“Mame” – Dos ershte vort, vos falt arayn In kindishn hertsl. Der opklang funem klingendikn faln Dos gantse lebn hert zikh… 1990
Di Amolike Teg
Mayn mame Osne Lemster, Vos iz alt beerekh akhtsik yor, Zitst in ir tsimer, Bam ofenem fenster, Afn zibetn shtok, Un kukt arop – Zi hert zikh tsu tsum lebn, Vos khvalyet zikh dort untn Vos roysht a gantsn tog.
Far di morgns Zi darf zikh shoyn nit zorgn. Di toyznter teg adurkhgegangene, Hot zi, vi layvntene laylekher Oysgevashn, Oysgeprest, Opgebleykht Un tsunoyfgeleygt eyns afn andern In a hipsh gepek Fun tsikhtike, likhtike laylekher-teg. Zey lign oyf a politse in ir zikorn Un shtraln aroys Fun ire oygn loytere, klore… 1993
Der Mames Troym
Akh, ven ikh kon Ale in der fri oyston fun zikh di elter, Vi an opgetrogn malbesh me tut oys. Zi oyfhengen ba der tir oyf a henger, Ven fun der heym ikh gey aroys.
Dernokh in ovnt, Umkerndik zikh shpet, Di elter vider onton, Di likht farleshn, A halbe nakht nit shlofn, Dreyen zikh in bet Vartn mit a tsiter Afn zunshtral ershtn, Afn gebentshtn inderfri, Ven oyston kh’kon di elter Un a yunge vider Tsu der velt efenen di tir… 1991
S’hot Nit Ver
Kh’gedenk, ven ba der mamen Ikh bin geven a foygl. Ven kveln flegt zi fun mayn hoykhn fli. Geshtralt hobn mir freyd di frume ire oygn, Ven Fraytik af der nakht Zi hot gebentsht di likht.
Ven af der erd ikh hob aropgelozt zikh, shpeter, Di mame kveln flegt fun mayn getoktn trot, Barimen zikh far yedern in shtetl, Vi rirevdik un flink Ir zun iz, danken Got.
Itst fli ikh shoyn bloyz in khaloymes hele, Ikh leb pamelekh, Nit aylndik di teg. Nito nor ver s’zol zikh freyen haynt un kveln Fun dem, vos kh’gey gehit, pamelekh Af mayn lebnsveg. 1994
Zi hot in ir lebn nit veynik gebidevet Itst in di himlen gring iz ir fli — Fun a kleyn shtetl a poshete yidene, A posheter shtern tsvishn shtern vi zi… 1993
Moyshe Lemster (1946 – ) was born in the Moldavian village of Stolnitshin. In 1949 his father died and in 1953 he and his mother moved to the shtetl Yedinits. By training a physicist and mathematician, he starting writing Yiddish poetry as a student in the 1960s . In 1981 he came to live in Kishinev, and sought out the Yiddish writer Yechiel Shraibman as his literary mentor. In 1982 he made his debut as a poet in the journal Sovetish Heymland. From 1989 until 1991 he participated in the Yiddish section of literary courses in Moscow named for Maxime Gorky, conducted by Aaron Vergelis, editor of Sovetish Heymland. In 1996 the writer Avrom Karpinovitch published Lemster’s first volume of poetry, A Yidisher Regn (A Jewish Rain). After emigrating to Israel in 2000 with his wife and two daughters he published the collection of poetry Amol Breyshis (Once in the Beginning) in 2008. In Israel he has received several literary prizes.
My Mother Osne Lemster Prologue Poem
“Momma” – The first word that falls into A child’s heart. The reverberation of that fall can be heard A whole life long… 1990
Days Gone By
My mother Osne Lemster, Is about eighty years old, She sits in her room, At the open window, On the seventh floor And looks down – She is listening to the life That is surging down below And rushing about noisily the whole day long.
For the tomorrows She need no longer worry. The thousands of days she has gone through She has like linen sheets Washed, Pressed, Bleached And folded one on top of the other In a hefty pack Of tidy, bright linen-days. They lie on a shelf in her memory Shining forth From her eyes, so pure and clear… 1993
My Mother’s Dream
Oh, if every morning I could Take off my old age, Like you take off a worn-out garment. Hang it up at the door on a hanger, When I leave the house.
Then later in the evening Returning home late, Put on my old age, Turn out the lights, Not sleep half the night, Toss and turn in bed Waiting with a quiver For the first ray of sun, For the blessed morning, When I can take off my old age And a young woman once again Open the door to the world… 1991
I remember, when to my mother I was a bird. When she would delight in my soaring flight Her pious eyes beamed with joy, When she blessed the candles Friday night.
When later I came down to earth, My mother would delight in my well-turned step, Boast to everyone in town, How lively and agile Her son was, thank the one above.
Now I only soar in bright dreams, I live slowly, Not hurrying the days along. There’s no one now to take joy and to delight That I walk carefully, slowly Down my life’s path.
Not hurrying along the days. There’s no one now to take joy and to delight That I walk carefully, slowly Down my life’s way. 1994
She suffered not a little in her life Now in the heavens her flight is easy From a small town a simple Jewish woman, A simple star among stars such as she… 1993
Akht shteyen mir arum undzer mamen. Azoy vi a federl iz gring undzer mame. Vu nemt es a gringinke mame Aza shver geveyn?
A klugshaft vi a zunflek Flatert oyf ir ponem – Flatert um tsvishn vies un ir moyl. Un ir klugshaft, dukht zikh, Tseylt undz dray mol iber. Un ir klugshaft, dukht zikh, Taytlt mit di finger:
Akht zent ir, akht! Akht zent ir mir – shpener. Un er geven iz eyner, Eyner – mayn demb. Lider (1949)
Tsvey beyze hent hobn mikh fun mamen opgerisn.
Ikh knip zikh arayn in mames tseflatert kleydl Un heng iber an opgrunt. Mayn kleyn hentl rayst zikh tsu mames tikhl. Ot, ot derlang ikh ire hor. Di hor! A vikher tserayst dem knup un dreyt mikh arayn Inderleydik. Kleyne fingerlekh vi motiln Tsitern in der luftn: Elnt, elnt, elnt.
Ekelekh fun mames tikhl Geyen oys. Funken — mayn mames hor Tsuken zikh. Mayn mame-got hot mikh aropgevorfn. Mame-gots ponem Lesht zikh. Mameshkeyt shvimt avek fun mir Un ikh fargey zikh oyf a fremdn aksl. Fremdn aksl. Mild Mayn Vild, 1958
IN ZISN VEYTIK Yoselen un Yudelen
Ir turemt iber mir Mayne groyse zin. Sa pitsinke ikh bin Ba ayer zayt. Ikh hob dokh keyn mol zikh nit opgeknipt Fun ayer eyfltsayt.
In ershtn ,,shray” Fun maylekhl aroysgetsungen Klor ikh hob gehert ,,Ikh” Fartsitert kh’hob aroysgeshtamlt: Du. Du.
In ershtn simen fun derken in eyglekh ayere Vi a flatershrift geleyent kh’hob ,,Du”. Shtil geentfert hot mayn shmeykhl: Yo, ikh.
Ershter tseyndl in mayn brust arayngebisn, Un gevorn iz a bund farshnitn: ,,Ikh-du-du”.
Ershter tseyndl in mayn brust arayngebisn, Un gevorn iz a bund farshnitn: ,,Ikh-du-du”.
Ot azoy In zisn veytik Gevorn zenen mir Eyns dem tsveytn neytik. Haynt Iz Eybik, Tel-Oviv, 1977
Malka Heifetz Tussman (1896-1987) was born in Bolshaya-Khaitcha, Ukraine. She wrote her earliest poetry in Yiddish and Russian. She immigrated to the US at the age of 16 joining family in Chicago and began writing poetry in English but soon switched to Yiddish. She made her literary debut in 1918. She became a teacher in a secular Yiddish school in Milwaukee and studied at the University of Wisconsin. Later she, her husband and two sons moved to Los Angeles. In 1981 she was awarded the prestigious Itsik Manger Prize for Yiddish Poetry in Tel Aviv. Her poetry, according to the introduction in With Teeth in the Earth: Selected Poems of Malka Heifetz Tussman, translated and edited by Marcia Falk, “Frank and exploring, innovative in language – reveals the richness and complexity of a woman’s life.” She died in Berkeley, California. Heifetz Tussman published poems, stories and essays in Yiddish magazines both in America and Europe. Her six volumes of published verse include Lider (Poems), MIld mayn vild (Mild, my Wild), Shotns fun gedenken (Shadows of remembering), Bleter farn nit (Leaves don’t fall), Unter dayn tseykhn (Under your sign), and Haynt iz eybik (Today is forever).
Another poem by Malka Heifetz Tussman may be found at Week 2.
Her Oak For Mother
Eight, we stand around our mother. Our mother is light as a feather. From where in such a light mother Does such heavy weeping come?
Wisdom like a sunspot Flutters on her face – Flutters between eyelashes and moth. And her wisdom, it seems, Counts us three times, Points with her fingers: Eight, you are eight! My eight you are – chips. And he was one, One – My oak. Tr. Kathryn Hellerstein American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, eds. B. and B. Harshav, University of California Press, 1986.
