A major literary figure and frequent contributor to the Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts from the 1920s to the mid-1930s, Jonah Rosenfeld was recognized during and after his lifetime as an explorer of human psychology. His work foregrounds loneliness, social anxiety, and people’s frustrated longing for meaningful relationships—themes just as relevant to today’s Western society as they were during his era.
The Rivals and Other Stories introduces nineteen of Rosenfeld’s short stories to an English-reading audience for the first time. Unlike much of Yiddish literature that offers a sentimentalized view of the tight knit communities of early twentieth-century Jewish life, Rosenfeld’s stories portray an entirely different view of pre-war Jewish families. His stories are urban, domestic dramas that probe the often painful disjunctions between men and women, parents and children, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, self and society. They explore eroticism and family dysfunction in narratives that were often shocking to readers at the time they were published.
Following the Modernist tradition, Rosenfeld rejected many established norms, such as religion and the assumption of absolute truth. Rather, his work is rooted in psychological realism, portraying the inner lives of alienated individuals who struggle to construct a world in which they can live. These deeply moving, empathetic stories provide a counterbalance to the prevailing idealized portrait of shtetl life and enrich our understanding of Yiddish literature.