Weekly Reader April Birthdays

April 17, 2022

Birthdays have never been a huge part of Jewish tradition. After death, especially, we commemorate the yortsayt—the anniversary of a person’s passing—rather than the date of their birth. Nonetheless, Judaism does recognize the importance of age-related milestones. The Mishnah (Avot 5:21) lists a whole slew of them, from the commencement of Bible study at age five, to age 100, at which it (rather unkindly) deems a person “as good as dead and gone completely out of the world.” And there is, of course, the bar and bas mitzvah, which marks a person’s official entry into the responsibility of adulthood. So, in the spirit of birthday celebration, we thought we’d take a look at some Yiddish writers whose births fall this month. Don’t forget to make a wish!

Ezra Glinter

Lost and Lonely

5 Yiddish writers at at the Chernovits Conference, black and white photo for postcard
Right to left: Hersh Dovid Nomberg, Chaim Zhitlovsky, Sholem Asch, I.L. Peretz, Avrom Reyzen.

Hersh Dovid Nomberg was a writer and activist born April 4, 1876, in Mszczonów, near Warsaw. A protégé of I. L. Peretz, he began publishing poems and short stories in 1900. Along with Sholem Asch and Avrom Reyzen, he went on to become one of the most influential Yiddish writers of his generation. Many of Nomberg’s stories deal with the theme of alienation, depicting lost and lonely characters trying to find their place in the modern world. “Briv” (“Letters”) is an epistolary romance of sorts, with a twist.

Read “Briv” by Hersh Dovid Nomberg, translated by Daniel Kennedy

Flawed Utopia

Shira Gorshman speaking, an older woman with grey hair and a purple blouse. Her book is mounted in the background.

Born in 1905 in Lithuania, Shira Gorshman did not begin writing until the late 1930s. By then she had lived in Palestine and Crimea, serving as a member of workers’ collectives in both locales. She continued writing steadily until her death in Israel in 2001, often reflecting on the vulnerability and tenacity of Jewish life in different historical settings. “High Doorsteps” takes us into the world of Soviet labor communes, whose utopian enterprises were not free of the power relations they sought to overturn. In this story, Gorshman shows, through a gendered lens, how both resistance and solidarity are needed to create a more just world.

Read “High Doorsteps” by Shira Gorshman, translated by Faith Jones

Guest Speaker

Black and white image of a young Chaim Grade

Chaim Grade’s life and work spanned poetry and prose, Europe and America, pre- and post-Holocaust life, and both the religious and secular worlds. As the product of intense Talmudic training who eventually turned to secular life and literature, Grade frequently turned his view to the rabbinical culture of his native Lithuania, while paying close attention to the lives of the ordinary men and women who populated prewar Europe. After the Holocaust Grade became one of the most celebrated Yiddish novelists and was regularly feted by audiences of readers and admirers, such as at this 1958 reception at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal.

Listen to a reception in honor of Chaim Grade

Read a selection of letters by Grade to his friend Abraham Bornstein

A Doll From Reyzen

Sandra Rubin interviewed for the Wexler Oral History Project, an older woman with spectacles.

When Sandra Rubin was a child, her parents hosted weekly Friday night gatherings that included many Yiddish literary figures. They sat around the table and sang songs, told stories, and recited poetry. One of these guests, she recalls, was the writer Avrom Reyzen, who once gave her the precious gift of a doll.

Listen to an oral history interview with Sandra Rubin