I am offering two translatons of the poem “Earthquake,” one by Kathryn Hellerstein and one by Marcia Falk.
Bad hands tear me from Mama.
I knot myself into Mama’s fluttering skirts And dangle over an abyss. My little hand tries for her kerchief. Soon, soon I’ll reach her hair. Her hair! A whirlwind breaks the knot and spins me In the void – Little fingers like butterflies Trembling in the air: Forsaken! Forsaken!
The ends of Mama’s kerchief Flicker out. Sparks – my Mama’s hair – Dive. My Mama-god has cast me down. Mama-god’s face grows dim. A Mama-world drifts away from me. And I sob on a stranger’s shoulder. Stranger’s shoulder.
Tr. Kathryn Hellerstein American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology.
Two angry hands tear me away from Mama –
I knot myself intso Mama’s billowing dress and hang above a cliff. My small hands grab for Mama’s kerchief – I’ve almost got her hair. The hair! A whirlwind tears the knot and spins me into emptiness. My little fingers tremble like butterflies in the air: alone, alone, alone.
The corners of Mama’s kerchief fade away. Sparks – my Mama’s hair – flicker out. My Mama-god has thrown me down. Mama-god’s face is extinguished. Mame-ness swims away from me and I gasp on a stranger’s shoulder. A stranger’s shoulder.
Tr. Marcia Falk With Teeth in the Earth: Selected Poems of Malka Heifetz Tussman, Translated, edited and introduced by Marcia Falk,Wayne State University Press, 1992.
In Sweet Pain for Yosele and Yudele
You tower over me, my big beatiful sons. How tiny I am next to you. Still, I’ve never unknotted myself from your babyhood.
In the first cry, forced from a little mouth, I heard clearly: “I.” And trembling, I stammered: “You, You.”
In the first sign of recognition In your little eyes, I read, as in a flutter-script: “You.” My smile quietly answered: Yes. I.”
When the first little tooth bit into my breast, a covenant was cut: I-you-you.”
That’s how in sweet pain we became necessary to each other. Tr. Marcia Falk With Teeth in the Earth: Selected Poems of Malka Heifetz Tussman.
A klik tikt un zi a Iz a varem un oyg Un oyg un kha un hant un hant Un kleyd un klik klik klik klik.
A Yingele un a Zemele
A yingele est a zeml mit puter, A ketsl kukt im in di oygn. Dos yingele iz shlefe un hunge. Eyn oyg klept zikh. Di kats hot a groysn glezern oyg Un di nakht hot dray oder efsher fir Glezerne oygn. Un di mame hot an ek un lapes mit negl Zi tut im oys un drapet. Zi iz gut un drapet. Der zeml iz fintster, vi di nakht, Fun danen biz aher un het. Un di nakht iz a glezerne. A shvarts fentster iz di nakht, Vos ligt afn dil un in mames lid. Morgn vet zayn beser. Es vet zayn a bisl likhtik Un me vet nisht moyre hobn tsu kukn Durkhn ketsloyg tsum droysn.
NAKHT, ZAY SHTIL TSU MIR
Nakht, zay shtil tsu mir – Shtile nakht. Nakht, zay lang tsu mir – Lange nakht. Mit mir unter dem tsudek zay shvayg tsu mir – Shvayge nakht. Ikh vel es dray mol iberibern. Hekher fun der moyre zingen. Heymlekh iz mir der groyl fun dayne Ketsldike oygn in ale tunklen. Lib iz mir di shrek fun dayne Milyasn royshn in ale vinklen. Di mame iz a merderin. Ir art nisht, vos a shotn Sharft a meser un vil mikh koylen. Zi iz avek, in tatns bet, Un ir art nisht, vos morgn Vet men mikh gefinen a dervorgn. Art mikh nisht. Art mikh nisht Art mikh oykh Nisht. Durkh der shmoler stezhke Nakht, zay kum tsu mir. Tsu mir in fentster. Nakht, zay kuk tsu mir. Kuke nakht.
DER MAMES SHTOLTS Moris Samyueln mit nontshaft
Der basherter yon-tef fun shtarbn Tsindt in der mames oygn Shvartse farbn. Zi volt shoyn ahingefloygn, Zi ken ale trep, Ober zi veyst – ire letste tsaplen Zenen madreyges. Zi darf durkhtantsn ale shtaplen, Mit a bisl shrek un a sakh gloybn. Zi reynikt zikh antkegn, Yene ayngedenkte vegn oybn, Mit kleynem basheydenem shtolts.
Tsvey getraye flign Brengen a zhum fun taytsh,khumesh-nign. Di frume gsise Iz s’bisl eygns, opgehit, Opgeshport fun der mames Farhorevet, shver gemit. Zi veyst vi a koshere yidene shtarbt.
Der vantzeyger tseylt arayn Ire otemdike trit, Ergets in der mit Fun an eybiker eybikeyt. Di kleyne mame shtarkt zikh. Zi iz greyt. Zi nemt zikh plutsem ayln. Hoyt-un-beyn shpant mayln Umgerikht, Tsu ir likht – der finsterer vant. Zi veyst vi fayerlekh zi vert dort opgehart.
Nokh itster farklemt mir dos harts, Oyb me hot kholile, Aza fargleybte gutskayt Finster opgenart. A Yid fun Lublin, Nyu-York, 1966
Undzer kind, di alte mame, Mit di khokhmes ire, Vos hobn undzer tish Freylekh gemakht Iz avek. Mir hobn zikh kegn zey gekliglt. Ire khokhmes hobn undz Nisht eyn mol oysgelakht.
Undzer kind, di alte mame, Hobn mir tsertlekh ayngeviglt.
Ir kheyder iz itster Matseyvdik undzer freyd. Mir trogn lib dem ol Fun gedenkte, Shpet-kindishe reyd. A Yid fun Lublin, Nyu-York, 1966
Yankev Glatshteyn (1896-1971) was born into a religious, maskilic (enlightened) family in Lublin, Poland. He received a solid traditional Jewish education and studied secular subjects with private tutors. His first literary endeavors in Poland, beginning at about age thirteen, were greeted with much joy by his father. Glatshteyn immigrated to America in 1914 and made his debut there in the same year with a story, “Di Geferlekhe Froy” (The Terrible Woman) in the anarchist paper, Fraye Arbeter -Shtime. As a student at New York University Law School he met the poets N.B. Minkov and Aron Glanz-Leyeles. Together they founded the In Zikh, introspectivist school of Yiddish poetry, in 1920 and its organ, a magazine by the same name. The In Zikhistn rejected formal elegance in favor of free verse whose rhythms were to be the expression of unique, individual experience. They believed poems should work by suggestion and association rather than by direct statement and logical development. The poem ”From the Nursery” presented here is a fine example of this. Throughout his long and celebrated career Glatshteyn moved far from his early credos and experimented with a variety of forms. The war and the Holocaust saw him emerge as one of the great elegists of Eastern European Jewish life, reflected in countless soul-searching, God-wrestling poems. He published many volumes of poetry, among them Yankev Glatshteyn (1921), Fraye Ferzn (Free Verse) (1926), Kredos (Credos) (1929), Gedenklider (Remembrance Poems)(1943), Shtralndike Yidn (Radiant Jews) (1946), A Yid fun Lublin (A Jew from Lublin) (1966) and Gezangen fun Rekhts tsu Links (Songs from Right to Left) (1971). He also wrote two autobiographical novels, Ven Yash iz Geforn (When Yash Went) (1938) and Ven Yash iz Gekumen (When Yash Came) (1940) (English translation: Homecoming at Twilight, 1962). His prolific journalistic writings, some six hundred essays of literary criticism and political commentary are collected in the volumes In Tokh Genumen (The Heart of the Matter) (1947); 1956; 1960) and in Prost un Poshet (Plain and Simple) (1978).
A click ticks and she a Is warm, and eye, And eye, and ha and hand and hand And dress and click, Click, click, click. Tr. Sheva Zucker
A Little Boy and a Little Roll
A little boy eats a roll and butter, A cat looks him in the eye. The little boy is slee–– and hung–– . One eyes is stuck shut. The cat has a big glass eye And the night has three or four glass eyes, And Mommy has a tail and claws with nails. She undresses him and scratches. She is good and scratches. The roll is dark as the night From here to there and beyond. And the night is made of glass. A black window is the night Lying on the floor and in Mommy’s song. Tomorrow will be better. There will be a little light And it won’t be so scary to look through The kitten’s eye to the outside. Tr. Sheva Zucker
See above to hear Glatshteyn himself reading these two part of the poem in Yiddish.
Night, Be Mood to Me
Night, be mood to me – Mood night. Night, be long to me – Long night. With me under the cover, be calm to me – Calm night. Three times I shall repeatrepeatrepear, Louder than fear I shall sing. Intimate is the terror Of your catty eyes in all darknesses. Lovely is the scare Of your myriad noises in all corners. My mother is a murderess, She doesn’t care that a shadow Sharpens his knife and will kill me. She left, she’s in daddy’s bed, She doesn’t care that in the morning They’ll find me strangled, So I don’t’ care either. I don’t care. I don’t’ care either. I don’t’ care. I don’t Care either. Through the narrow path, Night, be come to me. To me in the window. Night, be look to me. Look night. Tr. by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, eds. B. and B. Harshav, University of California Press, 1986.
