Free sample chapter: “Scenes of Jewish Life in Alsace – Village Tales from 19th-Century France”

The Between Wanderings Collection has published a new English translation of Auguste Widal’s charming book Scenes of Jewish Life in Alsace. Below is a free sample chapter.

Widal grew up in a largely Yiddish-speaking village in 1830s France, and his stories evoke a rural Jewish world that was vanishing quickly. The tales first appeared in the French Jewish magazine Archives Israélites starting in 1849. The author revised and expanded them for a mainstream French magazine in the late 1850s and for this book in 1860, both under the pen name Daniel Stauben.

This translation restores the Yiddishisms and Jewish wording that the author deleted when reworking the stories for a largely Gentile audience. The edition also adds illustrations by Alphonse Lévy, a 19th-century Alsatian Jewish artist whose drawings and etchings mesh perfectly with these tales.


CHAPTER ONE

Shabbes fish

IT WAS NOVEMBER OF 1856. An invitation from an old friend brought me back to Alsace, to scenes of village life I had known first as a small boy and which I now witnessed again years later with great emotion. As it happened, this short first trip gave me a chance to observe not only the curious characters who populate rural Jewish society in Alsace, but also some striking religious rituals: Friday’s and Saturday’s Sabbath observances, followed by a wedding and later a funeral. These episodes all happened in the order presented here. Imagination played no part in the many events I shall narrate.

The village of Bollwiller, with its large Jewish population, lies a short distance from Mulhouse. Bollwiller is home to Papa Salomon, a handsome old man of seventy whose face exudes wit and warmth. Papa Salomon was to be my host, so I set out from Mulhouse to Bollwiller one Friday afternoon late enough to avoid reaching the village before around four o’clock. Arriving earlier would have disrupted their preparations for Shabbes—the Sabbath. On Fridays, women and girls in Jewish villages do double duty: the Laws of Moses forbid handling fire on the Sabbath, and so besides supper they must also prepare meals for the next day. As I still recalled, Friday mornings and afternoons are hard work, but the evening is one of those rare moments of rest when a Jewish community fully displays its true spirit. For these good folk, when the last rays of the Friday sun fade, so do all the worries, all the sorrows and all the troubles of the week. People say that the Danyes Vage (Wagon of Worries) travels through the hamlets each night, leaving the next day’s allotment of grief on poor humanity’s doorstep. But they also say that this wagon, a painful symbol of country life, halts on Fridays at the edge of each village and will not rattle into motion again until the next evening. Friday is everyone’s night of joy and ease. This is when the unhappy peddlers that you see all week with a staff in their hand and a bundle of merchandise—their whole fortune!—bending their back as they trudge up hills and down valleys, living on water and brown bread… On this evening, without fail, those peddlers will have their barches (white bread), their wine, their beef and fish. In summer, they will lounge in the doorway of their home in shirtsleeves and slippers, and in winter, they will sit behind a nice hot stove in a jacket and a cotton cap. On a Sabbath Eve, yesterday’s deprived peddler would not change places with a king. Continue reading

Book announcement — “Jewish Immigrants in Early 1900s America: A Visitor’s Account,” with 50 vintage pictures

Book cover: "Jewish Immigrants in Early 1900s America"

Fifty vintage photos and illustrations enhance this booklet by political writer Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu. Originally published in French in 1905, it’s the text of a talk he gave shortly after his two-month visit to America.

Leroy-Beaulieu toured Jewish communities in the northeastern U.S. in the spring of 1904 to see how the throngs of recent Jewish refugees were doing in the New World. He was so impressed with what he saw that, when he got home to France, he gave this detailed and celebratory talk to the Jewish Studies Association in Paris, kvelling about how Jewish refugees were thriving in “that land of wonders and liberty,” the United States.

This new translation features Continue reading

Book announcement — “Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language,” about Sephardim and Ladino in the early 20th century


The Between Wanderings book series publishes new translations of vintage books celebrating Jewish life from the 1850s to 1920s—a time of intense migration, changes and challenges for Jews. Some of the books feature first-person accounts of the era’s Jewish communities, customs, folklore, synagogues, schools, foods and culture.
 


I’m pleased to announce a new annotated English translation of Ángel Pulido’s Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language. Scholars of Sephardic history and culture have been quoting this seminal book for 112 years, and it has never been available in English before. Continue reading