A.M. *Klein (1909–1972), the founding father of Canadian-Jewish literature, grew up in Montreal, the birthplace of that body of writing. A polyglot and autodidact, Klein absorbed his Hebrew and Yiddish heritages, as well as traditional English literature, Joycean modernism, and French-Canadian influences within the province of Quebec. These streams make their way into his novel, The Second Scroll, and his last collection of poetry, The Rocking Chair, where he combines Jewish and French traditions, moving away from his earlier archaic style and Hebraic subject matter toward modernism in contemporary Quebec. The five short chapters of The Second Scroll are loosely structured on the Five Books of Moses, and are followed by five talmudic glosses in the form of poetry, a play, and an artistic essay. The narrator searches for his Uncle Melech Davidson, a messianic figure, throughout the Diaspora and Zion. Surrounded by a group of Yiddish writers such as J.J. *Segal (1896–1954), Melech *Ravitch (1893–1976), Jacob *Zipper (1900–1973), Ida *Maze (1893–1962), and Rochl *Korn (1898–1982), Klein participated in intellectual activities at the Jewish Public Library, wrote for the Kanader Adler, and became editor of the Canadian Jewish Chronicle. Eventually this multilingual spokesman turned silent for the last 17 years of his life
Klein mentored Irving *Layton (1912– ), who gave voice to his teacher's silence throughout the second half of the 20th century. Layton developed an outspoken Nietzschean persona, and as a fierce prophet he excoriated the materialism of Jews around him and the smugness of Canadian conservatism, dominated by an Anglo-Saxon elite. Layton's poetry in turn influenced his friend Leonard *Cohen (1934– ), who began writing poetry in Montreal before turning to a career in singing and song writing. To Layton's prophetic mode, Cohen added his own secular, ironic priestly role. Cohen's two novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers, move from a realistic, autobiographical portrait of the artist coming of age in Montreal to a mythological, postmodern recreation of indigenous history combined with contemporary Quebec politics. Seymour *Mayne (1944– ) and David Solway (1941– have carried on Klein's tradition in their own verse.
While these poets are sympathetic towards Klein, the fiction of Mordecai *Richler (1931–2001) is more critical. Richler viewed Klein as a sentimental, old-fashioned poet who sold out his true vocation by becoming a speechwriter for Sam *Bronfman, the head of Seagram's Whisky. In his epic novel Solomon Gursky Was Here, Richler sets up a figure of Klein within the Bronfman whisky dynasty. Like Layton, Richler relies heavily upon satire to denounce parvenu Jews and staid Canadian Christians. From his energetic breakthrough novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz to the more cosmopolitan St. Urbain's Horseman (which uses a quest motif similar to Klein's in The Second Scroll), Richler comes closest to the achievement of Bellow, Malamud, and Philip Roth in the
If the Jewish immigrant energy in Montreal has passed its heyday, nevertheless a number of younger writers have accommodated to the shifting French-speaking majority. The experimental fiction of Robert Majzels (1950– ) translates French into English, and the contemporary Jewish scene into his Quebec milieu. His first novel, Hellman's Scrapbook, features the letters of an institutionalized son to his parents who are Holocaust survivors. Superimposed on these letters are French newspaper clippings that disorient the reader alongside the patient. His second novel, Apikoros Sleuth, is written in talmudic format, with Hebrew letters at the center of the page surrounded by different columnar narratives and commentary about a mystery in Montreal. His radical style challenges our preconceptions about the act of reading, while simultaneously borrowing from his Hebrew heritage. In a similar vein, La Québécoite (trans. The Wanderer) of Régine Robin (1939– ) flows between French and Yiddish signs and narratives integral to Montreal. Her work straddles the French writings of Monique *Bosco (1927– ) and Naim *Kattan (1928– ), and the Yiddish fiction of Yehuda *Elberg (1912–2003), and Chava *Rosenfarb (1923– ).
