Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Culture, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, August 6, 2018

“A HOUSE WITH SEVEN WINDOWS” - A Short Story by Kadia Molodowsky

“The story of Kadia Molodowsky’s proud, strong heroine is played out against the background of the Khibat Tsion period. A mid-19th century movement, it embraced and expressed the age-old dream of Messianic redemption and the desire to “normalize” Jewish life through a return to, and settlement of the ancestral land of Israel.” . From the introduction 

We first meet Bashke as a young girl:

“BASHKE WAS THE ONLY GIRL in Grodno county who could sit a horse as well as any lord. Her father was a wealthy tenant farmer who rented fields and meadows from the lord of the manor and kept a hundred head of cattle. When she rode out to nearby Brisk, it was in a chaise, no less, drawn by two fine horses. Yankl, her coachman, sat on the upholstered seat, holding the red-tasseled whip, as straight and as proud as if he were coachman to the daughters of the czar. He would polish his boots for half an hour before driving out with Bashke.”

Everyone was excited to see who she would marry, she did well.

“She married a young lumber merchant, a scholar, and she loved him. In Brisk, where she had moved with her husband, Bashke ran her house with great generosity: she had taken Yanki and the chaise with her and never went to town on foot except on Shabes. On Shabes, Bashke could be seen walking to shul or visiting her husband’s family. When she stepped out with her husband, Reb Iser Paperno, it was all substance and status: she was Bashke Shapiro and he, a golden scion of Brisk already shaping his own rich future. There were always guests at Bashke’s table: merchants conducting business with her husband, emissaries soliciting for a yeshive, visiting rabbis, preachers, paupers and random travellers. Bashke greeted every stranger with respect. In the city her house was renowned; Jews called it “Jerusalem.” Once a Warsaw merchant came to Iser Paperno on business.  Bashke served tea with cherry syrup and cookies. As the merchant prepared to leave, she said to him, “You’ve brought us glad tidings; may they come to fruition.” Her husband, Reb Iser, gave her a puzzled glance but out of respect added, “And may there always be good tidings among Jews.” The business transaction with the Warsaw merchant was
highly successful. In one year Iser Paperno doubled his worth but he took no joy in it. Bashke had been transformed. She frequently alluded to the group that was purchasing land in Israel. One Saturday night, immediately after sundown, Bashke lit the lamps as if it were a holiday and sat down to write a letter to the group. The next morning she went off in the chaise to have it promptly mailed by Yakev Rabinovitch, the postmaster. Yakev Rabjuovitch knew all the town’s secrets. When he was curious about the contents of any letter, he’d open it, read it, reseal it and then mail it; his curiosity, God forbid, harmed no-one. He read Bashke’s letter as well. It pleased him greatly that Jews were buying land in Israel. “Just imagine! They’ll overtake the Messiah –no joke!”

By now Bashke and her husband, with several children, were affluent scions of the community.  Bashke had one dominant passion now, she wanted to buy land in Israel, build a house and move the family there.  Her husband sees it as to unsettlingly.  The ending, where she moves leaving him behind alone is sad but she does great in her new home where her husband will join soon starting a business there.

This story reflects a growing support of Zionism, the founding of an entitled Jewish homeland in Palestine in Warsaw as far back as the late 19th century.

From the Yivo Encyclopaedia of Eastern European Jews

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.

I read this story in Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women, TRANSLATED BY ETHEL RAICUS

This story is part of my participation in Women in Translation Month, August, 2018.


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