The Memoirs of Gluckel
The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, which span from 1686 to 1719, is a fascinating autobiography from a frum, German Jewish mother of 14 who also worked as a businesswoman. Though she was married off at the tender age of 14, she was highly educated and opinionated in Torah as well as in secular matters. It is most interesting that over those times, she got to experience and relate to luxury but also dire poverty, in two different countries.
In her diary, she reflected on motherhood, business, marriage, shidduchim, girls education and ties to Gentiles. She would also relate various anecdotes, from tragic (fires, plague, pirates) to funny to bittersweet, and her personality and humor really come to life through those. When she was left a young widow with a family in the double digits, she took over her husband’s trade and ran a factory – while succesfully marrying off her children into the most prominent European Ashkenazi families, before she herself remarried a man from Lorraine, France, where she relocated and had to adapt to new minhagim and way of life.
Originally written in Renaissance German Yiddish, the language in which my grandfather read it – I was only able to enjoy it in English and French – it depicts a life obviously different from our own, and yet also modern and pertinent especially to frum readers. The life she lived was fulfilling and holy, and yet so hard compared to most of ours ; still her love for Hashem shines through her whole text.
I was especially interested in her depiction of the mitzvos in her times and places, and in her attempt at keeping up with her growing family’s genealogy, as those as passions of mine. It was only natural that I decided to study her work in my own thesis at university, and to include it also in my book Yankee Yinglish, as an early example of Yiddish as a contact language.
Rahel Jarach is a French, bilingual author and her first book, Yankee Yinglish, deals with Yiddish as a part of American culture. Her interests span from the non-fiction and academic to historical or religious pieces to French Gothic literature, and her works reflect that. Her next book is going to be a novel about identity, belonging and cultural transmission.