115 years anniversary of Shira Gorshman

Updated: Apr 13

April 10, 2021 marks the 115th anniversary of the Jewish writer Shire Gorshman.

The dramas and fatal twists that filled this woman's life would have been enough for five. Personal acquaintance with her for fifteen years left an indelible mark on my memory and was one of the brightest pages in my life. I met Shira Grigorievna, at first through her short novellas, which were distinguished by a very colourful, flowery language, full of unusual artistic comparisons and metaphors, and sharp humor, often caustic and satirical.

In 1986, I met her personally at the editorial office of the Sovetish Gameland magazine on Kirov Street 17. It rarely happens that a personal acquaintance with a writer is even more striking than an acquaintance with his work. But in the case of Shira, this was exactly the case. At that time, she was already in a very old age, which was not at all felt in the conversation. Her low voice, filled with steel notes, narrowed, slightly angry look, and, at the same time, infectious laugh, were simply amazing. It took some time to getting used to her communication style, but, on the other hand, it was charmed and attracted.

During one of her visits to the editorial office, Shira told me: "Do you know that I write in my head?" Noticing my surprised look, she explained: “The hand is trembling, it has become very difficult to hold the pen, so I write in my head. I will have a request to you: come to me in Perovo. I have a Jewish typewriter, which I inherited from Joseph Rabin (a famous Yiddish writer), and I will dictate to you what I wrote in my head ... "

Since then, I periodically travelled to Perovo, printed her short stories under Shira's dictation and enjoyed every minute spent next to her. In between dictation, she told many stories from her long, colorful life, and all her stories penetrated right into the soul - both in content and in a very special form of their presentation.

Shira was born in 1906 in the town of Kroki, Kovno province. During the First World War, the family was evacuated to Odessa. There she lost her parents at an early age. Returning to Lithuania, she was brought up in an orphanage in Kaunas, then lived in her grandfather's house. In her youth, she underwent "akhshara" (preparation of Jewish youth for moving to Palestine) in Kaunas, married early and, in 1923, with her husband and daughter, left for Palestine. She joined the Gdud Ha-Avoda (Workers' Battalion) organization, worked in Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem, worked in the fields, milked cows, built roads, and was a teacher in an orphanage. In 1926, a split occurred in Gdud Ha-Avoda. Part of the people, led by M. Elkind, left Palestine and went to build a "bright Jewish communist future" in Crimea. Shira joined them and moved to Crimea in 1929 with her two daughters, Ruth and Shulamit. There the former kibbutzniks created the Voya-Nova agricultural commune in incredibly difficult conditions. Subsequently, the overwhelming majority of the Communards were arrested and exiled to the GULAG during the years of Stalin's political terror. Shira escaped this bitter fate thanks to the fact that during a visit to the Voya-Nova colony by a group of Jewish intellectuals, the artist Mendel Gorshman fell in love with her and took her to Moscow with him.

Jewish writers gathered in Gorshman's Moscow apartment, and Shira often told them about the life of the agricultural commune. Among the audience was the famous poet Leib Kvitko, who noticed the talent of the storyteller and encouraged Shira to write. She has published eleven collections, mostly short stories in Yiddish, two in Hebrew and two in Russian. In Moscow, Shira had another son, Alexander. Her son-in-law was the great Russian actor Innokenty Smoktunovsky.

In 1989, Shira left Moscow, taking only a few pictures of her late husband Mendl Gorshman with her, and repatriated to Israel a second time. Her life bindings and excellent Hebrew, which she had not had the opportunity to use for decades, amazed many in Israel. The first channel of Israeli television shot a touching film "Derekh Hadasha" (New Way), during which Shira traveled across the country with a film crew and met with "gudniks" (her friends on the kibbutz and "Gdud ha-avoda"), whom didn’t see for 60 years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmGB8mfkfrE

Here, in Israel, for the fourth time she married her fellow kibbutz, whom she had not seen for sixty years either, and after his death she lived in a hostel in Ashkelon, where she died in 2001 at the age of 95.

In Israel, she has published three books, which are mainly dedicated to the memories of the young years spent at Gdud Ha-Avoda. These works have attracted the attention of not only the Yiddish-reading public, but also historians, incl. young people exploring the history of the Zionist settlement of Eretz Israel. In one of these books, Shira writes:

“The most satisfying, the best food was for the children, for the rest ... what was left. True, the vegetables were very cheap. In the kibbutzim were prepared "apartments" - tents. Iron bed legs buried in the sand. During the day the sun was hot, at night it was possible to cool down ... We drained the swamps, suffered from fever, and died. Many of us fell in the struggle as Trumpeldor ... We physically worked from morning till night, but we, these “chaluts” (pioneers), and not someone else, showed the world that Jewish blood will no longer be shed with impunity ... "

M.Yushkovsky