Born Belarus 1894
Moved to New York City - 1935
Died in Philadelphia in 1974
“A House on the Hill” by Kadya Molodowsky, widely considered a leading 20th Century Yiddish language poet, is a nostalgic fun to read story about a family back in Belarus before World War One. As brief story opens we meet the father, a very small small scale fish merchant. In fact he is the only male seller of fish at the market. Our narrator tells us that without his daughters he would never have risen above poverty. His oldest daughter, Gitele, starts her own fish stall. Unlike her father, she is very smart and industrious. Soon she has a much bigger stall than her father. She sells only the freshest fish. Soon the richest gentiles and Jews come to her for fish.
Gitele wants to buy the family, she has two sister, a nice house near the market where richer people live. They live on The Hill now and it is very squalid. Her mother is totally against this idea.
Molodowsky brilliant presents the scene very visually:
“The daughters wanted to leave the squalid hill, and Gitele proposed to pay installments on a house that was for sale in the market. Areh nodded his head and said, “Nu, when you come up in the world, God forbid, you don’t sink again. Why not?” But Feyge-Tsipe pointed at the ceiling with her hand and said, “This roof has been lucky for me. My daughters were born here, and they grew up here, and thanks be to God, now we’re the equals of respectable people. I’m not going to leave here. People will be jealous of us if we puff ourselves up and move to a house in the market. And in a city, when the tongues start wagging, God protect us from what can happen.” When she saw that Shimen the broker was coming to speak with Areh about the house in the market, she grabbed the doorframe and shouted: “I’m not leaving here! They’ll have to drag me out!” Shimen the broker was intimidated by such talk and fled. Areh ran after him and replied: “Nu, so now you see what kind of a woman she is, my Feyge-Tsipe, she’s attached herself to the house.” Returning, Areh tried to persuade Feyge-Tsipe. “For the sake of making matches for our daughters, you need to do this. What kind of a matchmaker will come to you up here on the hill? And what better kinds of bridegrooms will be brought to you down there!” But Feyge-Tsipe held her own. “If a good match is meant to be, it will come here too.” All the neighbors on the hill knew the story and rejoiced. “Feyge-Tsipe doesn’t want to leave the hill.”
I thought the husband would pursuade her with the line about the match maker but no luck.
The story takes a very happy turn. I will tell the final close. Gitele meets a very nice young man who soon comes every day to buy fish. It turns out his father is very rich and they marry.
Overall a very enjoyable five minutes. As I’m learning, a stock character in Yiddish fiction is the domineering wife, carrying on to get her way.
I resd this story in s wonderful anthology of Yiddish short fiction.
Have I Got a Story for You - More than a Century of Fiction from the Forward edited by Ezra Glinter with an introduction by Dana Horn was a 2016 finalist for the Jewish Book of the Year. Founded in New York City in 1897, Forward is the most renowned Yiddish newspaper in the world. For generations it has brought immigrants news of their homelands, recipes, as well as lots of information about how to get along in America. It also published many works of Yiddish language fiction by some of the greatest writers in the language.
(You can learn about the history of Forward on their website
There is a very detailed biography of Kadya Molodowsky on The website of The Vivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews.
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