The letters between Lev and Fenya were written between sometime in 1910, which I believe is the year they met, and April, 1913, when Fenya finally joined Lev in New York.  During that time Fenya lived in Kiev and Lev lived in Voronezh, possibly sometimes Kiev and elsewhere, and then New York.  There are letters to Fenya from her family and friends after she emigrated, as well as from friends while she was still in Russia.

We do not have any of the letters that Fenya wrote to Lev while he was still in Russia, only those that she sent to him in the US; therefore what we know of her during that time can only be gleaned through Lev’s responses to her letters.

The translators noted that Lev’s Russian was clearly not his first language, that his spelling and grammar were poor.  Why did they write to each other in Russian, rather than Yiddish, a language they both knew well?  Perhaps one or both of them couldn’t write fluently in Yiddish, or perhaps they didn’t want their parents to be able to read the emotional letters that flew back and forth.  However, it is also the case that a series of nineteenth century Russian laws designed to assimilate the Jewish population promoted Russian education at the expense of traditional Jewish education.[1]  By the time our grandparents were growing up, they were most likely being educated as much if not more in secular schools than in cheders.[2]  Like young people everywhere, they probably wanted to be modern and thus different than their parents.

For years the letters were tied up in a knipple (knot) in a piece of cloth.  They remained in Lucy Battalen Fass’ home on 1320 East 7th Street in Brooklyn, NY, until my mother Ethel Battalen Goldstein convinced Lucy to give them to her.  Ethel knew a Russian immigrant hairdresser who translated a couple of the letters.  In 1999, Ethel gave me the letters and I began to seriously undertake their translation.

I worked with two graduate students in the Slavic Languages Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura Little and Alice Harris; Ethel provided funds so that I could pay them.  I photocopied the letters and gave the translators family trees to familiarize them with the characters they encountered in the letters.

The bulk of the letters were translated by Lydia Vaynshtayn, z”l.  Lydia had been an English teacher at a high school in Tashkent, and arrived in Madison with members of her family during the Russian refugee immigration of the early 1990’s.  Lydia had red hair, a sparkling personality and a little dog that she loved dearly. She lived in a nearby retirement community and we had her over for dinner a couple of times.  The translations reflect her idiosyncratic use of the English language.  Sometime around 2014 I worked with a young Russian Jewish woman, Catherine Vakhnina, who sorted through unidentified fragments and disconnected pages.  She was able to reconstruct several letters this way, based on textual context, handwriting and quality of the paper and pen.  She also translated the last remaining untranslated letters.

[1] History of the Jewish in Poland and Russia, by Simon M. Dubnow, 1918.

[2] Religious schools, primarily to educate boys.



Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, Sister’s address-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, December 2, 1910, You will love me-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, December 9, 1910-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, December 23, 1910-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Confession of Love-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, Postcard, January 14, 1911

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh January 17, 1911-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Postcard, Voronezh, February 3, 1911

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, February 24, 1911-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, March 10-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, March 23-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, March 28-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, April 14-Translation

Lev to Fenya, Voronezh, March 23, 1911, Celebrated sister’s wedding, with translation

Wedding announcement of Raisa Battalen & Lyova Popkov, June 28, 1911


Fenya To Louis Kiev, September 7 Possibly 1912

Louis to Fenya, New York, September 12, Unexpected happiness

Louis to Fenya, New York, September 18 Finances, pogrom worry

Fenya to Roma, Kiev November 7

Louis to Fenya, New York, December 4, Dear Freeda, description of day

Louis to Fenya, New York, A person has to fight

Louis to Fenya, New York, Statue of Liberty

Louis to Fenya, New York, New Year’s Eve

Fenya to Louis, Possible Titanic reference

Louis to Fenya, New York, May 13, 1912 Want to Achieve Stability

Louis to Fenya, May 25, I’m free from debts

Louis to Fenya, New York, June 30, 1912

Louis to Fenya, New York, July 9, Roma’s address

Louis to Fenya, New York, Can’t find work August 30

Fenya to Louis, Don’t want to be dependent

Louis to Fenya, New York, Nov 4 1912, Election tomorrow

Louis to Fenya, New York, One must have savings, fragment

Fenya to Louis, Kiev, November 12, 1912, Written with tears

Postcard Louis to Fenya, New York, November 27, 1912 Not getting letters

Fenya to Louis, Here or There, undated

Louis to Fenya, New York, Sister paid a fine

Louis to Fenya, New York, undated, Here or There

Fenya to Louis Kiev December 8, 1912

Louis to Fenya, New York, Sister was in danger December 12, 1912

Fenya to Louis, Counting the days

Fenya to Louis, My dreams are insane

Roma to Fenya, New York undated Roma to Fenya,

New York undated, Make oneself independent

Louis to Fenya, New York, Undated, Need help from parents

Postcard Misha to Fenya, Krakow, 1912

Louis to Fenya, New York, Undated, Fragment with poem

Robert to Louis, New York, Living arrangements

Louis to Fenya, New York, Jan 8, Hello Sweet Darling, your revenge

Fenya to Louis, Kiev January 13, 1913

Fenya to Louis, February 13, 1913

Louis to Fenya, New York, February 18, 1913, envelope

Louis to Fenya, New York, February 22

Louis to Fenya, New York, Travel plans

Louis to Fenya, New York, Travel Plans2

Louis to Fenya, New York, Daily Schedule, Starting Family Life


Postcard Louis to Fannie, New York, April 22,1913

Chana Ronen, Kiev, after April 15-1913

Ronen Family, Kiev. after April 15, 1913, fragment

Rosa Yanova to Fannie & Louis, Kiev, September 13

Nechama Ronen to Fannie Kiev, December 29, 1913

Ronen Family, Kiev May 28, 1913

Nechamka Ronen to Fannie, Kiev post-April 13

Ronen Family to Fannie, Kiev, Beilis Reference November 4, post November 1913

Sara Ronen to Fannie, Kiev, November 24, 1913

Ronen Family to Fannie, Kiev, January, 1914

Nechama Ronen to Fannie, Kiev, March 1914

Postcard Sarah to Fannie, Kiev March 28, 1914

Chana Ronen, Kiev, to Fannie, March 12, 1915 or later

Postcard Franya to Fannie, Kiev, April 9, 1914, Lady with violin

Franka to Fannie, Kiev, April 20, 1914

Fannie to Louis New York, Early June 1914

Franya Ronen to Fannie, Kiev, June 6, 1914

Postcard, Misha to Fannie, November 15, 1915

Franka Ronen to Fannie, Kiev August 30, 1922



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