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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Moshe Shklar: A Short Stroll Through a Long Life (Pt. 3 of 4)

A Short Stroll Through a Long Life: Reminiscences

Unpublished autobiography of Moshe Shklar, Los Angeles 2011
Translated by Hershl Hartman 
Chapter 9, "Names and People: Encounters in Los Angeles," Part Three

[Interjections in brackets are the translator’s; those in parentheses are by the author.]

At the end of the previous [19th] century, somewhere in the Ukraine, the poetess Brokhe Kudli was born. She came to America in 1917 and published several books of lyrics: Uzorn, Midber un marantsn, Nisht af broyt aleyn [respectively, “Patterns,” “Desert and Oranges,” and “Not By Bread Alone”]. I met her at the Yiddish Culture Club where she presented me with her newly-published book. Her appearance was that of humility and modesty, as are her poems. It seemed, both from her lyrics and her appearance, that she had not rebelled against the old ways, as was often the case among young people of those times; to the contrary, she cultivated and celebrated them: “I awake from dreams/and see/the foundation of Jewish possessions./The prayer shawl glistens/around Father’s body./Heavenliness pours on earth,/the forehead’s phylacteries, those on the arm/flutter within me/in honor and covert.” I lectured at the Yiddish Culture Club about Malke Kudli’s newly-published book. I do not now remember what I said then. Only some remarks at the edge have been preserved in me, regarding the authenticity and simplicity of her poetry that enchants the reader. I was especially entranced by her pictorial lines: “I love, with lowered lids,/to drink the evening.”
During one of my visits to Israel, at the [Yiddish authors’] Leyvik House, someone came over to me and asked, “Do you happen to know, in Los Angeles, the poetess Brokhe Kudli?” When I replied that I knew her, he asked me transmit his heart-felt greetings to her. I could tell by the warmth of his gaze that he bore special feelings for the poetess. I have long since forgotten his name, and was unable to transmit his greeting. There was by then no one to receive it.

* * *

Thinking about the named writers and a number of others, I recall the words I once heard from Avrom Golomb at an event in honor of the appearance of Arye Posy’s book, “Dawn.” He then declared that, basically, all Yiddish writers come from the shtetl. I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I, after all, come from a shtetl like…Warsaw. And what of Glatshteyn, who comes from Lublin, or Grade and Sutzkever from Vilna and others from Lodz, Kiev, Minsk, and many more cities, larger or smaller, in Poland, Russia and Ukraine where they were born or came to at an early age, maturing there and creating their works? Are they, too, from the shtetl? No, I could not agree with Avrom Golomb. Yiddish literature cannot be entirely “villagized.” And I was even more unable to agree with him when, on the way home — as we were being driven by Zalman Shloser, the later secretary and editor of Kheshbn, who was, himself an essayist of profound erudition, a former Yiddish school teacher — on that rainy winter’s night, the talk turned to Julian Tuwim’s famous essay-poem, “We Polish Jews.” Avrom Golomb could not forgive Tuwim’s metaphorical concept that the Jewish people are not bound by the blood in their veins, but by the blood from their veins.
Should the great Polish poet and Jew, Julian Tuwim — who had spent the war years in the exile of New York and who deeply felt the tragedy of the Jewish people — have mentioned all the attributes that bind the Jews as a nation in order to accuse the anti-Semites of all hues in the horrible slaughter of Jews? All through his life he had felt himself to be a Pole, a Polish poet, though the anti-Semites of his homeland could not forgive him the Jewish blood in his veins; but now, when Jewish blood flowed from the veins (he wrote the essay in 1942), he first felt himself truly to be a Jew. But I said nothing of all this to Avrom Golomb that night. I simply had too much respect for the proud old man and his aesthetic appearance, sitting next to me in the car, to be offensive to him. Zalman Shloser saved the situation with his usual logic and self-assurance, proving to Golomb that he was incorrect.
But Golomb could not be convinced that his Yiddishism often led to absurdity. So, for example, it was told of him that he gone into a Jewish-owned store to buy a bottle of Seven-Up, calling it zibn aroyf in a literal Yiddish translation…I don’t know if the story is true, but it is characteristic of the stubborn, integral person and Jew, Avrom Golomb.
During the almost 96 years of his life (born in a Lithuanian shtetl in 1888 and died in 1982 in Los Angeles) Avrom Golomb traversed a long road through Russia, Poland, Israel, Canada, Mexico until reaching the United States. He studied at the Ramayles Yeshiva in Vilna as well as in a Russian school. In 1907 he entered pedagogic courses at the Association for the Spread of Enlightenment [Haskala] in Grodno and remained a pedagogue his entire life. He was a teacher at various schools, and the high point of his pedagogic career was as director of the Yiddish Teachers’ Seminary in Vilna. He also taught in Hebrew schools in Israel, in Yiddish schools in Canada and Mexico. He left deep impressions everywhere and his students never forgot him, surrounding him with love and honor. In addition to his theoretical works on Integraler yidishkeyt, Tsu di heykhn fun yidishn gayst, Tsu di tifn fun yidishn gedank, Tsum tokh fun yidishkeyt [respectively: “Integral Jewishness,” “To the Heights of Jewish Spirit,” “To the Depths of Jewish Thought,” “To the Essence of Jewishness”], etc., he also published many pedagogical works and textbooks for Yiddish schools, especially in the area of the natural sciences.
Avrom Golomb left deep tracks in Jewish theoretical thought and a rich literary heritage.

* * *

The writer Lotty P. Malakh was also a teacher in Yiddish schools, whom I first met at the Yiddish Culture Club long after my arrival in Los Angeles. She was born in a shtetl near Czernowitz in 1906, studied at a Jewish school in Vienna and later graduated from the Yiddish Teachers’ Seminary in New York. Her name, as many others, had been known to me much earlier. Perhaps not as much her name as that of her husband, the writer and dramaturge Leyb Malakh, who died at the early age of forty, but who had published a number of important works and dramas, especially travelogues of his wanderings through cities and countries. In her book, Di untershte shure [“The Bottom Line”], published in 1986, Lotty P. Malakh describes those wanderings with her husband from New York, Tel Aviv and Paris to the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. She did not write reportage: those she left to her husband while she describes living portraits of people whom she lovingly portrays. She manages to catch the merest attributes of the human psyche. Most interesting are her portraits and descriptions of meetings with Yiddish writers toward whom she demonstrates an extremely warm regard. In the process, she acutely analyzes their works.
Lotty P. Malakh was ill during the last years of her life. She rarely attended the Yiddish Culture Club, but monitored its work with great interest, informed of its activities by Lilka Majzner, the devoted social activist, writer and chairwoman of the Club. When she did attend she had to be led by one hand, leaning on a cane in the other. Her body was old and weak by then, but her eyes revealed a youthful glint. That is how Lotty P. Malakh has remained in my memory.

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