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Molodowsky, Kadia

(1894–1975), Yiddish poet, writer, teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew, and editor. Kadia Molodowsky (in Yiddish, Kadye Molodovski) was one of the most prolific and public of the Yiddish poets, editors, and teachers in Warsaw and New York. Her life and works were characterized by paradoxes: she advocated both Yiddishism and Zionism; she believed that poetry should be engaged, yet not political, and should reflect both the poet’s individuality and her connection to the Jewish people as a whole; and she wrote powerfully about the struggles of women, yet argued against being categorized as a “woman poet” writing “women’s poetry.”

Molodowsky was born in the shtetl Bereze (Bereza Kartuska), in Grodno province, to a family steeped in tradition, yet influenced by the Jewish Enlightenment. Her paternal grandmother taught her to read Yiddish, and her father instructed her in Jewish history and modern Hebrew, as well as in the Pentateuch and the Gemara. Tutored in secular subjects, she passed gymnasium exams and earned a teaching certificate. During her early travels, she encountered both the Yiddish cultural and the Hebrew revivalist movements. She studied Hebrew pedagogy in Yeḥi’el Halperin’s Froebel Courses in Warsaw in 1913–1914 and then, uprooted by World War I, worked in homes for refugee children in Ukraine. In Odessa in 1916–1917, Molodowsky continued her studies with Halperin. Trapped in Kiev after the Bolshevik Revolution, she tutored privately and worked in a home for displaced children. She survived the Kiev pogrom and, in 1920, published her first poems in the journal Eygns. That same year, she married Simkhe Lev, who became a journalist and printer. In 1921, the couple settled in Warsaw, where Molodowsky lived until 1935, except for brief sojourns in Brest-Litovsk (1923) and Paris (1929). In Warsaw, Molodowsky taught Yiddish by day in the secular elementary schools of Central Yiddish Schools Organization (CYSHO; in Yiddish TSYSHO), and Hebrew by night at a Jewish community school. Active in the Yiddish Writers Union, she published extensively in the leading Warsaw literary journal, Literarishe bleter (1925–1935), and edited the literary page in Fraynd (1934–1936). Four books of her poetry came out in Warsaw in 1927, 1930, 1933, and 1935.

In Kheshvndike nekht (Nights of Heshvan; 1927), published in Vilna by Boris Kletskin, Molodowsky contrasts the female narrator’s modernity with roles decreed for women by Jewish law and tradition. The book received approximately 20 reviews in the Yiddish press, nearly all laudatory, although even the most sympathetic couched their praise in metaphors of women’s sexuality or devotion. Most notorious for such faint praise were articles on women poets in Literarishe bleter by Melech Ravitch (1927) and Shmuel Niger (1928).

Molodowsky’s second book, written for and about the impoverished Jewish children she taught, Geyen shikhlekh avek: Mayselekh (Little Shoes Go Away: Tales; 1930), won a prize from the Warsaw Jewish Community and the Yiddish Pen Club. Her third book of poems, Dzhike gas (Dzika Street; 1933), from the Literarishe bleter’s press, was praised by Rokhl Korn from a feminist standpoint as portraying the “true . . . brilliant joy” waiting to be released from the hunger and need of Dzika Street (1934). Shmuel Niger, in New York’s Der tog, called Molodowsky a “true poet” who, while exposing social truths, does not allow the “social motif” of the book to entrap her in socialist versifying (1933). However, a politically motivated review by Bundist Shloyme Kazdan faulted Molodowsky’s poems as too “aesthetic” (Vokhnshrift far litertur . . . ; 1933). In response, Molodowsky’s fourth book, Freydke (1935), featured a 16-part narrative poem about a heroic, Jewish, working-class woman. The didactic poem “Freydke” exposes the precarious lives of working-class Jews, especially women, in Poland and calls for political and social reform.

From 1927 on, Molodowsky published essays on political and literary matters. In a 1927 issue of Literarishe bleter, she responded vigorously to a patronizing article by Melech Ravitch on women Yiddish poets and further articulated her views against lumping women poets together in a satirical essay in January 1930. She protested the pressure on Polish Yiddish writers to conform to political ideologies (1931), and, in 1933, defended Yiddish culture in Warsaw, and attacked the proliferation of sensationalist shund (trash) literature. In 1934–1935, Molodowsky joined an acrimonious debate between the Jewish Communists and Bundists by attacking Bund leaders for corruption in their dealings with the teachers’ organization in the TSYSHO schools.

When, in 1935, by her own account, Molodowsky was invited for a visit by Lipe Lehrer, director of Farlag Matones, the publishing house of the Sholem Aleichem Folk-Institute in New York, she went. Her two sisters and father were in Philadelphia, and she had other relatives in Washington, D.C., and Boston. Joined by her husband in 1938, Molodowsky settled in New York City in 1935, where she remained, except for two years in Tel Aviv (1950–1952). In New York, she published more children’s poetry, two plays, two novels, a collection of short stories, journal and newspaper articles, and a serialized autobiography in Svive, the literary journal she edited. Molodowsky wrote three more major books of poetry—In land fun mayn gebeyn (In the Country of My Bones; 1937), about exile; Der melekh Dovid aleyn iz geblibn (Only King David Remained; 1946), Holocaust poems; and Likht fun dornboym (Lights of the Thorn Bush; 1965). This last book concluded with her 1950s poems on Israel, that, like the ending of her autobiography, expressed Molodowsky’s Zionist vision of hope. Awarded the Itsik Manger Prize in Israel in 1971, Molodowsky died in Philadelphia in 1975.

Suggested Reading

Anna Fishman Gonshor, “Kadye Molodowsky in Literarishe bleter, 1925–1935: Annotated Bibliography” (M.A. thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 1997); Kathryn Hellerstein, trans. and ed., Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky (Detroit, 1999); Irena Klepfisz, “Di mames, dos loshn / The Mothers, the Language: Feminism, Yidishkayt, and the Politics of Memory,” Bridges 4.1 (Winter/Spring 1994): 12–47.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1171, Bertha Kling, Papers, 1907-1978; RG 367, Malka Lee, Papers, 1916-1964; RG 457, Ezra Korman, Papers, 1926-1959.; RG 465, Kinder Zhurnal and Farlag Matones, Records, 1920s-1960s; RG 473, Jacob Adler, Papers, 1890s-1970; RG 492, Jacob M. Rothbart, Papers, ca. 1918-1970s; RG 576, Yitzhak Zemel, Papers, 1945-1950; RG 609, Ephraim Auerbach, Papers, 1924-1969; RG 610, Leib Olitzky, Papers, 1940s-1960s; RG 641, Menahem Boraisha, Papers, 1915-1957; RG 703, Kadia Molodowsky, Papers, 1950s-1960s; RG 711, Lazar Weiner, Papers, 1908-1974; RG 833, Peretz Hirschbein, Papers, 1900-1957.