Yiddish Literary Culture and Community in Montreal
Montreal could easily be considered a Canadian Yiddish hub, however on the global scale it is considered by many scholars to be peripheral at best. The prolific scholar Rebecca Margolis at the University of Ottawa is among those who have explored Montreal’s Yiddish literary culture in depth, and in her book Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil she describes the life of this literary community. Because many of the Yiddish speaking Jews in Canada were those who had experienced the “literacy movements that had emerged among nineteenth century modernizers in Tsarist Russia,” Margolis argues that they brought with them and then adapted “Eastern European literacy patterns,” which would later influence Yiddish literary culture through emphasis on education, especially self-sought opportunities for that education. Although she admits that this “minor Yiddish center… lagged behind the United States and Europe in its development of Yiddish literature,” she focuses on the fact that by the 1930s there existed in Montreal a “diverse group of writers and a network of literary activity” that allowed for a Yiddish literary culture there. This “high point in Montreal Yiddish literary activity” allowed writers to explore new genres, organize literary groups, and interact with the wide variety of Yiddish cultural institutions in Montreal.
Many of the literati of Montreal were involved with the Keneder Adler, a Yiddish newspaper based there, which allowed them to connect with the literary culture that Margolis stresses had “community at its core.” Writers adopted “multiple roles” within Yiddish general culture in Montreal, often participating in not only literature, but also education, theater and music, allowing them to connect with each other on many different levels as well as with the culture of the city itself. Ultimately, Margolis argues that “poets staked their literary careers in Montreal with the support of a local community of writers,” using local publications to develop their voices and relying on each other to do so.
In a rare work of nonfiction, the poet Chava Rosenfarb took the time to describe the Yiddish literary life of Montreal in her essay on Canadian Yiddish Writers. Much of what she describes matches Margolis’ careful research. Arriving after the golden age of Montreal Yiddish literature that Margolis described, Rosenfarb remembers that when she arrived in 1950, she “found a bustling Yiddish social life,” including Yiddish literary periodicals through which she might stay connected to both local and global Yiddish cultural life. She was invited to join an “active writer’s union,” which connected the community of local writers as well as inviting Yiddish authors from abroad, which is how she met such stars as “Opatoshu, Bialostocki, Itzik Manger, Israel Joshua singer, and his brother Bashevis.” Interestingly, in her essay, Rosenfarb discusses not only the intense community among writers in Montreal, but also makes an effort to define Canadian Yiddish literature more generally. While she notes that American Yiddish authors had a “sharp, clear sense of self-awareness as an American,” her fellow Canadian Yiddish authors, especially poets, “looked upon their adopted homeland through glasses that were somewhat out of focus.” The reason she gives for this is that Canadian Yiddish authors were less at home than their American counterparts, because while “Americanism imposed itself, Canadianism has to be looked for,” and for the most part her fellow Canadian Yiddish writers saw Canadian culture on the whole as parochial, and less worldly than themselves, immigrants with cultural experience.
Anctil, Pierre, Norman Ravvin, and Sherry Simon. “Canadian Yiddish Writers by Chava Rosenfarb.” New Readings of Yiddish Montreal = Traduire Le Montréal Yiddish = Taytshn Un Ibertaytshn Yidish in Montreol. Ottawa: U of Ottawa, 2007. N. pag. Print.
Margolis, Rebecca. Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Culture in Montreal, 1905-1945. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2011. Print.
Hundert tropn tint [A Hundred Drops of Ink]
H. Hirsch’s first book, and the first volume of belles lettres to appear in Canada.