The fated holy day, her day of death, stirs dark specks in Mother’s eyes. Ready to set out, she knows the way, but knows that her last throes are passages. With some fear and a store of faith, she will glide through every stage. She purifies herself to face that concentrated climb, with a touch of modest pride.
Two faithful flies drone in women’s-Bible singsong. The pious death-rattles are her own – guarded and saved by Mother from her days of labor and a heavy heart. She knows how a pious Jewish woman dies.
The wall clock counts the pace of her breath towards a private eternity, The shrunken mother braces herself. She is ready. She suddenly sets out. Facing the dark wall, her skin and bones, unaware, span miles toward her light. She knows that she will be received with ceremony.
Yet now I am troubled – if, Heaven forbid, such a friend of goodness lies in the dark, deceived. Tr. Richard Fein Selected Poems of Yankev Glatshteyn, Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Richard J. Fein
Our child, our old mother, With her bits of wisdom That made our table Happy Is gone. We tried to figure out how to respond. More than once her wisdom made fools of us.
Our child, our old mother, So gently we rocked her to sleep.
Her room is now A monument to our happiness, Lovingly we carry the burden Of remembered, Late-childish talk. Tr. Sheva Zucker
I am under no illusions that my translation is good or even adequate, or even literal, for that matter. Because of the many nuances Glatshteyn packs into a word certain words like khokhmes (witticisms, facetious remarks, jokes, drolleries…) and matseyvedik (tombstone-like, monumental, something invoking permanence and/or death) just can’t be adequately translated into English (or at least, not by me). Also, forget about the briliant rhyming between his newly created verbs gekliglt and ayngeviglt. I welcome any suggestions.
Der gemostener fli fun a makhne toybn Iz nisht azoy harmonish un sheyn, Iz nisht azoy noent tsum oybn Vi der blik fun mames, ven zey zitsn aleyn
Un kukn durkhn fentster in der nakhtiker vayt Un horkhn iber zikh a geroysh vi fun fligl Un derkenen di shtimen: eyns lakht un eyns shrayt, Un eyns vil davke aroysfaln fun vigl.
Azoy vaykh der droysn, un zey konen nisht farshteyn Vi zeyer hoyzgezind iz zikh funandergefloygn; Un khotsh zey zitsn in der nakht bam fenster aleyn Veynen un lakhn di kinder ba zey in di oygn.
Un zey veysn: gut un gerekht iz kivyokhl un groys, Er iz di shif oyf di volkns un der duft in di groyzn, Un di vos zenen fun zeyere lendn aroys Zenen oykh zayne un er vet nisht farlozn.
In di alte hertser iz a gortn fun gloybn, Az zeyere tekhter un zin vaksn ergets in glik. Un der shenster fli fun a makhne toybn Iz nisht azoy harmonish vi zeyer blik.
A YUNGE MAME ZINGT
Tif untern vigele Ba Khayeml tsu fisn Shteyt a goldn tsigele, Fun vanen zoln mentshn visn?
Un az men veyst nisht iz dokh gut, Vet men nisht forn handlen, Dos bahaltnste in blut Un tayerer fun mandlen.
Unter Khayim|ls vigele Shteyt a goldn krigele, Keyner veyst gornisht derfun Az ikh hob a raykhn zun.
Un az men veyst nisht iz dokh gut, Yeder oytser iz geheym. Ven in himl tseblit zikh der sod fun blut Vil di ofene zun shoyn untergeyn.
TSVEYTE MAME ZINGT
Iz shver. Iz shpet. Un ale shlofn. A baloykhtener fentster loyft nokh dem vint. Der vos hot zi gelibt, iz antlofn, Vi baloykhtener fentster loyft nokh dem vint.
Er iz heys geven, un zayne nekht Hobn zi shvarts gemakht vi koyl. Ver iz shuldik un ver iz gerekht? Am shenstn iz ir tekhterls moyl.
Dos tsimer drikt oyf ir vi metal. Zayn bild klingt do tsvishn di vent. Zeyer khasene hot gehat an oremen bal, Ober di makht hot gehat veykh bloe hent.
Vi shtekhik regndik dos lebn tserint. Shpet iz, shver iz. Un ale shlofn. A baloykhtn fentster loyft nokh dem vint. Nor ir tekhterl halt s’maylekhl ofn.
DRITE MAME VEYNT
Dos raykhe yor iz nokh vayt, Un mayn zun iz itst azoy kleyn. Er ligt nokh dervayle un shrayt Un hot nokh nisht keyn tseyn.
Vayt iz dos raykhe yor, Un durkh ale toyern Krikhn oys far hunger di hor. Un di shtern troyern.
Dos raykhe yor iz nokh vayt, Nokh iz erd nisht mit zumer bafarbt, Vinterdik lang shloft di tsayt Un zet a kholem: zi shtarbt.
Un zet felder mit korn mit raykhn, Nor zi bakumt nisht keyn bis; Un zet vayte geshpiglte taykhn, Nor zi falt fun dorsht fun di fis.
Iz dos a kholem a beyzer, Un mayn kind iz itst azoy kleyn. Ver zol zayn der derleyzer? Mayn kind hot nokh nisht keyn tseyn.
Vayt hengt di kroyn fun dem tog, Ven zayn tat vet zayn bentshung der mamen, Un di velt iz a shteynerner blok Vos krishlt zikh ba breges fun yamen.
Ir gerekhtikayt iz: rudershpur Vos vert in vaser farloyrn, Un di zoymen in shoys fun a hur Vet ir gayve gornisht geboyrn.
Velt kortshet zikh in yoldes-vey, Nor di kimpetorn vet nisht derfreyen. Di teg faln arop vi shney Un bagrobn dem mentsh unter shneyen.
Der vinter tsit oys zikh alts mer, Un alts shverer koshmarner der shlof. Di kelt shnaydt zikh nenter aher, Lomikh bahit un bashitst zayn fun shtrof.
Mayn kinds oygn! azoyne oygn! Un der shmekt vi epl in /sod. Er hot nokh knap fun der erd gezoygn, Fun shtrof bashirem mikh, got!
IKh vel fest di fentster farklepn, Zol in mayn shtub nisht arayn keyn farkilung; Mayn kind trogt varemkayt, lebn. Ikh vel zayn di muter fun friling.
Mayn zuns dribne glider, Vi kleyne feygl zingen zey, Zayne tseyn reymen zikh vi lider Ven dikhterharts loyft durkh zey.
Vi der fridn in a vunder-farnakht, Goldikt shtil zikh zayn hor. Gots hant iz shoyn oyfgemakht, Khotsh vayt iz tsum raykhn yor.
Khotsh der himl kukt tunkl un shlekht, Khotsh mentshn zenen shtiker geveyn, Ober ikh her shoyn durkh shtilkayt fun nekht, Ikh her mayn kind vaksn di tseyn.
Er vet groys zayn un shtark zayn un klug zayn, Un vi a zunblum oyfgeyn mit freyd, Di funken fun zayn oyg veln genug zayn Tsu farvarfn a likhtike keyt
Arum di, vos shvaygn un laydn dershrokn, Oder farsheltn dem tog fun geboyrn, Oder varfn, vi mist, zikh fun shtokn Oder hobn in blendshpil farloyrn
Di trit fun dem eybikn vanderer: Dos blut, vos geyt shtolts inem layb, Un zey lekn di shpiz, vos an anderer Shtekht in zey, zeyer kind, zeyer vayb.
Mayn kind vet shtark zayn un klug zayn un tif. Der shenster shtern iz gefaln oyf mayn hoyz. Kh’hob nayn khadoshem geshribn a briv, Itst shik ikh im in der velt aroys.
Zoln im leyenen ale vos filn Trern oyf zeyer gezikht. Got, gib mayn zun dem viln Fun a rikhter bam letstn gerikht. Foroys, N’ 16, Varshe, dem 8tn Yuli 1938 Di Goldene Keyt, N’ 128, 1990
For a much more complete biography and to read more by and about Yisroel Shtern I would like to direct you to the wonderful Yisroel Shtern website established by Andrew Firestone of Melbourne, Australia: http://www.yisroelshtern.org
Yisroel Shtern (1894 – 1942) was born in Ostrolenke, Poland. He studied in kheyder and in yeshivas in Lomzhe and Slobodke, and then in a Warsaw musar-collective. He was a student of musar (Jewish religious philosophy of moral edification more prevalent in Lithuanian yeshivas) as well as very drawn to the world of Braslaver hasidism. In 1919 he made his debut with poems in the weekly periodical Dos folk and continued to publish in various Yiddish publications in Warsaw. He also wrote many essays and literary critical articles. With the help of Mark Rakowski he translated Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for the Warsaw Yiddish youth theater in 1929. He was a lonely man who never married and was always very poor. He was in the Warsaw Ghetto and perished either there or in Treblinka. Those who knew him there say he wrote a great deal in the ghetto but thus far nothing has been found. One volume, Yisroel Shtern: Lider un Esayen (Yisroel Shtern: Poems and Essays; 1955), edited by the great Yiddish writer H. Leyvik, was published posthumously. Of him the literary critic Shloyme Bikl said, “In Shtern’s poetry…. there blazes the desire to unite with God and the pain of social injustice.”
