Yiddish poet and salon host, Ida Maze (occasionally spelled Maza or Massey) was born in a small town near Minsk, in present-day Belarus, in 1898. Her family moved to New York in 1907, and then the next year to Montreal. Maze began writing Yiddish poetry and essays, and became involved in a circle of similarly-minded Jewish Montrealers, developing close friendships in particular with her fellow poets J. I. Segal, Melech Ravitch, and Rokhl Korn. In the 1920s, Maze contributed articles to Yiddish journals around the world, but was also deeply involved in the local literary culture, frequently writing for Montreal’s Yiddish literary journals such as Heftn and organizing events at the Jewish Public Library just down the block from her Avenue de l’Esplanade home, where she and her husband, Alexander Massey, hosted one of the Jewish community’s more prominent literary salons.
Literary luminaries and also struggling, as-yet unknown writers from Montreal, New York, and abroad—as well as painters and other Jewish cultural figures—would often stop by the Esplanade home seeking critical appraisal of their works. The atmosphere of these gatherings was intimate and informal. The Montreal-based Yiddish poet Chava Rosenfarb once reported, “There we would get drunk on homemade cherry-wine and on literary discussion.” The writers often stretched their legs afterward across the street in Fletcher’s Field (today’s Parc Jeanne-Mance), admiring the mountain and the city in the distance.
The literary scholar Irving Massey, Ida Maze’s son, said his mother wrote as a servant of the Montreal Jewish community she always loved: “She fulfills the ideals of her community while yet retaining her identity as an individual poet; she is a writer whose work, even at its most private, is subordinate to community.”
Maze was a guiding figure for generations of Yiddish writers around the world, and was often considered the “Mother of Montreal Yiddish Poets.” She also published four volumes of her own poetry, including her first volume, A mame (“A Mother”) in 1931 and an autobiography, Dinah (1937), which described her early life in Belarus. Maze died in Montreal in 1963.
Compiled by Ricky Kreitner.
Margolis, Rebecca. Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Culture in Montreal, 1905-1945. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011.
Margolis, Rebecca E. Yiddish Literary Culture in Montreal, 1905-1940. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 2005.
Massey, Irving. Identity and Community. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.
*Images courtesy of the Jewish Public Library Archives.