By Yudica, translated by Faith Jones
Yudica is the pseudonym of Yudis (Judith) Tsik (1898–1987). The poem gives voice to her central poetic and political interests: the despair and longing of proletarian immigrant workers during the Depression and their efforts at organizing and creating new political pathways for themselves. Her experiences as a single mother, including her frustration with a male-dominated labor movement, often inform her poems. “Spadina” brings to mind a much better-known work, Morris Rosenfeld’s “Mayn yingele” (“My Little Boy”), whose speaker is oblivious to the gendered experience Yudica illuminates. Spadina Avenue in Toronto, a working-class center where Yudica—like thousands of other immigrant Jews—performed grueling factory work, appears frequently in her poems. Spadina is derived from the Ojibwa language, placing Yudica’s immigrant experience in conversation with the role of colonialism in the Canadian Jewish experience.
Thin-quavering morning air.
Gray spiderwebs blanket the street of stores and factories
That dream the dreams of worker-joy:
A step here and there on the sidewalk,
Joins hundreds of steps, the echoes
Of streets, laneways, workshops,
Hands at work
On Spadina the Labour Lyceum
Has everything: rooms, stairs, judges,
The law of equality. It lacks only worker’s
Bricked up in the walls of the workshops
The dreams of the young, who left school behind,
Looking for luck and their future
Spadina, you are the street of workers’ struggle.
Here is mine: I leave my child
In the gray dawn, hungry, deserted
In strangers’ rooms
My sorrow wanders through ruined worlds,
Through pitiless suffering and bleeding;
Wheels, machines, iron bars swallow my tears
And my youth
Where is the golden key to freedom?
When is the day that will unite us, we
Who wait for work on the street of stores and factories,
~From Shpliters (Toronto, 1943)
Yudica (1898–1987) was the pseudonym of Yudis (Judith) Tsik. Born in Lithuania, she was sent to Prussia to be raised by an aunt, but with the outbreak of war in 1914 was identified as an enemy alien and sent to a labor camp. She made her way to Sweden, later returning to Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine, working at menial jobs. In 1917 her poetry began to appear in the Yiddish press. In 1929 she emigrated to Canada with her three-year-old son. She published books of poetry from the 1920s to the 1940s, and then apparently stopped writing.
Faith Jones is a librarian and translator in Vancouver, Canada, with a particular interest in women writers who crossed boundaries of genre, language, geography, and expectation. Her co-translation of Celia Dropkin’s poems, The Acrobat (Tebot Bach; 2014), was highly acclaimed and continues to attract new readers. She was the recipient of a 2015 Yiddish Book Center translation fellowship. Her translation of Shira Gorshman’s story “High Doorsteps” appeared in Pakn Treger in 2017. She has recently completed a translation of Kadya Molodowsky’s play All Windows Face the Sun for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.