If Montreal has traditionally been the center of Canadian-Jewish literature, then Winnipeg stands as the second most important contributor to this body of writing. Instead of any significant French influence, Winnipeg's Jewish writers – Jack Ludwig (1922– ), Miriam *Waddington (1912–2004), and Adele *Wiseman (1928–1992) – were influenced by Yiddish socialist ideals at the Peretz School, Ukrainian neighbors, and an open prairie suggesting unlimited horizons. Ludwig's novels move from the particulars of Winnipeg's Jewish north end towards a Whitmanesque embracing of America. Wiseman's first novel, The Sacrifice, chronicles the immigrant situation within three generations of the same family against a biblical backdrop. The tragic circumstances of her first novel turn comic in her second novel, Crackpot, a bizarre account of a young Jewish prostitute who comes of age in Winnipeg. Miriam Waddington's poetry deals with social and political causes, while some of her critical writing has focused on A.M. Klein and other Yiddish writers.
Further west, one finds the isolated prairie examples of the poetry of Eli *Mandel (1922–1992) and the fiction of Henry *Kreisel (1922–1991). Although Mandel's early poetry dealt with Greek mythology, he turned increasingly to Hebraic roots, exploring gravesites in his native Saskatchewan, looking for communities that have virtually disappeared beneath prairie bedrock. Both Mandel and Kreisel have paid homage to A.M. Klein. Kreisel's short story, "The Almost Meeting," recounts a failed encounter between Kreisel and Klein. Kreisel's first transatlantic novel, The Rich Man, portrays the return of a son to his Austrian family on the eve of World War II. His second novel, The Betrayal, deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust as it impinges on innocent lives in Edmonton.
Now that the high point of immigrant writing in Montreal and the west has receded, some Ontario writers have emerged to pave the way toward a new ethos reflective of Toronto's multicultural scene. Norman *Levine (1923– ), a senior Ottawa short story writer, spent much of his adult life in England, portraying both the artistic community in rural Britain as well as his Jewish origins in Ottawa. Matt *Cohen (1942–1999) wrote several novels about rural Ontario before turning to Jewish themes in his later fiction. Cohen has outlined his position of alienation with regard to the Jewish establishment on the one hand, and a dominant Ontario Presbyterian culture on the other. Marginalized by both groups, Cohen sought to identify with Sephardic Jewish history. Younger writers such as Cary Fagan (1957– ) and Norman Ravvin (1963– ) have confronted similar obstacles trying to portray Canadian-Jewish subjects in their fiction. The experimental fiction of Helen Weinzweig (1915– ) has added to the panorama of perspectives.
Younger writers have taken a variety of approaches in their fiction. Lilian Nattel (1956– ), who, like a number of other authors, moved from Montreal to Toronto partly in response to Quebec's nationalist, separatist political agenda, uses magic realism in her historical fiction set in Poland (The River Midnight) and England (The Singing Fire) a century ago. The short stories of J.J. Steinfeld (1946– ) deal obsessively and surrealistically with the Holocaust. Anne *Michaels (1958– ) has turned from poetry to her internationally acclaimed first novel, Fugitive Pieces, a highly poetic and metaphoric work of fiction where the protagonist survives the Holocaust by escaping from Poland and spending the war years hidden on a Greek island before leaving for Toronto at the end of the war. Michael Redhill (1966– ), another Toronto poet who has turned to fiction, writes about Martin Sloane, half-Irish, half-Jewish, who leaves Ireland to join part of his family in Montreal. More steeped in Jewish roots, Aryeh Lev Stollman's fiction combines science, fantasy, realism, Jewish learning, and history, originating in Windsor, Ontario, but radiating outward from the Canadian border to Europe. The leftist plays of Jason *Sherman (1962– ) have been critical of violence in Israel, as Sherman explores his ambivalent reactions as a Jew in the Diaspora. Also leftwing in her ideology, Edeet Ravel (1955– ) has set her novels in Israel. David Bezmozgis (1973– ) is the youngest of the new breed of short story writers in Toronto. His debut collection, Natasha, portrays the recently arrived Russian community in the northern suburbs of Toronto. In poetry, Kenneth Sherman (1950– ), Robyn Sarah (1949– ), Rhea Tregebov (1953– ), and Susan Glickman (1953– ) combine regionalism, nostalgia, and the Canadian landscape. Overshadowed by the titans of American-Jewish
[Michael Greenstein (2nd ed.)]
