A famed Yiddish writer, who wrote under the pseudonym Melech Ravitch, Zekharye-Khone Bergner was born in Radymno, eastern Galicia, in 1893. He received a mostly secular education, with Polish and German the main languages spoken at home. At age 15, Ravitch became involved in the movement to preserve Yiddish as the language of the Jewish people. Living in Vienna, he began writing poetry, including the 1912 collection Oyf der shvel (On the Threshold) and 1918’s “Spinoza,” the deep philosophical meditations of which became a major trope of Ravitch’s work.
In 1921, Ravitch moved to Warsaw and published Nakete lider (Naked Poems), in which he attempted to integrate the modernist themes of secularism and spiritual alienation with the Yiddish language and strongly East European context. A leading figure in Warsaw intellectual life (he translated Kafka into Yiddish in 1924, the year of the latter’s death), Ravitch served as executive secretary of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw, the epicentre of the Yiddish literary world, from 1924 to 1934. As the situation for Jews in Europe deteriorated, Ravitch decided to leave Poland, living briefly in Australia, Mexico, New York, and Argentina, before settling in Montreal in 1941.
In Montreal, Ravitch became immediately involved in the already dynamic Yiddish intellectual life of the city, serving briefly as head of the Jewish Public Library. He published an anthology of his works, Di Lider fun mayne lider (The Poems of My Poems; 1954), and lived in Montreal until his death in 1976, publishing several more volumes of poetry, and helping foster a vibrant postwar Yiddish literary culture perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Ravitch is often considered to have been not merely a writer and editor, but also a central figure in modern Jewish writing who attempted to unite writers from around the world for the sake of encouraging the growth of Yiddish literature.
Compiled by Richard Kreitner
Margolis, Rebecca E. 2005. Yiddish Literary Culture in Montreal, 1905-1940. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI.
Naves, Elaine Kalman. 1998. Putting Down Roots: Montreal’s Immigrant Writers. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1998.
Orenstein, Eugene. 1981. In The Canadian Jewish Mosaic, ed. Morton Weinfeld, William Shaffir, and Irwin Cotler, 221-240. Toronto: John Wiley and Sons.
Rosenfarb, Chava. 1993. Yiddish Poets in Canada. Toronto: Benben Publications.
*Images courtesy of the Jewish Public Library Archives.