1: Video excerpts, oral history interview with Blume Lempel by Itzik Gottesman, 1985, and letter, Chava Rosenfarb to Blume Lempel, 1983.

1: Video excerpts, oral history interview with Blume Lempel by Itzik Gottesman, 1985, and letter, Chava Rosenfarb to Blume Lempel, 1983.

In 1985, the researcher Itzik Gottesman interviewed Blume Lempel at her home in Long Beach, New York. The 30-minute interview covers Lempel’s biography, her relationship to Yiddish literary circles, and her life as a writer. In the first two excerpts, Lempel discusses her upbringing and her relationship to writing. The third excerpt is from the very end of the interview where Lempel decides to invite the interviewer into her home for a snack.

Chava Rosenfarb (1923–2011) was a Canadian Yiddish writer from Poland who was well-known for her numerous works of poetry and prose, and especially her Holocaust fiction. Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb began to correspond in 1982 when Rosenfarb reached out to Lempel after reading her stories in the prestigious Yiddish literary journal Di goldene keyt (The Golden Chain).

Suggested Activity: Have students watch the first two excerpts. The interview takes place in Blume Lempel’s garden. Ask students what they think about this setting for an interview. How public or private of a space does this garden seem to be?  How might the public or private nature of the space change the tone or content of the interview? Does seeing this garden change how they imagined the setting of “Neighbors over the Fence"? If so, how?

Now have students read Chava Rosenfarb’s letter to Blume Lempel. What echoes do they notice between Rosenfarb’s letter and Lempel’s words in the interview? How does Lempel view the boundary between her writing and her personal life?

Now have students listen to the third interview excerpt. Ask students what they think about the moment when Lempel invites the interviewer inside. Does it remind them of the moment when Mrs. Zagretti enters Betty’s home for the first time? Why or why not?

Having learned more about Blume Lempel’s life, ask students whether they think “Neighbors Over the Fence” borrows autobiographical details from Lempel’s life? Is Betty the same as Blume Lempel? A version of her? Neither? What about Mrs. Zagretti: do they see elements of Lempel in Zagretti? Are there autobiographical elements in both characters despite their differences? Can we as readers ever truly determine whether a story is autobiographical? What can be gained and lost when we read fiction through the lens of autobiography? 

Sources: Blume Lempel, interview by Itzik Gottesman, 1985.

Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb, “I Feel a Connection to You,” trans. Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub in the 2019 Pakn Treger Translation Issue (Amherst: Yiddish Book Center, Summer 2019 / 5779).