Although a few of the early 20th century Yiddish immigrant writers in Canada knew French well and at times wrote in French, one must wait for the post-WWII period to see the emergence of a Francophone Jewish literature in Canada. The first Canadian Jew to write in French and establish a literary career in that language was Monique Bosco. Born in Vienna in 1927 she came to Canada in 1948. She earned a doctorate from the University of Montreal where she also taught literature. Her first novel, Un amour maladroit, earned her the 1961 American First Novel Award and her second novel, La Femme de Loth, won the prestigious Governor General's award in 1971. Bosco published 12 novels through 2005, most of which chronicle the uprooting of immigration, the effects of feminine isolation, and the bitterness of existence.
Following in Bosco's footsteps was Naim Kattan, born in Baghdad in 1928 and a student of literature at the Sorbonne between 1947 and 1951. Deeply influence by the Jewish experience of his native Iraq, Kattan arrived in Montreal in 1954 where the Jewish community was then almost entirely Ashkenazi in origins and experiencing rapid Anglicization. This gave Kattan the opportunity both to serve as liaison between Canadian Jewish Congress and the French-Canadian majority (most notably through his work in the Cercle juif de langue française) and to pursue his own career in Francophone newspapers, such as Le Devoir. In 1967 Kattan became the head of the literary section of the Canada Council, a federal funding agency for the arts in Canada, a position he held until 1990. His first novel, Adieu Babylone, published in 1975, chronicles the life of a young Jew about to enter a new world of European culture. This book was followed by six others, populated by characters who straddle different cultural worlds and express the fragility and vagaries of human relationships. Kattan also published collections of short stories, notably Dans le désert in 1974 and La distraction in 1994, plus a series of essays revolving around the issue of the encounter between the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Kattan was awarded the Athanase David Award in 2004 for recognition of his career as a writer.
A more recent entry to the field of French-language Jewish literature in Canada is Régine Robin. She was born in Paris in 1939 of Polish-Jewish parents who embraced the ideals of Communist egalitarianism. Robin arrived in Montreal in 1977 after completing a doctorate in history at the Université de Paris and began teaching sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her first novel, La Québécoite, was published in Montreal in 1983 and describes the struggles of an immigrant from the French metropolitan who must decipher the cultural realities of both the Francophone majority of Québec and the Anglophone Jewish community living in its midst. Subsequently Robin published L'immense fatigue des pierres in 1996, a series of short stories with a strong biographical streak. Deeply affected by the experience of the Holocaust and absorbed by the loss of Yiddish as a significant Jewish language, she also published a number of essays on this theme, among with L'amour du yiddish in 1984.
Other significant Francophone writers include Victor Teboul, born in Alexandria, Egypt. He immigrated to Canada in 1963 and is author of a series of essays and a novel entitled Que Dieu vous garde de l'homme silencieux quand il se met soudain à parler, published in 1999. Serge Ouaknine, born in Rabat, Morocco, published in 1993 book of poems entitled Poèmes désorientés.
[Pierre Anctil (2nd ed.)]
Offshoots of Yiddish literature sprang up in many of the countries to which East European Jews migrated. The origins of Yiddish literature in Canada can be traced back to the late 19th century Yiddish press. The Yiddish press played a very special role, not only as a disseminator and interpreter of news but also as the chief tribune of modern Yiddish literature. Given the much greater numbers of East European Jews who immigrated to the United States, it is not surprising that the Yiddish press of New York found a Canadian following. But a Canadian Yiddish press also developed. Yiddish newspapers in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg provided Canadian Yiddish writers with a platform, reported Canadian Jewish news, and raised questions of specific Canadian concern, thus contributing to the formation of a strong sense of Canadian Jewish community.
