Guest Post: Yiddish on the Bayou by Jennifer Anne Moses, Author of The Man Who Loved His Wife

Today, author Jennifer Anne Moses will share with us a guest post about her latest short story collection, The Man Who Loved His Wife.

Book Synopsis:

Jews being Jewish: that’s the subject of Jennifer Anne Moses’s new collection of short stories. Whether in Tel Aviv, suburban New Jersey, or the Deep South, the characters who populate the pages of The Man Who Loved His Wife grapple with God, their loved ones, fate, death, hope, Hitler, transcendence, and the 4000 year old history of Judaism. With a Yiddish sensibility born of passion, an eye for detail, and a deadpan sense of humor reminiscent of Singer, Salinger, and Tillie Olsen, Moses captures singularly Jewish and wholly human characters as they live and breathe through their stories. A secular Israeli loses his son twice, first to ultra-Orthodoxy and then to war. An elderly survivor of Nazism living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, believes his dog to be the reincarnation of his long-dead sister. Meanwhile, in Queens, an adolescent boy mistakes love for magic and brings his family to the brink of catastrophe. Lovely, tender, and hard to put down, these are short stories that leave you yearning for more.

I hope you will enjoy what she has to say. Please give her a warm welcome:

Yiddish on the Bayou

I’m about to publish my seventh book, in this case a collection of short stories about Jews being Jewish, meaning that the book is informed, soaked in, and shot through with Yiddish and Yiddishkeit. The former, Yiddish, is a language that appeared in late Medieval Europe, when Jews from France and Italy moved into what is now Germany, creating a new language comprised of elements from German, French, Hebrew, Aramaic, and the Slavic languages. The word, “Yiddish,” is in fact Yiddish for Jewish.” Thus Yiddish became the everyday vernacular of European Jews living across both linguistic and political borders. The latter—Yiddishkeit—roughly means “Yiddish culture” but expands to include an entire messily discordant and endlessly eclectic Jewish worldview, sensibility, and vibrancy. Nu?

I’m a Jew, so some of the world I write about came to me, along with my brown hair and eyes, at birth. But my family had been in America so long—since around the Civil War on both sides–that by my grandparents’ generation Yiddish was all but forgotten. Also, I grew up fancy, in Virginia, where I knew much more about horses and tennis than anything even vaguely related to Judaism or the Yiddish world that had been wiped out by the Nazi genocide. But then I went to college, where I fell headlong into what became a deep dive into Jewish literature and Hebrew, and there you have it: my muse began to speak to me with a Yiddish accent. The result being my new book, The Man Who Loved His Wife (Mayapple Press, March 1, 2021).

According to my blurbs (thank you givers of blurbs!) I’m a Yiddish writer who just happens to write in English and have even hit the high-water marks of Yiddish literature: humor, grittiness, pathos, passion.

I’m not knocking it—God forbid—but most of my work, until now, has been outside of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism. In fact, my last book, which was published just a year ago (and in time for the pandemic to shut everything down, including readings) is about the struggles of two orphaned brothers living on the margins of decent society in a small, redneck town in South Louisiana. Twice my short stories have landed in the anthology New Stories from the South: the Year’s Best, and in both cases the stories featured impoverished Black characters in Baton Rouge, and their (largely impoverished) world. And what part of my Yiddisherkop (Jewish head) did this come from? The part that lived in Baton Rouge for thirteen years, where my husband and I raised our (now grown) children, and I volunteered among very poor, very sick full-Gospel African Americans.

According to Google I am a “multi genre” writer–but it’s more than a matter of genre. I’ve internalized many different worlds, and then those worlds show up in my work.

The fact of the matter is that I was raised in Virginia among ur-wasps and spent my entire life on the East Coast until, decades ago, I landed in Louisiana. Now I live in New Jersey—and with relatives living in Jerusalem, I go there, too. And it all seeps in–and eventually finds its way into my work.

I think at a certain point most writers of fiction would agree that you write what you have to write, because why bother doing it if it isn’t pressing so persistently against your soul that you have to give voice to it? My own soul, it appears, is indeed Jewish, which is perhaps why I love Yiddish literature more than any other world literature: because it speaks to me, way down in my kishkes.

When my paternal grandmother died, in her mid-nineties, she left behind not only three children (including my father) and eleven grandchildren (including me), but formal portraits of my grandfather’s grandparents, painted in dark oil paint and framed in ornate gilded frames. They were the founding couple of my father’s side of the family, arriving in Baltimore in the mid-19th century from Manchester, England, where there is every reason to think that they spoke to one another in Yiddish. (He was originally from western Germany; her family was from Prussia). All eleven of us grandchildren wanted the portraits, but perhaps because I’d long since put Jewishness and Judaism in the middle of my life, my father got there first and nabbed them for me.

The portraits now hang in my dining room, gazing down on us much like they’d gazed down on my grandparents and before that, my great-grandparents.

I like to think that my great-great grandparents wouldn’t just be moved by the world of The Man Who Loved His Wife, but that the stories themselves would resonate in their souls, and from there, light up their eyes.

Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing with my readers your writing process and so much more. I think your grandparents would be proud.

About the Author:

Jennifer Anne Moses is a multi-genre author whose books include Food and Whine, The Book of Joshua, Bagels and Grits, Visiting Hours, Tales from My Closet, and The Art of Dumpster Diving. The Man Who Loved His Wife is her first collection of short stories. Her essays and short stories have been widely published and anthologized. She’s also a painter. She is the mother of three grown children, and lives in Montclair, N.J., with her husband of more than three decades and their two bad dogs. Visit her website.