, representatives of "unwritten lives?" We hope that this annotated bibliography, which we view as an evolving resource for general readers as well as for the many Jewish reading groups across the country, will also provide a valuable tool for students and teachers in Jewish Studies, History, Sociology and Literature courses.
We have chosen to include only book length autobiographies. In addition, because there is so much Holocaust material, we reviewed only the “classics” and a few other special memoirs. We have, however, included articles, personal essays, and anthologies of work by women from under-represented groups, most particularly Sephardi/Mizrachi women and Lesbians.
Memoirs included here describe Jewish women’s lives in 25 countries: Austria; Canada; Chile; Cuba; Czechoslovakia; England; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; India;
Russian, Spanish and Yiddish. We tried to describe rather than review the literature although inevitably judgments were made. We were particularly interested in Jewish women who were in some way activists or involved in Jewish, women’s and general political movements; in women who were involved in the arts and in the sciences. Psychoanalysts and psychotherapists are strongly represented.
as detailed as possible. The bulk of the material—despite our best efforts—is Ashkenazi, secular, heterosexual, middle class. We do not repeat these words—instead we identify Sephardi, observant (Hassidim, Orthodox, Traditional), lesbian, and working class (class—whenever this is an issue). Helen Epstein and Irena Klepfisz