Weekly Reader: Yiddish Montreal

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you’ve probably noticed that the city of Montreal comes up a lot. There are good reasons for this. One is the Frances Brandt Online Yiddish Audio Library, our collection of digitized recordings made by Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, which is a veritable treasure trove of material. (There’s also the Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books, a collection of Yiddish works read aloud by volunteers from the very same library.) Then there’s the fact that Montreal has for generations been home to a culturally rich Yiddish-speaking community, which produced all of those recordings in the first place. On April 20 we’ll get to learn more about that community—and about its library specifically—thanks to a talk by Sebastian Schulman, Rivka Augenfeld, and Sonia Bloom titled Undzer Biblyotek: Montreal’s Jewish Public Library at the Center of Yiddish Culture.” (The talk will be presented live via Zoom as part of our 2023 Decade of Discovery theme, “Yiddish Around the World.”) To whet our appetites, and because Montreal is always such a rich gold mine of Weekly Reader content, let’s give that grand old city its due.

—Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor

The Mother Lode

Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books Landing Page

As noted, Montreal is not just home to a storied Yiddish-speaking community but is also the source of entire collections here at the Center. And while that content features regularly in this newsletter, it’s worth highlighting those collections in their entirety. The Frances Brandt Online Yiddish Audio Library contains remastered recordings from the Jewish Public Library of Montreal between 1953 and 2005, including literary readings, special events, and talks by writers such as Avrom Sutzkever, Kadia Molodowsky, Jacob Glatstein, Chaim Grade, and many, many more. The Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books is a collection of Yiddish works read aloud by volunteers in the 1980s and ’90s. It comprises some 150 titles, including novels, short stories, nonfiction works, memoirs, essays, and poetry, by both major and lesser-known Yiddish writers.

Browse the Frances Brandt Online Yiddish Audio Library

Browse the Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books

A Library with a Book

Title page of Biblyotek bukh (Library Book)

Speaking of the Montreal Jewish Public Library, I came across this rather fascinating item in our digital collection. Titled Biblyotek bukh (literally, Library Book) and published in 1957, it contains a history of the JPL until that point, along with three essays about Canadian Jewry, two of which are also included in English translation.


Read the Biblyotek bukh

Persons and Place

A la decouverte du Montreal Yiddish.jpeg

Given the rich Yiddish history of Montreal, it’s no surprise that plenty of Montrealers have been interviewed for the Center’s Wexler Oral History Project. Too many, in fact, to feature them all individually. Fortunately, my colleagues have already put together a wonderful page featuring a representative sampling of these interviews, as well as a complete YouTube playlist of Montreal stories.

Watch Montreal excerpts from the Wexler Oral History Project

A Writer’s Town

Chava in London 1940s_0.jpeg

Montreal boasted many famous Yiddish writers, including the great novelist Chava Rosenfarb. Although Rosenfarb eventually moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, she spent much of her life, and did much of her work, in Montreal. In this virtual public program, Rosenfarb’s daughter and translator, Goldie Morgentaler, discusses her mother’s early years in Montreal in the 1950s, the vibrant Yiddish literary world that she encountered there, and the portrayal of Montreal in Rosenfarb’s fiction. (Morgentaler will also be giving a lecture on May 18 about Rosenfarb’s forthcoming volume of short stories, In the Land of the Postscript.)


Watch a program about Chava Rosenfarb’s Montreal


Register for Goldie Morgentaler’s upcoming talk

King of the Castle


Finally, it’s impossible to talk about Yiddish Montreal without talking about Melech Ravitch. Although Ravitch made his career as a poet and cultural organizer in Warsaw—and lived in Australia, Argentina, and Mexico before settling in Canada—his final decades in Montreal made him a pillar of that city’s Yiddish literary community. This poem, “On Pride,” from 1921, was written relatively early in Ravitch’s career and marks his turn toward the modernist style he would come to champion.

Read a translation of Melech Ravitch’s “On Pride”

Read “On Pride” in the original Yiddish collection, Nakete lider (Naked Poems)