A Minyen Yidn (un Andere Zakhn): A Bunch of Jews (and oth­er stuff)

Max B. Perl­son, Tri­na Robbins

  • Review
By – December 8, 2017

Though Yid­dish is no longer the bind­ing lan­guage of Euro­pean Jew­ry, as it was before the Holo­caust, the cul­ture it pro­duced is still vibrant and, sur­pris­ing­ly, still grow­ing in interest.

One unique addi­tion to the body of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture is a mod­est, but potent, col­lec­tion of sto­ries from Max B. Perl­son titled A Minyen Yidn (un Andere Zakhn). Perlson’s book, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1938, would have lan­guished as an obscure piece of lit­er­ary ephemera if not for the intre­pid work of Tri­na Rob­bins, Perlson’s daugh­ter and a pio­neer of under­ground and fem­i­nist-ori­ent­ed comics. Rob­bins, who is also known for her ground­break­ing work for Won­der Woman, writes in her intro­duc­tion that she was once ambiva­lent about her father’s Yid­dish­ness” and for that rea­son did not orig­i­nal­ly care much for his work. It was only in recent years, when she dis­cov­ered phys­i­cal copies of Perlson’s orig­i­nal book, that Rob­bins became inter­est­ed in the poten­tial to express her father’s sto­ry in the medi­um she knows best: sequen­tial art.

Thanks to a Kick­starter cam­paign, Rob­bins real­ized her vision: to have her father’s sto­ries trans­lat­ed into com­ic form. The result is a diverse and enter­tain­ing read. Perlson’s sto­ries are mini-mas­ter­pieces of the sprawl­ing art of con­vey­ing Jew­ish neu­roses, empa­thy, hubris, and love. Like an Old World Har­vey Pekar, Perl­son had a way of nav­i­gat­ing and remov­ing the sen­ti­men­tal­i­ties of the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence while still acknowl­edg­ing the broad­er cul­tur­al life of the peo­ple who inhab­it that world. Perlson’s char­ac­ters run the gamut of the Yid­dish lit­er­ary tra­di­tion: There are nud­nicks and neb­bish­es, no-good­niks and nar­ishkeit, but along the way, there are also moments of ten­der heart and soul.

But Robbins’s secret weapon was choos­ing extreme­ly tal­ent­ed artists to make her father’s sto­ries tru­ly sing for a mod­ern audi­ence. The styl­is­ti­cal­ly var­ied illus­tra­tions add much to the emo­tion­al res­o­nance of Perlson’s words. High­lights among the artists include Sarah Glid­den, Robert Trip­tow, and Jen Vaughn, who each infuse their art with sub­tle, keen obser­va­tions from Perlson’s orig­i­nal text, and unique per­spec­tives on the material.

What ulti­mate­ly makes A Minyen Yidn a spe­cial col­lec­tion is Robbins’s affin­i­ty for the mate­r­i­al and the care she has tak­en to ensure that her father’s work can be cher­ished by a new gen­er­a­tion. The tales, while firm­ly tak­ing place in the shtetl, are nev­er­the­less rel­e­vant for a new era and time­less in their capac­i­ty to shed light on the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the Jew­ish condition.

Discussion Questions