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Minna Kleeberg

(1841 - 1878)

When Minna Kleeberg arrived in the United States from her native Germany in 1866, she brought with her a reputation as a well-regarded poet. A year earlier she had gained wide recognition for her poem, "Ein Lied vom Salz," a powerful plea for the removal of the Prussian tax on salt. Her poetry expressed devotion to her faith and a passion for social justice.

Daughter of a physician, she received as fine an education as a girl could obtain in mid-nineteenth-century Germany. After her marriage to Rabbi L. Kleeberg, her poetry turned to liturgical creations, while continuing to serve as a vehicle for social expression. Her poetry appeared in a variety of German-language periodicals in Germany and in the United States. Most of her poems were lyrical, some topical-urging the emancipation of women, calling for the broadening of democracy-and some liturgical. A gathering of her poems, Gedichte, was published in 1877 in Louisville, where her husband was serving as rabbi.

Minna Kleeberg was best known to the American Jewish community for her hymns which appeared in the most widely used Jewish hymnal in nineteenth-century America, Isaac M. Wise's Hymns, Psalms and Prayers, In English and German (Cincinnati, 1868). Ten German hymns by Minna Kleeberg form the largest number by any poet. They celebrate the Torah, man, faith, and the holidays.

Less than two years after settling in New Haven, to which her husband had been called, she breathed her last on the last day of 1878. In his eulogy for his dear departed wife, Rabbi Kleeberg recalled:

Almost from her childhood she complained of the subordinate position which tradition and custom assigned to woman. Upon her thirteenth birthday and the following Sabbath she shed bitter tears that she was not, like Jewish boys of her own age, entitled to take part in the public reading of the law, and by this rite be solemnly consecrated to the cause of Israel ... The vindictive accusations of Richard Wagner ... she met in a widely circulated paper, with a few bristling articles. Her poetical effusions, as well as her bold and vigorous defence of her co -religionists, were acknowledged by many letters of appreciation from all quarters, even from the other side of the ocean. The Crown Prince of Prussia, the Chancellor Bismarck, Edward Lasker ... The departed was a poet by the grace of God.

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).