Stories Translated From Yiddish
Opening Doors and Bringing Down Walls
Zalman Vendrof (1877-1971) was a journalist and a writer of short stories. He was born in Belorussia, moved to Poland, then England, and finally to America. He returned to Russia in 1918, settling in Moscow. He wrote in Yiddish and while in Poland lost jobs for publishing in that outlawed language. In 1950, in Russia, he was imprisoned, along with other Yiddish writers. His stories used humor to show the struggle of the underdog and injustice in the world, includingand especially antisemitism. Only a fraction of his work remains, and none in Englishthat is not until now.
When It Comes to Living is a selection of Zalman Vendrofs short stories, translated into English by Irene Jerison, Vendrofs grand-niece. The two met in 1966 when Harry Jerisons work as a biopsychologist took them to Russia. Coincidentally, Harrys colleague, Alexander Luria, the distinguished Russian neuropsychologist, lived in the same Moscow apartment complex as Vendrof, providing Irene the opportunity to meet her great-uncle.
For the trip the Jerison family camped twenty miles outside Moscow in a white VW Microbus Camper. Luba Vendrovskovaya, Irenes aunt and Zalman Vendrofs daughter, found the family and the white VW in the University parking lot and told them Uncle Jim, as Vendrof was known to Irene, was eager to meet them. He was spending the summer at a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.
The arrangement to meet was surprisingly easy: the congress organizers provided a police escort because the dacha was outside the twenty-five-mile limit foreigners were restricted to within Moscow. The escort was possibly a spy in training but was young and inexperienced, as well as a bit in awe of the Americans and their distinguished vehicle. Without any maps of Moscow and only Lubas vague memory of the route, the group found their way to the dacha.
Irene and Zalman, though already relatives, turned out to have a strong, spiritual connection. At the meeting, Irene promised to translate some of Zalmans stories into Englishher knowledge of European languages, including Slavic languages, making her a natural match for the job.
When It Comes to Living is Irene Jerisons fulfillment of her promise, and it is proof of her love for language as well as her love for her uncle. She rescued Vendrofs stories from oblivion and recorded them here in this collection. As she says in her introduction, The book gives non-readers in Yiddish access to a chunk of Yiddish culture. And, last and foremost, it is fun to read.