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Kadia Molodowsky - portraying women's voices in Yiddish literature

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Kadia Molodowsky was a prolific and popular Yiddish poet, prose writer, editor, and teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew. Among other things, she wrote powerfully about women’s struggle and argued against being categorized as a “woman poet”. Kadia Molodowsky was born on May 10, 1894 in the shtetl Bereza Kartuska (now Byaroza, Brest region of Belarus). Kadia’s father, a teacher in a traditional Jewish elementary school (kheder), instructed her in the Torah. Kadia’s paternal grandmother taught her Yiddish literacy. With private tutors the girl studied secular subjects in Russian. Kadia's mother ran a grocery store and, later, a kvass factory. The girl passed gymnasium exams and earned a teaching certificate. She went on academic studies of Hebrew pedagogy in Yekhi’el Halperin’s Froebel Courses in Warsaw in 1913–1914. Uprooted by World War I, she tutored privately and worked in homes for refugee children in Ukraine. In 1916 she followed Halperin to Odessa, where she taught kindergarten and elementary school in Yiddish. In 1917, upon attempting to return to her hometown, she was trapped in Kiev, where she survived the pogroms in 1919. In 1920, Kadia published her first poems in the Kiev Yiddish journal “Eygns” (Our Own). That same year she married the journalist Simkhe Lev. In 1921, the couple settled in Warsaw, in newly independent Poland, where they lived until 1935. It was there that Molodowsky composed her first book of poetry, “Kheshvndike nekht” (Nights of the month Heshvan), in 1927, followed by three others. In “Kheshvndike nekht”, published in Vilna, Molodowsky contrasts the female narrator’s modernity with roles decreed for women by Jewish law and tradition. Active in the Yiddish Writers Union, she published extensively in the leading Warsaw journal, “Literarishe bleter” (Literary sheets), and edited the literary page in the newspaper “Fraynd” (Friend). Kadia went on teaching Yiddish in secular elementary schools run by CYSHO (Central Yiddish School Organization), and Hebrew in a Jewish community school. In 1935 she emigrated to New York City, where her husband joined her not long after. In response to the Holocaust, Molodowsky wrote the poems "Eyl Khanun" (Merciful God; 1945) and “Der melekh David aleyn iz geblibn” (Only King David remained; 1946). She founded and edited two Yiddish literary journals: “Heym” (Home) and “Svive” (Milieu). In 1949-1952 Kadya and her husband lived in Tel Aviv, where she edited the Yiddish journal “Di heym” (The home), published by “Moetzet Hapoalot” (the Working Women's Council). Then they returned to USA. In New York she published much children’s poetry, two plays, two novels, a collection of short stories, and a serialized autobiography in “Svive”. In the prose collection “A shtub mit zibn fentster” (A house with seven windows, 1957) she sang the images of righteous women in the shtetls of pre-war Eastern Europe. Molodowsky’s last major book of poetry, “Likht fun dornboym” (Lights of the thorn bush; 1965), is concluded with her 1950s impressive poems about Jerusalem which distinctly express her Zionist vision. In 1971, she was honored in Israel by the Itzik Manger Prize for Yiddish letters. Kadia Molodowsky survived her husband by one year and died in a nursing home in Philadelphia on March 23, 1975.

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