The dispute over the papers of the late Yiddish writer Chaim Grade has been settled in favor of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the National Library of Israel, according to a recent press release. The two organizations have also gained control over copyright to Grade’s published work.
Grade was one of the most highly regarded postwar Yiddish writers. His oeuvre includes novels such as “The Yeshiva“ and “The Agunah,” as well as the novelistic memoir “My Mother’s Sabbath Days.” He was also the author much untranslated poetry and several novels that were serialized in the Yiddish press but have never appeared in book form.
The collection was recovered from the writer’s home by the Bronx Public Administrator after the death of Grade’s wife, Inna Hecker Grade, in 2010. It includes 40 boxes of letters, photographs and manuscripts, as well as Grade’s 20,000-volume library.
When Yiddish writer Chaim Grade died in 1982 he was highly regarded in Yiddish literary circles, though less known to English readers. Only a few of his novels had been translated, and hardly any of his poetry. He was also overshadowed by his more famous contemporary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.
In the years following Grade’s death more of his work was brought out in English, including his great novelistic memoir, “My Mother’s Sabbath Days,” in 1986. But because Grade’s widow, Inna Hecker Grade, protected his legacy with fervor tantamount to obstructionism, readers and literary scholars found him increasingly inaccessible. All that changed with Inna Grade’s passing in May, 2010.
“In the years after his death there was a lot of interest, but Inna’s cease and desist letters and obstructions pull a chill on the interest. And now it’s possible to work on the topic,” said David Fishman, a professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a lecturer at a recent conference on Grade held at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. “We couldn’t have done this until now,” added Book Center Founder and President Aaron Lansky, alluding to Inna Grade’s opposition. “It was just too difficult.”
Titled “Sabbath Days and Extinguished Stars: The Life and Work of Chaim Grade,” the conference was the latest example of reawakened interest in the writer. It follows a 100th anniversary celebration of Grade’s birth, held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in October 2010, and a staged reading of a play based on “My Mother’s Sabbath Days” by the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene in the spring of 2011. On June 3, a tribute to both Grade and Singer will be held at the Museum at Eldridge Street in Manhattan, cosponsored by the Yiddish Book Center and featuring Harvard professor Ruth Wisse.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week Blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”), a song about an agune, a woman who was abandoned by her husband but cannot remarry:
[Jacob (Yankev) Gorelik] sang “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”) in his apartment in the “Chelsea hayzer” (Penn South), on 7th Avenue and 25th Street in Manhattan, circa 1985. This song about an agune, a women who was abandoned by her husband, is part of a genre of agune songs in Yiddish. Chaim Grade’s Yiddish novel “The Agunah” (translated in English with that title) depicts the complexity of dealing with the agune, and the rabbinic disagreements over when to declare the woman free to remarry.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
One hundred years after his birth, the late, great Yiddish novelist and poet Chaim Grade can still draw a crowd. This was evident at an October 4 commemorative evening at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which featured fascinating literary analyses of Grade’s work as well as personal memories of the enigmatic man himself.
“Grade was permanently torn between Dostoevsky and the Talmud,” said Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University. It was this psychological rupture between the alluringly sensual secular world and Grade’s upbringing in the austere moralistic Novardok mussar yeshiva that informs his work. The Vilna he depicts even resembles Dostoevsky’s Saint Petersburg, Wisse added, except that instead of writing about men plotting murder, he unsentimentally describes the attempts of rabbis to usurp each other’s power.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “An Ayznban a Naye,” or “A New Railroad Train,” based on a song by the renowned poet and songwriter Eliakum Zunser. Gottesman writes:
“An ayznban” was sung by David Shear of New York City and recorded by me in his apartment in 1989. Shear was born in Luboml (Libivne in Yiddish), Poland. He studied in Ostrovitz, near Keltz in a Navaradok Yeshiva in the 1930s. This was a mussar yeshiva and if you are not familiar with that term, I recommend you read Chaim Grade’s novel “The Yeshiva” as well as other works by him. This kind of yeshiva emphasized ethics in an extreme way. That the yeshiva students there would sing “An ayznban,” which is an adaptation of Elyokum Zunser’s (1836-1913) song “Lid fun ayznban” (not to be confused with his song/poem “Der ayznban”) is not that surprising, since Zunser’s poetry often mixed parable and Jewish ethics.
Read the whole post and listen to the song here.