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Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America
June 17, 2014

TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 2014 | 7pm
Alice Nakhimovsky, Colgate University; Roberta Newman, YIVO; Shane Baker, Actor; Yelena Shmulenson, Actor

Admission: General - $10 | YIVO members, seniors and students - $7
Box Office: | 212.868.4444

At the turn of the 20th century, Jewish families scattered by migration could stay in touch only through letters. But for many Jews who were unaccustomed to communicating their public and private thoughts in writing, correspondence was a challenge. A popular solution was to consult brivnshtelers, Yiddish-language books of model letters for every occasion. Join us for a lively discussion with Alice Nakhimovsky (Colgate University) and Roberta Newman (YIVO), authors of Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America (Indiana Press), the first book written about this little-known genre of literature.

Actors Shane Baker and Yelena Shmulenson will begin the evening with dramatic readings of selected letters.


Alice Nakhimovsky is Professor of Russian and Jewish Studies at Colgate University, where she directs the Program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. She has written extensively on Russian-Jewish literature and everyday life, and served on the editorial board of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Roberta Newman is an independent scholar living in New York City. She is Director of Digital Initiatives at YIVO and was the Illustrations Editor and Director of Archival Research for The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. She also writes fiction, mostly short stories that explore Jewish history and Jewish identity.

Shane Baker played Vladimir in the Yiddish world premiere of Waiting for Godot in his own translation for the New Yiddish Rep. He's best known for his hit Off Broadway show The Big Bupkis! A Complete Gentile's Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville and his online series, The Sheyn Show produced by the Yiddish Daily Forward. Baker is executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture, a Yiddish cultural organization based in New York.

Yelena Shmulenson was born in Belarus, spent her early childhood in Siberia, her adolescence in the Ukraine, and emigrated here in 1993. She’s perhaps best known for her performance as the icepick-wielding wife in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-nominated “A Serious Man”. Other film and TV credits include “Boardwalk Empire” (as ‘Mrs. Manny Horvitz’), Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd”, “Romeo & Juliet in Yiddish”, and “Chinese Puzzle” (w/ Audrey Tautou; upcoming); stage credits include five seasons Off-Broadway with the Folksbiene, two at the Ellis Island Theatre, “The Golem of Havana”, “The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum” (Fringe/tour), “Covers”, (New York and Moscow), etc. She’s won three Earphones Awards for her recorded books, and is fluent in five languages.

Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.