MONTREAL – YIDDISH CAPITAL OF CANADA
As early as 1887, when Canada's Jewish population numbered less than 6,000, the Yiddish lexicographer and scholar Alexander Harkavy foresaw the need for a Canadian Yiddish press separate from that of the U.S. While working temporarily in Montreal as a Hebrew teacher at the Shaar Hashomayim Talmud Torah, he published one issue of a lithographed periodical, Di Tsayt ("Time," or "The Times"), the first Yiddish newspaper in Canada. Twenty years later, in 1907, Hirsh Wolofsky founded Der Keneder Adler ("The Canadian [Jewish] Eagle"), Canada's most influential Yiddish daily. The Adler grew in journalistic and literary quality thanks to several prestigious and talented editors. From 1912 to 1915 the renowned Hebrew and Yiddish writer Reuben *Brainin edited the Adler. In 1914 Brainin and Judah Kaufmann (*Even Shmuel) were among the principal founders of the Jewish Public Library of Montreal, which became the community's central Yiddish cultural institution and a magnet for Yiddish writers and literature. Continuing success of the Keneder Adler can be attributed, in part, to the talents of its editor of many years, Israel Rabinovitch, a journalist, essayist, and author of a number of books on Jewish music, in Yiddish and English. The Adler also exerted a significant influence on the development of Canadian Yiddish literature,
Canada's foremost Yiddish poet, J.J. Segal, was also an essayist, critic, and an editor known for encouraging other Canadian Yiddish writers both to develop their individual talents and to establish a literary community. A prolific poet, he achieved recognition beyond Canada's borders and is considered a significant voice in modern Yiddish poetry. In 1911 the 15-year-old Segal left the Czarist Ukraine for Montreal, where he spent his entire creative life, except for a sojourn in New York from 1923 to 1928. Torn between two worlds, he attempted to sublimate this tension through his search for beauty and purity and in his romantic view of the holiness of the Jewish past. He devoted his poetry to the ordinary experiences of daily life, to plain people, to Yiddish as a symbol of the sacred suffering and simplicity of Jewish life, as well as to ḥasidic motifs of his native Ukraine.
Jacob (Ya'akov) *Zipper (the adopted name of Yankev Shtern), educator, writer, and critic, arrived in Montreal in 1925, part of a Yiddish educational, literary, and cultural "dynasty." His father, Rabbi Abraham *Shtern, one of the notable Orthodox Jews in Canada, and Rabbi Yudl Rosenberg (the maternal grandfather of Mordecai Richler) contributed to the old genre of pietistic literature in Yiddish in addition to their output of religious works in rabbinic Hebrew.
The leftist poet Sholem Shtern (1907–1991) arrived in Montreal from Poland at the age of 20. Although steeped in Jewish tradition, he was arguably the most Canadian of the Yiddish writers. In a two-volume novel in verse, In Kanade ("In Canada"), he depicts a broad range of problems of acclimatization faced by the Eastern European Jews in Montreal. In another clearly autobiographical verse-novel, Dos Vayse Hoyz ("The White House") Shtern spotlights the struggles of Jewish immigrants during the late 1920s through characterizations of tubercular patients – an artist, a Hebrew scholar, a young communist, a talmudist, shop workers – in the Mount Sinai Sanitarium in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Shtern also portrays the life of French Canadian farmers and their relationships with the Jews. In both works, the autobiographical figure of the young radical Yiddish poet is central.
Ida Maze played an important role in Canadian Yiddish literature, not only as a writer of children's poetry but also as "the mother" of Canadian Yiddish writers. She conducted a literary salon in Montreal for many years, encouraged other writers, and was instrumental in organizing the publication of their works. Many Canadian Yiddish writers were also teachers in the secular Yiddish schools. One such poet was M.M. Shaffir (1909–1988) who was known for the purity of his language and the rich use of East-European Jewish folklore in his writing.
