Weekly Reader A Cure for the February Blues
February 20, 2022
“April is the cruellest month,” T. S. Eliot famously wrote. With all due respect to the author of The Waste Land, I disagree. February is the cruelest month. The winter holidays are nothing but a pleasant memory, and spring is still a ways away. That seems particularly true this year, a Jewish leap year, when Purim—though still in mid-March, around the normal time—is delayed by a month. Fortunately, there’s a cure for the February blues. If the winter doldrums have got you down, take the opportunity to curl up in a comfy sweater and slippers and read something good. We’ve got a few suggestions.
In the Deep Dark Woods
Melech Ravitch is best remembered as a mainstay of Montreal’s Yiddish literary community and one of the most prominent Yiddish writers after the Holocaust. But before the war he was equally active in Warsaw, where he was the executive secretary of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists. His autobiography, Dos mayse bukh fun mayn lebn (The Storybook of My Life), comprises three volumes, each containing numerous short chapters that can stand as independent memoirs. “Wind, Snow, a Completely Darkened Forest, a Frozen River, and Me in the Middle of It All” is drawn from the third volume, which covers Ravitch’s life between 1921 and 1934.
"The White Bear"
“The White Bear” is the eponymous first story in Arn Mayzl’s 1927 anthology Der vayser ber un andere dertseylungen (The White Bear and Other Stories). Arn Mayzl, or Aaron Meisel, was born in the Minsk region of Belorussia in 1890. He immigrated to the United States in 1911, where he became a teacher for the Workmen’s Circle schools and, along with publishing several of his own books, contributed writing to numerous periodicals, including Morgn-frayhayt and Der hamer.
Destined to Create
In 1977, after attaining fame and admiration as a “poet of the Jewish people,” Rokhl Korn marked the publication of her book Farbitene vor (A Changing Reality) at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library by speaking about youth and creative birth. What produced the poetic impulse in her as a child, and what gives rise to a poet in any era? Here she hazards an answer, with her decades of struggle evident in her worn but powerful voice. To translator Mikhl Yanshinsky she sounds like an aged blues singer who ambles up to the microphone not to praise herself for years of accomplishment but to conjure up the uncertainty and unknowns of life once upon a time.
When author Yoshua Perle published Everyday Jews in Warsaw in 1935, its sex scenes scandalized the press, and the city’s leading critics aligned against the novel. But eventually the critical tide began to turn, and Everyday Jews was acknowledged as a masterpiece of Yiddish modernism.
Baym toyer (At the Gate)
Finally, if you prefer (as I often do) to listen to your books, we’ve got 139 Yiddish audiobooks for you to choose from. That’s a lot of audiobooks, so if you’re looking for a place to start, you could do worse than listen to Baym toyer (At the Gate) by Kadya Molodowsky, about life in Israel after the Holocaust, read by Cecylia Serlin.