As a college undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a fascinating elective encompassing the golden age of Yiddish literature, in English translation. This literary/cultural escape from my premedical studies was enhanced by listening to Yiddish-speaking family members and relishing the richness of the language as relatives gathered. I, however, never became fluent in Yiddish. I could not possibly foresee that, years later, my wife and I would discover a Yiddish play written by her grandfather in 1924 in Estonia, published when he was a university student. My mother-in-law, the playwright’s daughter, has possessed only a torn title page of the play all these years. We were able to fine the only extant copy at YIVO, where I was then referred to Rivka for translation. Her expert, carefully footnoted translation of this work, “The Golden Time after the War,” has opened the door for us to observe the cultural, religious, and economic changes that were ushered in after the First World War. Her text preserves the subtle nuances of the Talmudic, biblical, and historical references, and the local color and humor that the Yiddish language provides. In addition to colorfully translating the dialogue, capturing the dramatic ironies and subtleties of the characters’ humor and pathos by carefully adapting the Yiddish idioms to English vernacular, she provided footnotes regarding historical figures who would not be readily known to a 21st century reader. Footnoted explanations of Chasidic and biblical concepts enhanced the translation throughout.
In short, Rivka has clearly succeeded in bringing to us in the twenty-first century the flavor of the postwar Jewish world that my wife’s grandfather so dramatically defined, and in so doing, has given us rich insight into his life as well. I would certainly commend her unique work: by so vitally translating the past, she is passing on to us, our legacy for the future. Thanks to Rivka’s work, our children and grandchildren will know their great grandparent, and his world.
Ira M. Litzenblatt, B.S., M.D.
"For 64 years, my grandfather carried on a correspondence in Yiddish with his sister Golda. He had arrived in New York, and she remained in Poland, then emigrated to Argentina. Upon his death in 1974, a dozen of Golda’s letters remained… most several pages long, in her often difficult-to-decipher handwriting. Having seen the letters being exchanged for the first 21 years of my own life, I was always intrigued by their contents, and made several attempts at different times to get them translated. For various reasons (including my lack of confidence in the translators), it never happened. And then I got a recommendation to contact Rivka Schiller. I decided to let her give it a try, and the results were beyond my expectations. She not only worked to find the meaning of each word and sentence Golda had written, but often consulted with me about the names and places mentioned, so she could be more accurate in her translation. Her dedication to the project was extraordinary, and as a longtime journalist, I appreciated her attention to accuracy and detail. Reading these long-ago messages gave me a much deeper understanding of my grandfather and his connection to his only surviving sister; two others had been killed in the Holocaust. I will always be grateful to Rivka for that, and I highly recommend her to anyone in need of a Yiddish translator."
"Recently my family and I found a letter, written in Yiddish, from our relatives in Galicia who perished during the war. Securing an accurate translation of this letter was extremely important to us. Through YIVO, I found Rivka Schiller. She proved herself to be highly professional and immensely skilled. Her approach to the translation process was meticulous. After her initial examination of the letter, Rivka asked me about family names and place names, to give her a framework for the translation. She completed the translation promptly, and she generously provided a wealth of information about Jewish customs and history in the region that my family is from, thereby creating a context for the letter. She was alert to the tremendous emotional stress that families may experience as they learn more about the fate of their loved ones. Her fee was far lower than the value of her work. Because of Rivka's skill, professionalism, and sensitivity, my family and I felt a door opening into a part of our history that had been lost to us."
Lauren Belfer, Author of And After the Fire (May 2016), recipient of the Jewish Book Council's Book Club Award for 2016, City of Light, a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book, and A Fierce Radiance, a Washington Post Best Novel of the Year and an NPR Best Mystery of the Year
"Rivka Schiller's translations of my many letters were thorough, excellent, and speedy. They gave me enormous insight into my father's family's life before the war, as well as much unanticipated factual information. Rivka was even able to translate a scrawled postcard written by someone who was more adept at Russian than at Yiddish. It turned out to be a very important document--and it had stumped two other excellent Yiddish readers. Rivka Schiller is the best: an outstanding translator who loves Yiddish and the people who wrote it. I enjoyed talking with her about my family after I saw what she had found in the letters, and after being my translator she became my friend. I recommend her to anyone and everyone with Yiddish letters or other documents to translate."
Meri-Jane Rochelson, PhD
Professor and Associate Chair of the Dept. of English at Florida International University
"You have approached our work with professionalism, dedication and empathy. Your footnoted comments regarding nuances of word usage and historical references greatly enhanced our understanding of these treasured and poignant glimpses into our family history. Of course, translations of random, scattered documents only can give us snapshots of people and times long ago. We cherish the insights that you have given us and hope that we may come across more documents in the future that without hesitation we would ask you to translate for us."
Kenneth Steinglass, MD
Clinical Professor of Surgery (ret.), Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
"I worked with Rivka in preparation for my off-Broadway show, Kleynkunst! Our work together, doing both translations and Yiddish language coaching, was a pure delight. Rivka is patient, funny, and kind and she makes learning a joyous, easy process. Plus, her knowledge of Yiddish language and culture is extensive, sophisticated, and nuanced. I would recommend her highly to anyone working with Yiddish today, who seeks a translator, a coach, a mentor, or a guide."
Rebecca Joy Fletcher
Theater Artist, Cantor, Playwright
"When I sold my parents house in 2006 I came upon 15 letters which were from my grandfather to my grandmother during their courtship in 1918-1919. I was excited to read them. Unfortunately they were in a language I did not understand. Over the next three years I made many calls in my attempt to have them translated. My lucky day came when I called YIVO Institute and they gave me Rivka Schiller's name. Less than two or three weeks later, Rivka had all the letters translated. When she sent them to me I felt such joy. I felt as though I had gone back in time and was witnessing the love story between my grandparents as it unfolded. It gave me tremendous insight into the young people they were then and to the people they became as I knew them.
Thank you, Rivka, for letting me be a part of my grandparents' story. Your kindness, professionalism and being part of the journey is something I will appreciate always."
"A native speaker of Yiddish, the language of her home, Rivka is as much attuned to the nuances of Yiddish as she is to English, the language of her country, the United States. On numerous occasions, she has generously helped me with the translation of various texts from the Yiddish press, scholarly literature, and fiction produced in Eastern Europe before World War II. Her understanding of the Yiddish language, along with the culture embedded in it, is nothing less than astounding."
Jolanta Mickute, Ph.D.
"I have turned to Rivka for translating several handwritten Yiddish letters which, among others, I used for writing the story of my family. The Yiddish was often too difficult to decipher, but Rivka did a careful, very professional job. I was delighted with her work and would recommend her highly to anyone."
Gunther Rice, PhD
Retired clinical psychologist and author of Tell Everybody, Tell Everything: The Story of My Family & My Journey (Oct. 2014)