MOTHERS By Yisroel Shtern
I. The loveliest flight of a host of pigeons
The measured flight of a host of pigeons is not as serene nor as lovely nor as near to the Above as the gaze of mothers, when they sit alone
to look out the window deep into the night hear rustling above like the sound of wings and recognise the voices: one laughing one yelling and one set on falling from its cradle.
The weather is so mild. They can’t understand how their brood has flown apart; and though at night they sit alone at the window their eyes still see the children laugh and cry.
They know how good great and just is the Name He is the ship above the clouds, the grasses’ fragrance, and those who came from their loins are His as well, He won’t abandon them.
Within their old hearts is a garden of faith, that somewhere their children flourish in joy and the loveliest flight of a host of pigeons Is not as serene as their gaze.
II. A young mother sings
Tucked away beneath his cot close to Chaim’s feet, a golden kid is standing – but how could anyone know?
And not to know is very good then you won’t go off trading what’s deepest hidden is blood more precious far than almonds.
Under little Chaim’s cot stands a little golden jug, no one at all can know I have a rich son.
For not to know is best, every treasure is in secret. When the secret of blood blossoms in the sky the bright sun itself wants to go down.
III. Second mother sings
It’s hard. It’s late. All are asleep. A lit‐up window chases the wind. He who loved her has run away like the lit‐up window that chases the wind.
He was hot‐blooded, and his nights turned her black as coal. Who is at fault and who is right? Loveliest is her little girl’s mouth.
The room presses down on her like lead. His image echoes from these walls. Humble was their wedding party yet that night had blue and tender hands.
Painful and trashy, life dribbles away. It’s late. It’s hard. And all are asleep. A lit‐up window chases the wind, but her daughter keeps her little mouth open.
IV. Third mother sings
The year of plenty is still far off and my son is still so small. Now he lies there yelling without a single tooth yet.
Far off is the year of plenty while through all the gates hunger makes hair fall out so that the stars mourn.
The year of plenty is still far off Earth hasn’t yet put on summer colours Time has a long winter sleep, sees in a dream that she dies:
a vision of fields of abundant rye yet not one bite for her; a vision of distant reflecting streams while she drops to the ground from thirst.
Such a nasty dream and my son is still so small. Who will the rescuer be? My child has no teeth yet.
The day of honour is still far off when his mother will be blessed for his acts… the world is a block of stone that crumbles by the shore of seas –
its righteousness but a rudder’s trail that vanishes in the water, and like semen in the lap of a whore its pride will give birth to nothing.
In birth pains the world writhes but no relief will they bring. The days fall away like snow and bury us under snowfalls.
More and more the winter drags out with sleep ever nightmarish harder. Ever closer cuts the cold – shelter, protect us from chastisement.
My child’s eyes! Such eyes! And he smells like an apple‐orchard. He has sucked so little yet from the earth, protect me from punishment, God!
I shall seal the windows tight let no chill into my home. My child bears warmth and life I shall be mother of spring.
My little boy’s delicate limbs sing like little birds. His teeth rhyme like songs when a poet’s heart flows through them.
Like the joy of a wondrous twilight is his quiet golden hair. God has opened up his hand though it’s still far to the year of plenty.
Though the sky looks dark and ugly and people are hunks of tears, yet through the stillness of night I can hear my child’s teeth growing.
He will be big and strong and clever and will bloom with joy like a sunflower. Just the sparks from his eyes will fling out a brilliant chain.
Around those who are silent and suffer in fear or curse the day they were born, or throw themselves from buildings, like garbage or who, through gambling, have lost
the steps of the eternal wanderer. the blood that flows proud in the body – and who lick the spear that another has plunged into them, their child, their wife:
my child will be strong, wise and deep. Upon my mind landed the loveliest star, for nine months I wrote a letter now I send it out to the world.
Let all read it who feel walls before their faces. God, give my son the strength of will of a judge at the last judgement. Translated by Floris Kalman
זי האָט זיך באַטײליקט אין די אױסגאַבעס פֿון דער גרופּע יונג־ישׂראל און זיך געדרוקט אין אַ סך פּובליקאַציעס, בתוכם: די גאָלדענע קײט, לעצטע נײַעס, ישׂראל־שטימע, על המשמר, און סבֿיבֿה.אַרױס אין בוכפֿאָרעם זײַנען: זון איבער אַלץ, 1962, דערנער נאָכן רעגן, 1966, הימל צװישן גראָזן — שמים בעשב, 1968 און די װילדע ציג — עזה פּזיזה, 1976. אין 1978 האָט זי באַקומען די מאַנגער־פּרעמיע . צו לײענען נאָך װעגן פֿישמאַנען לײענט דוד ראָסקעסעס אױסגעצײכנטן אַרײַנפֿיר אין דעם צװײשפּראַכיקן באַנד אַזױ װיל איך פֿאַלן: אָפּגעקליבענע לידער פֿון רחל פֿישמאַן/I Want to Fall Like This: Selected Poems of Rukhl Fishman, Wayne State University Press, 1994.
מאַמע, איך קען ניט אײַנשלאָפֿן
מאַמע, איך קען ניט אײַנשלאָפֿן. נעם דעק מיך גוט אײַן מיטן װאָרט “הײם”. איך קען, מאַמע, ניט אײַנשלאָפֿן.
טאַטע, מיט פּאַסיקער ערנסטקײט האָסטו פֿאַר מײַנע קינדעריש שטומפּיקע פֿינגער אַנטדעקט װי אַזױ די שיכבענדלעך פֿאַרבינדן. ניט צו דערקענען איצטער מײַנע פֿיס. איך יאָג זיך נאָך זײ אַ גאַנצן טאָג.
טאַטעניו־מאַמעניו ― דעם זומער האָבן אין די היצן אַלע מײַנע זיכערקײטן געציטערט. װעמען האָב איך געזאָלט דערצײלן אױב ניט אײַך? אַלעמען װאָלט איך דערצײלט ― נאָר ניט אײַך. 1955 זון איבער אַלץ, תּל־אָבֿיבֿ, 1962
* * *
צעביסן אינאײנעם די ליפּ און דאָס ליד. אַזױ דין ― הױט. לעכערלעך שװאַך די צאַמען װאָס לאָזן דעם אמת ניט צו.
אַז דו װעסט עלטער װערן זאָלסטו װיסן אַן אונטערשיד פֿון דעם ים מיט אַ מבול דערקװיקן, ביז אַ שׂרפֿה אין פֿלאַמען דערשטיקן.
אױ מאַמע דערנער נאָכן רעגן, 1966
* * *
איך בין פֿרי אַװעק פֿון הױז.
צו פֿיל ליבע, צו פֿיל שטאָלץ, צו פֿיל טרױער, אױגן, אױגן. צו פֿיל פֿאָדער, ייִדיש, פֿרײד.
Zet nor! Vi sheyn dos kind shtift. Vi sheyn dos kind shraybt. Vi sheyn di kleyne loyft fun undz avek.
Azoy fil libe, azoy fil shtolts — Azoy fil foder in di reyd — Kh’hob shoyn tsugenung un iberfil Tsu shraybn Un tsu shtumen.
Vu Iz ahin Dayn ponem. Derner nokhn regn, 1966
Rukhl Fishman (1935 – 1984) was born in Philadelphia in a cultured Yiddishist home. She finished hekhere kursn (higher courses, i.e. Yiddish high school) in Philadelphia and emigrated to Israel when she was 19 making her home in Kibbutz Beit Alfa. There she married and she and her husband adopted two children. When she left the US for Israel her parents worried that she would be far from the Yiddish culture that they had tried with so much devotion to instill in her but even in Israel, a country that was at the time quite anti-Yiddish and where writing in Yiddish was considered anti-Israeli she made the decision to write in Yiddish. She was the youngest and the only American born member of the writer group Yung-Yisroel (Young Israel) which was founded in 1951. Her poetic mentors were Malka Heifetz Tussman of Los Angeles whom she got to know when she was a teenager and Avrom Sutzkever who would sit with her in his favorite Tel-Aviv café editing her poems. She contributed to several of the publications of Yung-Yisroel and published in many Yiddish publications, including: Di Goldene Keyt, Letste Nayes, Yisroel-Shtime, Al Hamishmar and Svive. She published the following books: Zun Iber Alts (Sun Over Everything; 1962), Derner Nokhn Regn (Thistles After Rain; 1966), Himl Tsvishn Grozn (Sky Among the Grass, bilingual Yiddish/Hebrew; 1968) and Di Vilde Tsig (The Wild She-Goat, bilingual Yiddish/Hebrew; 1976). She received the Manger Prize in 1978. To find out more about Fishman see the excellent introduction by David Roskies in the bilingual Azoy Vil Ikh Faln: Opgeklibene Lider fun Rokhl Fishman/I Want to Fall: Selected Poems of Rukhl Fishman, with poems beautifully translated by Seymour Levitan.
Momma, I Can’t Sleep
Mame, I can’t sleep. Tuck me in with the word heym. I can’t sleep, Momma.
Tate, you were so serious when you showed my stubby young fingers how to tie my shoes. You wouldn’t recognize my feet now. I chase them all day long.
