Richard J. Fein, poet, essayist and Yiddishkeit maven, has published a compilation of his work related to the first book of Torah, Genesis. There is a play on words here as well, as Fein muses about his own relationship to Yiddish and how the language and its nuances have shaped his life.
The most telling affect in the book is Fein’s repeated reference to Yehoash’s translation of Genesis into Yiddish; a powerful voice emerges from this application, as if our grandparents and great-grandparents knew the Almighty on a personal basis.
Fein pays tribute to the traditional Yiddish poets (Yankev Glatshteyn, Mani Leib, etc.) as consummate manipulators of a language that on its face can be read many ways.
As a memoir, “Yiddish Genesis” is a story of love abandoned, forsaken and then found and embraced, as Fein charts his childhood rejection of the mother tongue to his rejoicing in its life-giving properties. He says, “I have been vivified by Yiddish at the very time that it dwindles away. I can say of Yiddish literature and of myself: In its end is my beginning.”
The reader has to be willing to throw himself on the altar Abraham built for Yitzchak to appreciate the depth of passion Fein exudes for the Yiddish language and for the stories of Genesis that survive the generations. This is a tall order for the average reader, but faith is not a requirement here. One need only believe that the ties that bind us are braided within the power inherent in language and story.