KLEPFISZ, IRENA (1941– ), U.S. poet, essayist, Yiddishist, and political activist. Born in the Warsaw ghetto, Klepfisz is the daughter of Michal Klepfisz, a ghetto hero who died early in the uprising, and Rose Perczykow Klepfisz, who survived the Holocaust by passing as a Pole. Klepfisz spent the war in a Polish orphanage and was reunited with her mother after liberation. After a short stay in Sweden, they entered the United States in 1949, where Klepfisz learned English and also studied Yiddish at Workmen's Circle Yiddish schools. She earned her B.A. at the City College of New York and her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.
Self-described as a Jew, a survivor of the Holocaust, a lesbian, a poet, a teacher, and an activist, Klepfisz's poems and essays reflected her commitment to socialist secular Judaism and to the challenge of living Jewishly as a lesbian feminist. As in her signature poem, "Bashert," her work often blended Yiddish with English. Klepfisz founded a feminist magazine, Conditions, co-edited A Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Woman's Anthology (1986), and A Jewish Woman's Call for Peace: A Handbook for Jewish Women on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict (1990). Her collections of poetry include Periods of Stress (1977); Keeper of Accounts (1982); A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971–1990) (1991); and Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches, and Diatribes (1990), which also contains prose pieces.
E. Torten Beck, Introduction to Dreams of an Insomniac (1990); A. Rich, Introduction to A Few Words in the Mother Tongue (1991).