Tatenyu, Mamenyu all my certainties wavered in the heat this summer. Whom should I have told if not you? I’d have told everyone – but not you. 1955 Tr. Seymour Levitan I Want to Fall Like This: Selected Poems of Rukhl Fishman אַזוי וויל איך פֿאַלן: אָפּגעקליבענע לידער פֿון רחל פֿישמאַן Translated from the Yiddish by Seymour Levitan, 1994
* * * Bit my lip all up together With the poem. So thin – is skin. Ridiculously flimsy the fences That don’t let The truth in.
When you get older May you know the difference Between refreshing the sea With a downpour, And choking a fire With flames.
Oy Mame. Tr. Sheva Zucker
The following poem actually mentions by name only the father but I believe she is referring to both parents throughout the poem.
* * *
I left home early.
Too much love, Too much pride, Too much sadness, Eyes, eyes. Too much demanding, Yiddish, Joy.
Just look! How beautifully the child makes mischief. How beautifully the child writes. How beautifully the little one runs away from us.
So much love, so much pride – So much demanding in those words – I have already toomuch and morethanenough To write And to be silent.
Shtarbn vil ikh in der shtil, Az keyner, keyner zol nisht hern, Ikh vil nisht, kind, dayn ru tseshtern, Du zolst fargisn heyse trern.
Host ufgeboyt a nest aleyn Un in dayn nest – tsvey feygl zingen. Zoln in nest nor lider klingen, Ikh vil nisht hern keyn geveyn.
Bald veln oysglaykhn di fliglen, Di kleyne feygelekh di tsvey un flien, Un zoln keyn volkn zey nisht shtern, Zol shtendik zayn der himl bloy. 1992 A shtral fun hofn, Montreal, 2004
GEVIDMET DER MAMEN
Nisht lang hostu geglet mayn kop Nisht lang mayn tsop geflokhtn, Nisht lang farkisheft mit dayn lid, Vi shnel alts iz farfloygn.
Nisht bagleyt in langn vegn, In shvern veg, in “yene teg”, Host nisht gezen, vi kh’bin avek… Nisht gehert host mayn geveyn, Ven geblibn bin ikh aleyn.
Mikh tsu der khupe nisht gefirt, Keyn khupe-kleyd nisht ufgeneyt Bloyz libshaft in mayn harts farzeyt, Tsum yidish lid, fun kleynerheyt.
Un kh’trog dayn lid arum mit zikh, Un ven s’iz kalt, dervaremt mikh, Der ziser nign fun dayn lid. Un vu ikh gey un vu ikh shtey, In vaytn veg, in shvern veg, Bistu mit mir.
An oytser iz far mir dayn lid, Ikh hit es op, Vi an oyg in kop: Dayn lid, dem nign un dayn kol, Vos hot farkisheft mikh a mol. 2000 A shtral fun hofn, Montreal, 2004
Grunia Slutzky-Kohn (1928 –) was born in Grodno, Poland. She received a secular education and went to a Yiddish secular school in Grodno until 1939 . Her mother died of illness during the war when Grunia was 13 years old. Her father perished in Auschwitz. She escaped the Nazis with a group of eight young girls who fled through Belarus to Kazakhstan. In April, 1942 she made her way to Siberia and worked in an ammunition factory in Seversk. In order to study she walked 60 kilometers to the big city of Sverdlovsk, where she was accepted in a technical school at night. In her loneliness she started, at the age of 15, to write poetry in Russian. In 1946 she finished high school and was accepted in the pedagogical Institute for Foreign Languages and received her master’s degree there in 1950. That year she began teaching in a high school in Pervouralsk, Siberia and married. A year later she joined her husband in Rovno, Ukraine where she taught high school and then taught German language and did translations for 16 years in a medical school.
She came to Montreal, Canada in 1977 and started to write Yiddish poetry in 1983. She published 10 books in Yiddish, poetry and prose, three of them for children. The first book, Lider un Proze (Poetry and Prose) received an award from the Central Jewish Committee of Mexico in 1989. Her book Kuk nit troyerik azoy in fenster (Don’t look so sadly in the window) was awarded the Jewish Book Committee’s prize for Yiddish literature in Toronto in 1995. The same year her poem “Zay gegrist, Yerusholayim” (Salut to Jerusalem) was awarded the Yiddish prize in the quadrilingual poetry competition in Quebec, in honor of 3000 years of Jerusalem. Grunia Kohn is active in the Russian-Jewish community in Montreal. She writes poetry and short stories and will soon be publishing her tenth book of poetry and short stories, Der tsvantsikster yorhundert (The twentieth century) in three languages: English, Russian and mostly Yiddish. She has two daughters and two grandsons.
A Mother’s Wish
I would like to die quietly So that no one, no one will hear I do not want to spoil your rest, my child, Or have you shed a tear.
You built a nest all by yourself And in your nest – two birdies sing. No crying do I want to hear Only the sound of songs should ring.
Soon they’ll straighten and spread their wings Those little birds will fly, those two, And may no cloud hinder them May their skies always be blue. 1992 Tr. Sheva Zucker
* * * To Mother
Not long did you caress my head, Not long did you braid my hair, Not long did you enchant me with your song How quickly everything has gone.
You didn’t accompany me on the long road, The difficult road, in “those days,” You didn’t see, how I went away… You didn’t hear my cry and groan, When I was left myself, alone.
You didn’t sew for me a wedding gown Nor lead me to the canopy, Only love did you sow in my young heart For Yiddish song and poetry.
I carry your song around with me, And when it’s cold how warm to me Is the sweetness of its melody. No matter where I go and where I stand On the road so long and hard You are with me.
A treasure is your song for me, And so I cherish it Like something dear: Your song, your voice and melody That in days gone by enchanted me. Tr. Sheva Zucker
איך פֿאַרנעם אירע װערטער, װאָס שטראָמען פֿון האַרצן, װי איר פּשוטע תּפֿילה, װאָס מוטיקט און שטאַרקט זי. פֿון דעמאָלט עד־היום איך שרײַב זײ, די שורות פֿון מײַן פֿריִען באַגינען ביז צו די יאָרן פֿון גבֿורה…
איך פֿאַרנעם אירע שעפּטשען, זײ שטײַגן צום באַשעפֿער. זײ זינגען און קלינגען אין מײַן נשמה אָן אױפֿהער. געלײַטזעליקט זײ שװעבן צו די העכסטע הײכן, װאָס נאָר תּמימים, צו זײ קענען גרײכן.
אױך יעצט אין באַגינען איך זע זײ די װערטער זײ קומען צו מיר פֿון יענע אײביקע ערטער. װי עס קומען די לידער װאָס איך דאַװן אין ייִדיש פֿאַר די ייִדישע מאַמעס װאָס האָבן זײער לעבן צום בורא געקידושט…
צו די הימלען אַרויף, מאָנטרעאָל, ציקאָ,1951
MAYN MAMES YIDISHE TFILE
Mayn mames yidishe tfile, ikh gedenk zi biz itster, Vi dem shtern in himl, vos mit eybikeyt blitst er… Er balaykht mayne oygn un vayzt mir dem khidesh, Vu di zun un levone, voltn redn af Yidish.
Ikh farnem ire verter, vos shtromen fun hartsn, Vi ir poshete tfile, vos mutikt un shtarkt zi. Fun demolt ad-hayem ikh shrayb zey, di shures Fun mayn frien baginen biz tsu di yorn fun gvure…
Ikh farnem ire sheptshen, zey shtaygn tsum bashefer. Zey zingen un klingen in mayn neshome on ufher. Gelaytzelikt zey shvebn tsu di hekhste heykhn, Vos nor tmimim, tsu zey kenen greykhn. Oykh yetst in baginen ikh ze zey di verter Zey kumen tsu mir fun yene eybike erter. Vi es kumen di lider vos ikh davn in Yidish Far di yidishe mames vos hobn zeyer lebn tsum boyre gekidesht…
Tsu di himlen aruf, 1951
Chaim Leib Fox (Fuks) (1897-1984) was born in Lodz, Poland. He developed worldly interests even as a yeshiva student, and was soon involved with founding the Yiddish Writers’ Group in Lodz, engaged with the Bund, and then the Zionist workers movement. He began publishing articles and poems in journals and newspapers at the age of 17, debuting with poems in the Folksblatt and he published extensively after that time. He published his first book of verse Durshtike lemer (Thirsty lambs) in 1926. When war came, he fled with his expecting wife to the Soviet-controlled Bialystok and then to Kazakhstan. In 1946 he returned to Lodz and subsequently moved to Paris where in 1951 he published another volume of verse, Shoh Fun Lid (Hour of song).
In 1953 he resettled in the United States . Through the course of his lifetime he published several monographs and ten volumes, including six books of poetry. He considered his literary biography of the city of Lodz, Lodzh shel mayle, (Lodz on high) a paean to the city that nurtured and formed him. Chaim Leib spent his last active years in Montreal, Canada, where in 1980 he produced the literary lexicon, 100 Yor Yiddishe un Hebreishe Literatur in Kanade, (100 Years of Yiddish and Hebrew literature in Canada which serves as a central source of much literary research on this topic to this day. He died in New York.
Thanks to the poet’s son, Michael Fox, for sending in the poem. See Week 11 for a previous posting of a poem by Chaim Leib Fox (Fuks).
My Mother’s Yiddish Prayer
My mother’s Yiddish prayer. I remember it still, Like a star in the heavens, it eternally will Enlighten my eyes with great revelations As if the sun and the moon would hold Yiddish conversations.
