UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The autobiography of Esther Shechter : Yiddish print culture in Winnipeg in transnational context Jones, Faith Anne


This thesis considers the Yiddish book, Di geshikhte fun mayn lebn [My life story] by Esther Shechter (1867-1953), published in Winnipeg in 1951. Its central text, initially written for the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research autobiography contest of 1942, is a memoir of the author’s early life and immigration to Canada. In considering this work, questions of authorship and the production of the text are explored. Jewish traditions of life writing and Yiddish secular culture specifically are the terrain from which this work grows. Shechter is found to have a strong commitment to the act of reading and to self-education, and to the creation of a modern Jewish identity which combines Jewish cultural and historical knowledge with awareness of and involvement in non-Jewish political life. This is evidenced through her passionate connection to newspapers and print culture, her involvement in Yiddish secular education, and her expressed and implicit reasons for writing her memoir. Her work comments on women’s activities and roles in ways that anticipate later feminist thought. Born in Ukraine and arriving in Canada in 1905, Shechter considers her autobiography a contribution to the historical record of Jewish immigration to Western Canada. Like many single-book memoir writers, she sees herself primarily as a consumer of and audience for culture. The self-publication of her memoir is therefore not primarily an act of artistic or aesthetic expression but a social undertaking in keeping with her values: engagement with civic life, the maintenance of Jewish and Yiddish cultural literacy, and the creation of the self through reading, learning, and writing. Her work arises from transnational Yiddish culture, and in turn seeks to enrich that culture.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada