Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch and well-known Yid­dish schol­ar, is cur­rent­ly try­ing to crowd-fund his next project, a trans­la­tion of a clas­sic Yid­dish nov­el by Joseph Opatoshu, on Indiegogo, a wide­ly-used web­site that enables indi­vid­u­als to col­lect con­tri­bu­tions for their intel­lec­tu­al or entre­pre­neur­ial pur­suits from users all over the world.

The nov­el in ques­tion is called In Pol­ish Forests and is said to con­tain a stun­ning­ly accu­rate por­tray­al of Jew­ish life in rur­al Poland, out­side of the major cities and cul­tur­al cen­ters where Jews were nor­mal­ly known to reside. Accord­ing to Wex, Opatoshu wrote some of the best prose ever pub­lished in Yid­dish.” Opatoshu’s writ­ing, while fair­ly well-known in his own time, nev­er suc­cess­ful­ly made the tran­si­tion into Eng­lish. In Pol­ish Forests, writ­ten in 1921, has already been pub­lished once in Eng­lish in 1938, but the trans­la­tion, which is char­ac­ter­ized as lack­lus­ter, has vir­tu­al­ly fad­ed into oblivion. 

Wex is try­ing to raise $75,000 by June 7th — if he doesn’t reach his goal, he’ll aban­don the cam­paign and any indi­vid­u­als who have con­tributed will have their mon­ey refund­ed. If he does reach his goal, Wex plans to offer the trans­lat­ed nov­el as an e‑book/​PDF on his web­site for free, mak­ing it com­plete­ly and indef­i­nite­ly acces­si­ble to every­one who wants to read it. This, he claims, is immea­sur­ably bet­ter than hav­ing the book pub­lished by a uni­ver­si­ty press, which would only pay a small advance for the project and would like­ly only pub­lish it under a small press run. 

Hav­ing the trans­la­tion fund­ed through indiegogo also sat­is­fies the project’s need for imme­di­a­cy. As Wex argues, the poten­tial for a new trans­la­tion only con­tin­ues to dimin­ish as time goes on and the com­mu­ni­ty of schol­ar­ly native Yid­dish speak­ers gets small­er. For this project to ever be suc­cess­ful, it’s imper­a­tive that those involved in the trans­la­tion still retain an authen­tic sense and knowl­edge of Pol­ish Jew­ish cul­ture as it was in the nine­teenth century.

It’s clear that there are some very good rea­sons to con­tribute to the trans­la­tion of this nov­el, besides for the perks that are being offered for dona­tions. For con­tri­bu­tions as small as one dol­lar you can get your name on the spon­sor list — $5,000 and up, you can even ded­i­cate a chap­ter of the nov­el. $60 and above will get you that print, post­ed right, on a t‑shirt. From a cul­tur­al per­spec­tive, though, the nov­el would cer­tain­ly be an excel­lent medi­um through which to sus­tain a con­nec­tion to one of the most his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. And ulti­mate­ly – whether you’re Jew­ish or not — if the prose is actu­al­ly as engross­ing as Wex claims it is, one dol­lar is a small price to pay for an endur­ing work of fic­tion that is both enlight­en­ing and entertaining. 

You can learn more about the Opatoshu’s nov­el from Wex’s video, post­ed above, or from the pro­jec­t’s Indiegogo page. 


Jack­ie Anza­root is a grad­u­ate of Brook­lyn Col­lege with degrees in Eng­lish and Lin­guis­tics. She has held intern­ships at Simon & Schus­ter and is cur­rent­ly intern­ing at the Jew­ish Book Council.