I swim in her words, that stream from the heart It’s in her simple prayer that my strength and courage had their start From days past until now, as I write I immerse From my dawning to my twilight I hearken to her verse…
I hear her murmured words. To the Creator they ascend. They sing and they chime in my soul without end Gracefully they soar to the highest places Where only Innocents can leave their traces.
Even now as it dawns, my words come to me From those rarified intimations of eternity. From there come my poems, my Yiddish prayers I offer them to the Yiddish mothers as to the Creator they sanctified theirs… Tr. by Michael Fox
די מאַמע אונדזערע איז אַ שװײַגנדיקע, גרױסע דיכטערין, און װײסט אַפֿילו נישט, אַז זי פֿאַרמאָגט אַזאַ מין הימלישן טאַלענט. און גרױס איז זי, װײַל נאָר אין דער נשמה און אין האַרץ איז זי אַ דיכטערין, און מיר — די זין אירע — זענען שרײַבער נאָר מיט פֿעדערן אין די הענט —
אָבער צוריק צו די בריװ: און נישט אין זעלבן נוסח האָט די מאַמע די בריװ געענדיקט: אונדז, די אױף דער ערד, דעם אײנעם אין צפֿון און דעם אײנעם אין דרום, אונדז צװײ האָט זי געהײסן אײביק דעם טאַטנס נאָמען האַלטן הײליק און שײן, און דעם אױף יענער װעלט: און איצט מײַן זון, נעם אים אױף װי ס’פּאַסט אַ זון, װאָס איז געטרײַ.
אָט אַזױ האָט די מאַמע צעשיקט נאָכן טאַטנס טױט דרײַ בריװ צו אירע דרײַ זין, קײן צפֿון אײנעם, און דעם צװײטן קײן דרום פֿון דעם שטיק אומעט, װאָס רופֿט זיך ערד. און דעם דריטן בריװ אױף דער אמתער װעלט. און פּינקטלעך האָבן די זין די בריװ באַקומען. די קעפּ געבױגן און לאַנג אין דער װעלטנאַכט פֿון זײער געליבטן טאַטן געקלערט. 1941 67 לידער פֿון די לעצטע פֿינף־זעקס יאָר די לידער פֿון מײַנע לידער, 1909־1954
DI MISHPOKHE RAVITSH
Un az du bist yung gevezn, Muter mayne; ver kon dos farshteyn, far vos du bist mayn muter, Du, un nisht keyn andere froy, Un far vos s’iz aza vilder tsar Dikh tsu dermonen. Un tsu gedenken yene nekht on shlof, Ven der tsar fun kinder-hobn hot in dayn layb geshtoysn, Un ven der shray flegt geyn durkh ale hel baloykhtene shtiber, Vi dos hoyzgezind flegt vakh zayn vartndik ful shrek. Di halbe shtot iz af geven, un dray doktoyrim, Un di nayntsik-yorn-alte bobe Sheyndl. Un az far tog hot der rov_ geklapt tsum belzer a depeshe: Hinde bas_ blime gevint, bet rakhmim rakhmem! Hot shoyn bald geveynt on a sof Mit dir in kimpet undzer driter bruder. Mazl-tov! Ver farshteyt dos mazl fun a nay-geboyrn kind, Vos vakst funander vi a zunblum in der zun, Fray tsu ale vintn un tsu ale nekht. Haynt zenen mir shoyn groys, Ale dray, Mit mazoles alerley,Ver af der erd, ver unter der erd.
Muter, Durkh dayne hor glantst es haynt vays, A yede fun zey iz a simen Fun a nakht ful tsar-vartn Af a vaysn tog in fenster. Vider iz nakht, Ikh ken dikh, Bay a fenster shteystu shtar; Vi a shvalb Shlogt on zikh on der shoyb der gefangener tsar, Af di fenster trift der osyen kalt, Arum di koymens fun opgebrente hayzer voyet, vi an eynzamer hunt Der shtetldiker vint. Der tate iz alt, mid, zogt er: – Hindzye gey shoyn shlofn, gey, darfst dokh ufshteyn fri. Geyt er privn, tsi di tirn zenen tsu Un farlesht di likht, Un nor an opgerisn blekhshtik klapt in dakh Ale etlekhe minut. Vi dem groysn zeygers fun der shrek fun der gantser velt Un dos klapn, Un vild loyft um in shtub dem tatns mide, ershte khropen, Mir ober, di zin, di dervaksene Voglen af der vayter velt: Ver af der erd, ver unter der erd. 1921 Nakete lider, 1921 Di lider fun mayne lider, 1909-1954
MAYN KADESH TSUM YORTSAYT FUN MAYN TATN
Un az der tate iz geshtorbn un di shive-teg zenen shoyn avek, Hot zikh di mame undzere fun shive-benkele oyfgeshtelt Tsu shraybn dray briv tsu di zin; eynem keyn tsofn, eynem keyn dorem Un eynem af yener velt.
Tsu ale dray hot zi in zelbn nusekh poshet un prost vi a lid geshribn: – Un vi azoy der kranker tate hot zi a ruf geton in mitn der nakht, Un vi azoy er hot dem toyt krankn kop af ire akslen ongeshpart, Un shtil, vi a kranker, gefalener foygl di shvartse oygn af eybik farmakht.
Un nokh hot zi geshribn: – – Un vi azoy zi hot dem tatns kop fun aksl irn Aropgenumen un afn kishn geleygt, un vi varem s’iz geven zayn toyte hoyt, Un di gekrayzlte hor afn kop, vos zi hot azoy lib gehat, nokh nisht in gantsn groy. Un vi zey hobn alts zikh nokh gekrayzlt din vi zayd, afile nokhn toyt.
Di mame undzere iz a shvaygndike, groyse dikhtern, Un veyst afile nisht, az zi farmogt aza min himlishn talent. Un groys iz zi, vayl nor in der neshome un in harts iz zi a dikhtern, Un mir – di zin ire – zenen shrayber nor mit federn in di hent –
Ober tsurik tsu di briv: Un nisht in zelbn nusekh hot di mame di briv geendikt: Undz, di af der erd, dem eynem in tsofn un dem eynem in dorem, undz tsvey Hot zi geheysn eybik dem tatns nomen haltn heylik un sheyn, Un dem af yener velt: Un itst mayn zun, nem im uf vi s’past a zun, vos iz getray.
Ot azoy hot di mame tseshikt nokhn tatns toyt dray briv tsu ire dray zin, Keyn tsofn eynem, un dem tsveytn keyn dorem fun dem shtik umet, vos ruft zikh erd. Un dem dritn briv af der emeser velt. Un pinktlekh hobn di zin di briv bakumen. Di kep geboygn un lang in der veltnakht fun zeyer gelibtn tatn geklert. 1941 67 lider fun di letste finf-zeks yor, 1946 Di lider fun mayne lider, 1909-1954
Portrait by Sylvia Ary
Meylekh Ravitch (1893 – 1976) is the pseudonymn of Zekharye-Khone Bergner, poet, essayist, playwright, cultural activist and world traveller. He was born in Radymno, eastern Galicia into a home where the main spoken languages were Polish and German. He received a general secular education with a limited traditional Jewish education. He studied commerce and went to work at an early age as a bank clerk. As a young man, he lived in Lemberg (Lvov) and Vienna. At the outbreak of the First World War, he was drafted into the Austrian army and wounded at the front. His first volume of poetry, Af der shvel (On the Threshold; 1912) reflected the neoromantic trend that characterized Yiddish poetry in Galicia at that time. Deciding to devote his life to the culture and literature of Yiddish he moved to Warsaw in 1921. Here he miraculously was able to put his skills in finance and bookkeeping to work in the service of Yiddish literature and served for 10 years (1924 – 1934) as the executive-secretary of the Association of Jewish writer and Journalists in Warsaw. Here he was strongly influenced by the writers Peretz Markish and Uri Zvi Greenberg. These three writers were the nucleus of the Yiddish literary group Di khalyastre (The gang), a group at the vanguard of Yiddish expressionist literature that revolted against realism and was devoted to experimental offbeat poetry. The book Nakete lider (Naked Poems; 1921) signaled Ravitch’s turn toward modernism in its expressionist form. He founded several prestigious literary journals and was the author of more than 20 volumes of poetry, memoirs and literary sketches. Along with Israel Joshua Singer, Markish, and Nakhmen Mayzel, Ravitch was a cofounder of the main literary journal in interwar Poland, Literarishe bleter (Literary Pages), which he also coedited from 1924 to 1926. Later he edited the literature page of the Bundist daily Folks-tsaytung. In the period between the two world wars, Ravitch travelled widely throughout the world warning that the Jews of Poland and Eastern Europe must flee to avoid the coming conflict that he foresaw. In 1933 He persuaded a group of Jewish businessmen and intellectuals to send him to Australia in search of a site for a Jewish homeland. This quest took him to the the Kimberley region in Western Australia which seemed to him the furthest and safest place in the world. But despite further interest from the London-based Freeland League and the presence in Australia from 1939 to 1943 of its co-founder, Dr Isaac-Nachman Steinberg, this plan never came to fruition. In addition he travelled to China, Argentina, Mexico and New York before settling in Montreal in 1941, where he became a catalyst for Yiddish literature, education and cultural activities. For many years was the editor of the literary section of the newspaper, Kenader odler (Canadian Eagle). He also wrote a three-volume autobiography, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The Storybook of My Life). He was the father of famed Australian/Israeli artist Yosl Bergner and brother of Yiddish writer Hertz Bergner. He remained in Montreal until his death in 1976.