The cataclysm of World War II and the immigration of survivors of the Holocaust strengthened the ranks of the Canadian Yiddish literary community in quantity and quality. The first of the important refugee writers to arrive in Canada was Melech Ravitch, the adopted name of Zekharye-Khone Bergner. He proved a towering figure of modern world Yiddish literature. With a childhood in Galicia, Ravitch's mother tongue was Polish and his second language was German. But as a youngster he adopted Yiddish as a response to the Jewish national renaissance in Eastern Europe in the earlier years of the 20th century. At the end of World War I Ravitch settled in Warsaw to participate in the great enterprise of creating a modern, secular national Jewish culture in Yiddish. He was a prominent figure on the Yiddish literary scene in interwar Poland. Ravitch eventually was overcome with despair for the future of Polish Jewry and left the country in 1934. He became a world traveler in the latter half of the 1930s and finally settled in Montreal in 1941. Here he became a dynamic organizer of Yiddish literary, cultural, and educational activities and was, for many years, the director of Montreal's Jewish Public Library and People's University. Four of his 21 volumes of verse were compiled in Montreal. In addition, the Canadian period of Ravitch's life also saw the publication of his Yiddish translation of Kafka's The Trial as well as three encyclopedic volumes devoted to portraying in a personal fashion the major figures of the Jewish national cultural renaissance (Mayn Leksikon). While in Canada he also composed his three volume autobiography, Dos Mayse-bukh fun Mayn Lebn. Melech Ravitch's life and voluminous writings are an embodiment of the humanism of the I.L. *Peretz tradition of secular Jewishness. But Melech Ravitch, was more than a poet, writer, and editor. He was a dynamic, central figure in modern Yiddish literature who worked tirelessly to ensure the survival and growth of Yiddish literature on a world scale.
Another talented and recognized Yiddish writer who came to Canada after World War II was the poet and short story writer Rochl Korn. Also a native of Galicia, she established a reputation as a writer of stature in Poland during the late 1920s and 1930s, producing lyrics of rural tranquility but in modernist form. In her post-Holocaust poetry, Korn revealed and explored memories of her vanished home with great sensitivity. To the landscape of the old home in Eastern Europe, Korn added a new dimension, seeing herself in the present-day world of a "supplanted reality" that has "placed her like a partition between yesterday and today." In her later poems she described passing over a boundary that not everyone can cross, and "in the concealed circle" she has entered, "only saints, fools and prophets of extinct worlds feel at home." The poet belongs to the latter; her "extinct worlds" are the key to her poems as they are to much of post-Holocaust Yiddish literature. The unspeakable tragedy cast its shadow on all the poet's experiences and feelings and gave her a special calling to give voice to all that was lost. Korn's reflective mood, infused with the pain of unimaginable loss, neither weakened nor dulled the thrust of her modernist imagery.
Mordkhe Husid (1909–1988) was also a postwar immigrant to Canada. Although his first book, published in Poland in 1937, was a collection of short stories, he later turned to poetry. His post-Holocaust work was the product of a mature poet who tended towards intellectualism; filled with the imagery
Yehuda Elberg was the scion of a distinguished rabbinic family in Poland where he began his Yiddish literary career at the age of 20. He escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, participated in the underground resistance, and played a significant role in the restoration of the Yiddish press and literature in Poland just after the liberation. He immigrated to Montreal in the 1950s and became a leading short story writer and novelist of the post-Holocaust period of Yiddish literature. Elberg devoted his artistic creativity to the depiction of Jewish life in Poland prior to the Holocaust as well as to the Jewish tragedy during the Destruction.
Chava *Rosenfarb (1923– ), a native of Lodz, Poland, began to write in Yiddish as a child. Incarcerated in the Lodz Ghetto, she was active in the underground writers' circle. Rosenfarb survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and settled in Montreal in 1950. She became a published and recognized poet, short story writer, playwright, and novelist after World War II. Her three-volume novel of life in the Lodz Ghetto, Der Boym fun Lebn (1972; The Tree of Life, 1985) achieved broad acclaim. One of the last significant Yiddish writers in Canada, Chava Rosenfarb in later years devoted much of her creative energy to the English translation and publication of her works.
Although Montreal was the "capital city" of Yiddish literature in Canada, Toronto and Winnipeg also had Yiddish literary communities. Toronto's principal Yiddish newspaper, Der Yidisher Zhurnal ("The Hebrew Journal"), founded as a weekly in 1912, and published as a daily from 1917 to the early 1960s, served as a forum for many local Yiddish writers. A group of Yiddish proletarian writers and poets was active in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s, including Benjamin Katz, Shimen Nepom, Abraham Nisnievich, Shimshen Pizel (later better known as Sh. Apter), Leyzer Treyster, and others. In addition to his role as a Yiddish writer, Gershon Pomerantz (1904–1968) established a small Yiddish publishing house in Toronto which produced a literary magazine, Tint un Feder ("Pen and Ink") and issued works by several major Yiddish writers. After World War II, Peretz *Miransky (1908–1993), a member of the influential Yiddish writers and artists group "Yung Vilne" ("Young Vilna"), settled in Toronto, where he continued to cultivate the fable as well as his lyric poetry.
