Yiddish artist and activist Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, the subject of my new film

A Lesbianke at the Wexler Oral History Project

Adding my story to Jewish history.

I’m a Jewish lesbian who makes a living collecting and editing oral history at the Yiddish Book Center.

Through this work, I’ve built my own collection of stories. In my own oral tradition, I share and tell my queer, Jewish friends and loved ones about the oral histories I’ve watched.

Within our department, I excitedly send clips and photos of activist, Yiddishist lesbians dressed up at pride. I’ve played our clip of Barbara Buloff explaining her journey of coming out to her parents, Yiddish actors Joseph Buloff and Luba Kadison, for countless friends. We’ve sat and considered the impact of Judaism on our own coming-out—and if we think coming-out is a goyische construction. While brushing my teeth I can excitedly yell to my partner, “Today I learned the Yiddish word for lesbian is lesbianke.”

However, while a vast archive of over 700 interviews about Judaism and Jewish culture stretches before me, queerness is infrequently represented. My desire to collect stories against the grain of history is founded in my lesbian identity and my desire to tell the stories of the marginalized through the medium of oral history.

I’m currently working on a film that tells the story of Yiddish artist and activist Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman who, as a Jewish woman artist, falls within this category. After surviving the Holocaust, she raised her children in Yiddish culture and language and was committed to passing the both down to them.  I’m re-imagining her life through animation, using it to combine her paintings and drawings into full pictures of her perspective. Her art is emotional, and her paintings, drawings, songs, and poetry tell a concrete history of herself and Yiddish culture.

In the dynamic between oral history and editor, there is never an unbiased history. While creating films about Yiddish writers and activists, I am centered in my own place as a Jewish lesbian. My own editing and narrative building interweave with the original narrative to retell the thoughts and political movements of Jewish communities.

The records that we keep of Jewish history are constantly evolving. I am a part of a new generation looking, listening, and interpreting the stories of our ancestors. By creating this film and adding my ideas and name, I add my story to the history of Beyle.

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