This poem was written in 1921, the same year Ravitsh’s brother, Moyshe Harari committed suicide, hence the reference to the son “under the ground.”
The Family Poem
and know that you were young and were my mother though wondering still that you should be my mother you and not some other woman and why it should cost me so much pain remembering you – and remembering those sleepless nights the pain of childbirth thrust itself into you body and how the cry ran through all those well-lit rooms where the family waited sleepless and in terror half the town up and three doctors and Sheyndl too your ninety-year-old grandmother and at dawn our rabbi sent a wire to the Belzer rebbe: Hindeh, child of Blume, labors: beg for mercy!
there were tears by then and no end of it you in childbed with a third brother coming – Mazl-tov! but who can measure a newborn’s luck luck of a sunflower out in the sun exposed to all winds and all nights? now we’re grown – three brothers – luck’s gone different ways – above ground or under it mother there’s white in your hair now each hair a token of a night’s waiting in pain for a white dawn to come to your window – now it’s night again and I see you – you’re standing silent at a window – the pain of it beats on the glass like a bird – asian frost melts on the windowpane – like a beaten dog from the chimneys of burned-out houses the shtetl wind’s howling
father’s old, he’s tired, he says: go to sleep, Hindzele, you’ll be getting up early then goes to check if the doors are shut and turns down the light – and there’s only a torn piece of tin beating on the roof every couple of minutes – fear in that sound like the stroke of the great clock that beats for the world – and the wildness of my father’s first, tired snoring breaks through the room
and your sons, all grown adrift now in this monster of a world above ground or under it Tr. by Jerome Rothenberg A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry edited by Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, 1969
Ravitches mother, memoirist Hinde Bergner
The translation by Nathan Halper does not include one verse which deals with Ravitsh’s mother, Hinde Bergner. I have translated it and it appears in red. Bergner herself, encouraged by her sons, wrote a memoir called In di lange vinternekht (On long winter nights) now available in translation by Justin Cammy. Writing for a woman of her time was not a naturally accepted thing. In the forward to the book her sons write, “When her sons suggested – and this quite late, only in the year 1937 – that our mother should write her memoirs, she set herself to it with a fervent spiritual hunger. Finally, her dream was realized. Until now, when her sons sometimes noticed, somewhere hidden in books, her notes and even poems in free verse, she would blush with shame like a small child who had done God knows what. . . ” I hope this background will illuminate the added verse.
When he was dead, when mourning was over, Our mother got up form the mourner’s bench To write letters to her sons: one north, one south, One to the other world. All began the same way: How our sick father called to her in the night, Put his head on her shoulder And, like a fallen bird, silently closed his black eyes.
She lifted his head from her shoulder And put it back on the pillow. His skin was warm. The hair she had always loved – it was not yet entirely gray – Was curly, find as silk, even after he was dead.
Our mother is a silent, great poet, And does not even know that she possesses this heavenly talent. And she is great because only in her soul and in her heart is she a poet, And we – her sons – are writers only with pens in our hands –
But back to the letters: The letters ended in a different way. The living – north, south – Were told to cherish his name. The one in the other world: Greet him in proper fashion!
That is how our mother wrote three letters to her sons. One north, one south, One in the real world.
The sons received them, They bowed their heads. In the night, they thought of their beloved father. Nathan Halper, A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry
און לאָזן אין דרױסן, קינד, מוז איך דיך לאָזן אַלײן. אפֿשר אין העמדלעך פֿון ליבע איז לײַכטער צו לערנען זיך גײן. זיץ איך און שטעך און איך שטעך צװישן שטוביקע װענט און ס’פֿלאַטערט אין מיר דאָס האַרץ און ס’ציטערן בײַ מיר די הענט. אַרױס פֿון גן־עדן, 1965
A mol hobn blumen geblit Azoy bleykh af mayn shtubikn fenster – Haynt blit af lip fun mayn kind Fun shmeykhlen, der shmeykhl der shenster.
A mol hob ikh lider geshpint Un der nign – a koym, koym geherter. Haynt iz mayn nign – a kind Un mayn shvaygn zingt heler fun verter.
A mol hob ikh freydn gezukht – Un haynt kum ikh freydn tsu gebn Tsum groysn bloy-oygikn likht, Vos shprayzt durkh der leng fun mayn lebn. Aroys fun gan-eydn, 1965
A KLEYD FAR MAYN KIND
Ikh volt dir ufgeneyt a kleyd, mayn kind, Fun loyterer, tyulener freyd Un volt dayn kop batsirt mit a hut Fun tseshmeykhltn, zunikn zayd.
Ikh volt dir ongeton a por pantofl Fun durkhzikhtikn, shvebndikn gloz Un volt dikh aroysgelozn fun mayn tir Mit buketn fun tsuzog, fun grin un fun roz.
Iz ober droysn azoy kalt, mayn kind, Un s’loyert af dir droysn a hefkerer vint. Er vet tseflikn dos tyulene kleydl fun freyd, Bakhlyapet vet vern dayn hitl fun zuniker zayd.
Tseshplitern veln di shikhlekh fun dininkn gloz, In blote vet lign der tsuzog fun grin un fun roz. Shoyn her ikh fun vaytn dayn hilfloz, dayn kindish geveyn: Mamele, loz mikh nit iber aleyn!
Volt ikh dir ufgeneyt a kleyd, mayn kind, Fun mayn eygenem tunkeln tsar Un dir ibergenitshevet mayn hut fun derfarung Tsu bashirmen dikh fun der gefar.
Volt ikh dir ongeton mayne eygene shikh, Gekovete mit negl fun shtekhiker payn, Un volt dikh aroysgelozt fun mayn tir Mit a tashlomp fun khokhme, fun visndikn shayn.
Iz ober droysn azoy kalt, mayn kind, Un s’loyert af dir droysn a hefkerer vint. Er vet tseflikn dos faldike kleyd fun mayn tsar, Antbloyzn dayn buzem far pakhed, dayn kop far gefar.
Un zinken veln di negldike shikh in a zumpiker nets. Der tashlomp fun khokhme vet vern dos oyg fun a lets… Shoyn her ikh fun vaytn dayn hilfloz, dayn kindish geveyn: Mamele, loz mikh nit iber aleyn!
Aza shlimazldike neytorin dayn mame, Ken keyn kleyd nit neyen far ir kind. Shtekht un shtekht un tseblutikt bloyz ir eygene neshome Un ir kop farnarisht un ir oyg farblindt.
O, alts vos kh’ken dir ufshtekhn, mayn likhtik goldn kind, Iz a layvnt hemd fun libshaft, gornit mer. Alts vos kh’ken dir mitgebn – iz brokhes In a heyser shol fun mayns a trer.
Un lozn in droysn, kind, muz ikh dikh lozn aleyn. Efsher in hemdlekh fun libe iz laykhter tsu lernen zikh geyn. Zits ikh un shtekh un ikh shtekh tsvishn shtubike vent Un s’flatert in mir dos harts un s’tsitern bay mir di hent. Aroys fun gan-eydn, 1965
Chava Rosenfarb (1923-2011) was a leading figure in post-World War II Yiddish literature. Born in Lodz, Poland in 1923 she completed secular Yiddish school and Polish gymnasium in this center of Jewish life. She loved poetry and began writing at age eight. Like many Jews of the city Rosenfarb was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto from 1940 to 1944. Here she wrote reams of lyric poems which were wrested from her in Auschwitz. Her first collection of ghetto poems, Di balade fun nekhtikn vald [The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest], was published in London in 1947. After the liberation she moved to Belgium and remained there until 1950 when she immigrated to Montreal. Finding that neither poetry nor drama could begin to express the range and depth of her feelings about the Holocaust, Rosenfarb turned to fiction. In 1972 she published what is considered her masterpiece, Der boym fun lebn [The Tree of Life], a three-volume novel about the Lodz ghetto. Whether in poetry, drama, short story or novel, all of Rosenfarb’s work speaks from her experience during the Holocaust. As she herself said in an interview for CBC Radio (2001), “The ghetto was the soil on which I really grew,… What I saw, what I learned there gave me my outlook on the human condition, on how people are, on life in general.”
Among the many awards and honors Rosenfarb has received are the I.J. Segal prize, 1993, the Manger Prize,1979, and an honorary PhD from the University of Lethbridge, in the Canadian city by the same name, in which she resided until her recent death. The poems featured here and many more will soon be available in English translation in the forthcoming volume, Exile at Last to be published by Guernica Editions of Toronto/Montreal. The League for Yiddish is also producing a film about her under the direction of Josh Waletzky.
To learn more about Chava Rosenfarb go to: chavarosenfarb.com
Once flowers would glimmer thin and pale On the windowsill in my room. Today on the lips of my child Glow smiles like the brightest blooms.
Once I would spin languid songs with a lilt of barely heard chords. Today my best poem’s a child. My silence sings brighter than words.
Once I would follow delights— Today I supply them and gather The blue-eyed light shining bright From one end of my life to the other. Tr. by Chava Rosenfarb
A Dress for my Child I would sew a dress for you, my child, out of tulle made of spring’s joyful green, and gladly crown your head with a diadem made of the sunniest smiles ever seen.
