Moshe Shklar: A Short Stroll Through a Long Life (Pt. 4 of 4)
A Short Stroll Through a Long Life: Reminiscences
Unpublished autobiography of Moshe Shklar, Los Angeles 2011
Translated by Hershl HartmanChapter 9, "Names and People: Encounters in Los Angeles," Part Four
[Interjections in brackets are the translator’s; those in parentheses are by the author.]
Soon after my arrival in Los Angeles I had a call from the poet Zusman Bunin. No, not as a representative of the Writers’ Circle that was by then only a name on the frontispiece of the journal Kheshbn, but as the then-secretary of the journal, asking me to submit a few poems. I, of course, responded to his request. Shortly thereafter the telephone rings again. This time it is the editor himself — Arye Posy. He thanks me for sending the poems and mentions in passing that my name has long been known to him. His wife, Bella, had read an article in Der tog [The Day, popular middle-road Yiddish daily] an article by B. Z. [Ben Zion] Goldberg [journalist and son-in-law of Sholem Aleykhem] about a book of mine that had been published in Warsaw. It quoted a poem of mine that pleased her greatly. She had clipped the article and put it away. Now she remembered it. That was how we became friends with the Posys.
Arye Posy was by then an agéd Jew. Born in 1895 in a Belarusian shtetl, he came to America via London where he had spent some time, like many Jewish emigrants from Russia. He was a typesetter by trade and even later, in Detroit, he owned a printshop where Bella helped to set type for Yiddish books, thereby meeting many Yiddish writers who visited the printshop. Arye Posy belonged to Zionist organizations in London and remained a loyal Zionist to the end of his days. I relate this because Posy liked to tell of his visits to the home of Nahum Sokolow [world Zionist leader, influential in the issuance of the Balfour Declaration] where a sort of salon gathered and where he met the intellectual elite of Jewish London.
Arye and Bella Posy strived to establish that sort of salon at their home in Los Angeles. We, my wife and I, spent some enjoyable Friday evenings as invitees at the Posys’ home. These were attended mostly by activists in the Labor Zionist movement and some friends from the Yiddish Culture Club. Bella would serve good Jewish delicacies and the guests would discuss politics. They would also deal with issues of the Farband [National Jewish Workers Alliance] that held no interest for me. So we stopped attending that pseudo-salon which did not last for long in any case.
Arye Posy wrote a great deal and often published his long pieces about literature, parapsychology and philosophical matters in Kheshbn and other periodicals. His book Baginen [“Dawn”], that he had written in London in 1917-1919, appeared in 1981, by the Tel Aviv Perets publishing house. So that manuscript had lain in the author’s desk drawer for quite some time. I do not know whether it matured over time. I had written about Posy’s “Dawn”:
“The book was written approximately sixty years ago. Is it therefore outdated, as often happens in such cases? No. Its language is lively, current; the ideas — universally human and timeless, and its structure is that of a solid building, almost modern.”That would seem to be good. But Arye Posy felt insulted by me. Why? I no longer remember the cause. I don’t want to remember. Certainly, not over the review that was published in Kheshbn. Arye Posy was a very friendly and hearty person, but he was, it seems, very sensitive. He parted ways not only with me. He argued with the editorial secretary, Zalman Shloser, and finally left his post as editor. During Zalman Shloser’s term as editor, Arye Posy did not publish in Kheshbn, the journal to which he had devoted so much effort and energy over the years.
When Arye Posy left us in 1986 at the age of 91, we accorded him his earned honor. I recall him now to the good, as I do his wife, Bella, who died some years later.
* * *
Finally, I wish to recall my first and last meetings with the poetess Malke Heyfits-Tuzman which are deeply ingrained in my memory.
The first meeting. It was also soon after my arrival in Los Angeles. By then I had befriended the social activist, social worker, lecturer and author of short feuilletons and descriptions, Sergei Nutkevitsh [Nutkiewitz] and his wife, Betty. Sergei had been an activist of the Bund in his hometown of Lodz, Poland, where he was a city councilman and a teacher in Yiddish schools. Betty, too, was a teacher who taught drawing. At Culture Club events she would often draw scenes or caricatures of nearby friends on bits of paper. She had a generally good sense of humor. Betty left this world before Sergei. He took [her death] hard, suffered for a few more years and finally left this sinful world in 1986.
Sergei, knowledgeable in literature, adored the poetess Malke Heyfits-Tuzman, often met with her to discuss writers and books, as well as her poems. Once he said to me: “Come, we’ll drive over to Malke’s.” At that time I did not have my own automobile and had to depend on others. I agreed with great satisfaction. Malke Tuzman’s poems were well-known to me and I felt in them the breath of great poetry.
So now we were driving to Santa Monica, not far from the seashore, where Malke then lived with her husband, Shloyme. The door was opened by a stately woman of undetermined age who pierced me with her deep gaze. We are having coffee and cookies and Malke asks me to tell something about Poland from which I had recently come. I tell and then the conversation drifts off to literature. We speak of Yiddish writers in Poland, in America, about tradition and modernism, during which I mention the names of t. s. eliot and Allen Ginsburg, some of whose poems I had read in Polish translation and which had made a deep impression upon me. And then I received a lecture on American English literature and its development. Sergei Nutkevitsh also listened with interest and allowed Malke to speak, which was not his habit. Speaking was his specialty…
Later, when I read in Malke’s book Haynt iz eybik [“Today is Forever,” or “Now is Ever”] her Biyografishn briv [“Biographic Missive”], in which she tells that upon her coming to America she was so entranced by American poetry, especially that of Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe, that she began to write poems in English, I understood the source of her knowledgeability. And I was also able to appreciate the great contribution of her teacher, whom she calls K. M., decipherable as Kalman Marmor, the famous literary researcher and leader of the YKUF [left wing Yiddish Cultural Association] who had rescued her for Yiddish literature. She relates: “K. M. says heartfeltly: there are so many poets in America! Hundreds and hundreds of them write in English…they have many, we have not many who write in Yiddish. Be with us, Malkele, write in Yiddish…” Fortunately, she obeyed him.
The second meeting. Malke Heyfits-Tuzman was by then living in the university town of Berkeley in Northern California. She moved there soon after the death of her husband, Shloyme, to be with her son. She quickly settled into Berkeley, created a circle of Jewish students around her and taught them Yiddish literature. However, she did not forget her friends in Los Angeles. Once, a few years before her death, (Malke Tuzman left this world on March 30, 1987), she came to Los Angeles, already old and sick, for a special event in her honor at the Yiddish Culture Club. There were the usual greeting speeches and (well-earned) paeans of praise. When Malke stood to respond, it was as the same young poetess of the past. She was extravagantly dressed, a cape thrown over her narrow shoulders, her eyes alight, and she spoke with the same exultation as before.
I never saw Malke again. One of the walls at the Culture Club was covered with a score or more of portraits of Yiddish authors, starting with the classicists, Mendele, Perets and Sholem Aleykhem, through to Yankif Glatshteyn and Khayim Grade. One corner was devoted to writers who had lived and created in Los Angeles. The portrait of Malke Heyfits-Tuzman was at the very center. Her sharp gaze and proud head appear, set on a long neck, as though painted by the famous Jewish-Italian artist Modigliani. That is how we must remember the poetess Malke Heyfits-Tuzman — as ever-young, as young and profound, as intimately-heartfelt as was her poetry.
* * *
And so it was that names became people and it I felt good to be among them. That was my greatest achievement here in America. Yes, and our lives were enriched by two granddaughters, Dinah and Judy, and it is to them that I dedicate this book of memories.
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