The Yiddish cultural life of Winnipeg centered around its newspaper, Dos Yidishe Vort ("The Israelite Press"), edited for many years by the talented journalist Mark Selchen (Shimen-Mordkhe Zeltshen, 1885–1960), and around the Yiddish day school, the I.L. Peretz School, founded by a coalition of Labor Zionists, Socialist Territorialists, and Bundists in 1914. The Yiddish writer Falik Zolf (1896–1961) was a teacher in this institution for many years. Between 1938 and 1943, the distinguished Jewish pedagogue and Yiddish writer Abraham *Golomb (1888–1982) was principal of the Peretz School. Golomb was the ideologue of "Integral Jewishness," a philosophy fusing Yiddishism and Hebraism, secular Jewishness with the Jewish religious tradition, in order to maintain Jewish national distinctiveness in the diaspora as well as in the State of Israel. Golomb published five Yiddish works while residing in Winnipeg.
Individual Yiddish writers lived in various other locales throughout Canada, such as Michael Usiskin, who published an important memoir of the founding and development of the Jewish agricultural colony of Edenbridge, Saskatchewan (Oksn un Motorn, 1945; Uncle Mike's Edenbridge, 1983). The Yiddish-Hebrew writer, poet, and translator Mordkhe Yofe (1894–1961), one of the most prolific and talented Yiddish translators of Hebrew poetry, spent 1927–37 in Vancouver, where he published irregularly the periodical Di Yidishe Velt ("The Jewish World").
SCHOLARSHIP AND TRANSLATIONS
Jewish scholarship and the translation of classical Jewish texts also hold an important position in Canadian Yiddish literature. Yiddish writers, for example, pioneered the field of Canadian Jewish historiography. B.G. Sack of Montreal began his research in the field during the first decade of the 20th century; his Geshikhte fun Yidn in Kanade ("History of the Jews in Canada") was published in 1945 in English, and in the original Yiddish three years later. Abraham Rhinewine (1887–1962), the Yiddish writer, journalist, and early editor of Toronto's Yiddish newspaper, Der Yidisher Zhurnal (The Hebrew Journal) also did pioneer research in Canadian Jewish history, published in his two volume Der Yid in Kanade ("The Jew in Canada," 1925–27). The Yiddish philologist, folklorist, and ethnologist Y. Elzet (Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Zlotnick-*Avida, 1887–1962) lived in Montreal and Vancouver from 1920 to 1938 and published a number of his important works. Simkhe Petrushka's edition of the Mishnah, including the Hebrew original plus his Yiddish translation of the text and selected commentaries, was published in Montreal in 1945–49. The Montreal Jewish educator Shimshen Dunsky was highly praised for his annotated translation, which is also a critical edition, of the Midrash Rabbah to the five biblical scrolls. Nachman Shemen of Toronto published works on Hasidism and the historic Polish-Jewish community of Lublin, as well as studies on the attitudes of traditional Judaism towards labor, the woman, the stranger, and the proselyte. Yekhiel Shtern of Montreal was awarded the coveted Louis Lamed Prize for his detailed study of traditional Jewish education in his hometown of Tishevits (Tyszowce), Poland.
Serious study of Canadian Yiddish literature is still in its early stage. H.M. Caiserman-Vital's pioneer work Yidishe Dikhter in Kanade ("Jewish Poets in Canada"), published in 1934, treated both Yiddish and Anglo-Jewish poets. And while the United States, Poland, and the Soviet Union were the three main centers of Yiddish literature during the interwar years, Canada also became a visible point on the map
[Eugene V. Orenstein (2nd ed.)]
C.L. Fuks (Fox), ed, Hundert Yor Yidishe un Hebreyishe Literatur in Kanade (1982); I. Robinson et al., An Everday Miracle: Yiddish Culture in Montreal (1990); E. Orenstein, in: M. Weinfeld et al., The Canadian Jewish Mosaic (1981), 293–313.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.