I would fit out your feet with a pair of crystal-like, weightless, dance-ready shoes, and let you step out of the house with bouquets, bright with the promise of pinks and of blues.
But outside it is cold and dreary, my child, the wanton winds lurking unbridled and wild. They will mangle the dress of joy into shreds And sweep the sun’s smiling crown off your head,
Shatter to dust the translucent glass of your shoes and bury in mud the dreams of pinks and of blues. From far away I can hear you call me and moan: “Mother, mother, why did you leave me alone?”
So perhaps I should sew a robe for you, my child, out of the cloak of my old-fashioned pain and alter my hat of experience for you to shelter you from the ravaging rain?
On your feet I would put my own heavy boots, the soles studded with spikes from my saviourless past and guide your way through the door with a torchlight of wisdom I’ve saved till this hour of dusk.
But outside it is cold and dreary, my child. The wanton winds lurking unbridled and wild will rip up the robe sewn with outdated thread, bare your chest to all danger, to fear bare your head.
The heavy boots will sink in the swamp and will drown, the light of wisdom mocked by the laugh of a clown. From afar I hear you call me and moan: “Mother, mother, why did you leave me alone?”
What a wretched seamstress your mother is— Can’t sew a dress for her child! All she does is prick her clumsy fingers, cross-stitching her soul, while her eyes go blind.
The only thing that I can sew for you, my sweet, my golden child, is a cotton shift of the love I store in my heart. The only thing I can give to light your way are my tears of blessing; I have nothing more.
So I must leave you outside, my child, and leave you there alone. Perhaps dressed in clothing of love you will learn better how to go from home. So I sit here and sew and sew, while in my heart I hope and pray— my hands, unsteady, tremble; my mind, distracted, gone astray. Tr. by Chava Rosenfarb Bridges 15.2 (Autumn 2010)
איך װײס דעם ניגון פֿון מער װי אײן ליד נאָר איצט בין איך מידער װי מיד, און װיל װײַט און װיל שטילקײט און רו, קום: מאַך די אױגן מיר צו. נײַע לידער, מאָנטרעאַל, 1941
Ikh geher tsu yene froyen, Vemens man iz nit keyn held: Nit baym yadg in velder, Nit in geyeg nokh gelt.
Ikh geher tsu yene froyen, Mitn lebn aynfartroyt Tsu a man vi ale mener, Vos zukhn shver dos broyt.
Ikh geher tsu yene froyen, Fun yokh un hoyzgezind; Vos tsirn zeyere heldzer, Mit di orems fun a kind. Naye lider, Montreal, 1941
VI A KIND
Kh’bin a mame fun kinder shoyn groyse, Un bin nokh aleyn vi a kind: keseyder ikh boy zikh nokh turems, Keseyder tseblozt zey der vint.
Kh’derfrey zikh mit yedn frimorgn, Ver umetik yedn farnakht: Un shpil zikh arum mit mayn mazl, Vi a kind mit di oygn farmakht.
Kh’hob moyre bay nakht in der finster, Un benk nor nokh alts vos iz groys: Kh’hob azoy moyre far umglik, Un keseyder nor zukht es mikh oys.
Kh’bin a mame fun kinder shoyn groyse, Un bin nokh aleyn vi a kind: keseyder ikh boy zikh nokh turems, Keseyder tseblozt zey der vint. Vaksn mayne kinderlekh, Montreal, 1954
A GEBET FUN A FROY
Got, nem mikh tsu fun der velt, Tsu dayn beserer ruiker velt, Vu s’vart greyt in der tif mayn getselt, Fun zorgikn tuml farshtelt.
Genug mikh gefirt bay der hant In tsirk fun dayn lebndik land, Mikh shvindlt der umgeyn oyf shtrik, Genug shoyn – ikh vil shoyn tsurik.
s’iz mer lekherlekh vi es iz shver, Un az ikh veys shoyn dem tam fun mer vi eyn trer? Fun veytik un freyd, fun boy un tseshter, Genug zol zayn, kh’vil shoyn nit mer!
Ikh bin a froy vos ken ir shtam Un halt vi mit tseyn arum zikh dem tsam Khotsh es shpringt dos harts vi a tseshrokene lam, Ikh lesh mit trern durkh nekht dem flam.
Mir hobn banand undzer elnt gezeyt, Ikh in der heym hinter shtekhikn ployt, Er iber vegn krum un fardreyt, Vi a blinder geyer, zukht zayn broyt.
Ikh bin a mame vos hot geboyrn, Lebn gegebn un tsurik farlorn, Es hot mikh yene grub bashvorn; Biz ikh bin mit im, eyns gevorn.
s’hot dayn hant azoy bafoyln, shtel avek a vig in heyln, Vest dayn kind dort kenen vign, Vet dir heymlekh zayn dos lign.
Ikh veys dem nign fun mer vi eyn lid Nor itst bin ikh mider vi mid, Un vil vayt un vil shtilkayt un ru, Kum: makh di oygn mir tsu. Naye lider, Mntreal, 1941
R-L: Montreal writers Rokhl Korn, Maza and Kadya Molodowsky
Ida Maza (1893 – 1962) was born Ida Zukovsky in the village of Ogli, Belarus, near Kapulye, Minsk region. Her family was related to Mendele Moykher Sforim (S.Y. Abramovitsh), the grandfather of Yiddish literature, who was born there. Before the age of twelve, when she immigrated to America (New York) with her family, Ida had had approximately one year of schooling in a kheyder-style establishment, but was otherwise an autodidact who amassed a wealth of knowledge of classical English, European, American and world literature. She and the family settled in Montreal when she was fourteen. In 1912 she married Alexander Massey (Elye-Gershn Maze) who was a traveling salesman. Maza began writing lyrical poems in Yiddish while still in her teens, and in particular, poetry for young people. Her first work, published in book form as A mame (A Mother: Children’s Songs; Montreal, 1931), was composed in the wake of the death of her firstborn son, Bernard.This was followed by another four books of poetry: – Lider far kinder (Songs for Children, Warsaw; 1936), Naye lider (New Songs, Montreal; 1941) and Vaksn mayne kinderlekh (My Children Grow: Mother and Children’s Songs; Montreal; 1954) – and in 1970 by the posthumous publicaiton of Dina, an autobiographical story. Her work appeared in J. I. Segal and A. S. Shkolnikov’s short-lived journal Kanade and in Heftn, of which she was a coeditor, (1935 – 1937), and in publications such as the Kanader Odler, Der Yidisher Zhurnal, Bay Undz (Toronto) and Zukunft, Kinder-journal, Kinder-velt and Kinder-tsaytung in New York, as well as Goldene Keyt, Heimish and Folksblat in Israel and Far undzere kinder in Paris. Maza was known as much for her activism in Yiddish cultural life as for her writing. She was nicknamed “di mame” (the mother) by Yiddish writers many of whose works she helped publish. During and after World War II, she, together with writer Meylekh Ravitsh and cultural activist Hirsch Hershman, was active in obtaining Canadian entry visas for Jewish writers and cultural leaders whom she helped settle in Montreal. Her home became an informal literary salon where ideas and food flowed freely. She died in Montreal in 1963.
I Am Among Those Women
I am among those women Whose husbands can not succeed: Not in heroic hunts in the woods, Nor in chasing the money we need.
I am among those women Who place their confidence and trust In a man, like many men, Who must battle for a crust.
I am among those women Tied to home and family care; Where the clinging arms of a child Are the only necklaces we wear. Tr. Hinde Ena Burstin
Like a Child
I’m a mother of full-grown children, But it seems that a child I’ll remain; I’m still building up castles, And the wind blows them all down again.
I feel happy with each sunny morning, And am sad at the coming of night; I play with my fate in my blindness Like a child with its eyes shut tight.
I’m fearful at night in the darkness And wish more adults were about; I have such a terror of trouble And it’s always finding me out.
I’m a mother of full-grown children, But it seems that a child I’ll remain; I’m still building up castles, And the wind blows them all down again. Tr. Irving Massey
A Woman’s Prayer
God, take me away from this world to a better and quieter world, where a tent is prepared for me in deeps hidden from care and confusion.
You have led me by the hand in this circus of living lands, my dissolution hanging by a thread. Enough. I want to return.
It has become more laughable than hard. What if I know the taste of tears of all kinds, of hurt and joy, building up and disruption? Enough. I no longer want any of it.
I am a woman who knows her origin and has kept the bit tight between her teeth. What if the heart leaps up like a frightened lamb? At night my tears put out the flame.
I am a married woman. My husband and I together drag the yoke. I behind a barbed fence at home, he like a blundering ship at sea.
Each of us sows his own isolation. One at home behind the menacing fence, the other on the winding roads, earning his bread like a blind wanderer.
I am a mother. I have given birth. Life came out of me and I lost it, and the grave bound me to itself until I became one with it.
But the will of your hand was: “Set a cradle in the deeps, you will rock your child there when you lie there, and it will be like home.”
I know how to sing more than one song. But I am more tired than tired now. I want to be far away and I want silence and rest. Come close my eyes. Tr. Seymour Levitan, Outlook, Vol. 49 No. 2 Mar/Apr 2011