Molodowsky, Kadya

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Nationality: American (originally Russian, grew up in Poland: immigrated to the United States, 1935). Born: Bereza Kartuska, 1894. Family: Married Simche Lev. Career: Teacher, Yiddish Primary schools, Warsaw; wrote for the Yiddish Press in New York; lived briefly in Israel in the early 1950s writing and editing Yiddish publications. Founder and editor, Svive, New York. Award: Itzik Manger prize for Yiddish literature, 1971. Died: 1975.



Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky, edited by Kathryn Hellerstein. 1999.


[Masehlach] Der goi fun di kartofl [etc.]. N.d.

Cheszwendike necht. 1927.

Heshvndike nekht. 1927.

Kheshvandike nekht. 1927.

Dzshike gas. 1933.

Freydke. 1935.

In land fun mayn gebeyn. 1937.

Der melekh David aleyn iz geblibn [Only King David Remained]. 1946.

In Yerusholayim kumen malokhim [Angels Are Coming to Jerusalem]. 1952.

Lider fun hurbn: 700-705. 1962.

Likht fun Dornboym [Lights of the Thorn Bush]. 1965.


A mantel fun a tunkeln gevantl. In Fir instsenirungen, edited by Aaron Jacob Krisofsky, 1936.

Der golem. In Fir instsenirungen, edited by Aaron Jacob Krisofsky, 1936.

Ale fentster tsu der zun: Shpil in elf bilder. 1938.

Nokhn got fun midbar: Drame fun idishn lebn in 16tn yorhundert [After the God of the Desert]. 1949.


Baym toyer [At the Gate]. 1967.

Short Stories

A shtub mit zibn fentster [A House with Seven Windows]. 1957.


Mayselekh (for children). 1931.

A mayse mit a balye: A mantl fun a tunklen gevantl (for children). 1931.

Afn barg (for children). 1938.

Fun Lublin bis Neue-York: tog-bukh fun Rivkah Zilberg [From Lublin to New York: Diary of Rivke Zylberg]. 1942.

Oif di vegen fun Zion [On the Roads of Zion] (for children). 1957.

Martsepanes: Mayselekh un lider far kinder un yugnt [Marzipans: Poems and Stories for Children and Youth]. 1970.


Critical Studies:

"Encountering the Matriarchy: Kadye Molodowsky's Women's Songs," translated by F. Pczenick, in Yiddish, 7(2-3), 1988, pp. 170-87; "Hebraisms As Metaphor in Kadya Molodowsky's 'Froyen-lider I"' by Kathryn Hellerstein, in The Uses of Adversity: Failure and Accommodation in Reader Response, edited by Ellen Spolsky, 1990; "Kadye Molodowsky's 'Froyen Lider' ('Women's Songs')" by Sheva Zucker, in Yiddish, 9(2), 1994, pp. 44-51.

* * *

In 1928, in the final stanza of a poem from Dzshike Gas entitled "A Letter," Kadya Molodowsky writes:

And say if it's no harmless quirk, quiet whim: On the sunniest day, I recall the abyss Patiently waiting for me to come, Even at the sunniest noontime, like this.

It is this sense of impending doom, this commitment to rendering the abyss that haunts the seemingly peaceful that perhaps best identifies Molodowsky as a Holocaust poet. Though she had already been in the United States for several years (having emigrated from Poland in 1935) when, in 1943, she heard "the bitter news about the khurbm polyn," as quoted in Kathryn Hellerstein's introduction to Paper Bridges, she had long before been using her poetry as a vehicle for social and political change, as a mirror for the grinding poverty and desolation of Polish Jewry that preceded the annihilation of this segment of the world—Molodowsky's world—by the Nazis.

Molodowsky's work might be situated at the crossroads of a number of competing influences. Her work is at once deeply religious and highly suspect of the constraints that traditional Judaism places upon its observers, particularly women. Her "Women-Poems," for instance, highlight the agunah, a figure of abandonment, loss, and perpetually deferred desire. A figure that also inhabits the landscape—literally and meta-phorically—of S.Y. Agnon 's tales (and which he claims as his namesake), the agunah in Molodowsky's poetry is an almost ghostly creature, foretelling by her own anguish the deeper spiritual, psychological, and physical torment that is to come. Like Scholem Aleichem, Isaac Loeb Peretz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer , however, Molodowsky also uses her work to paint portraits of a living, vibrant world, the world of the shtetl, a world steeped in tradition; she breathes life into a community, a culture, on the brink of annihilation and in so doing defiantly rejects the forces that set out to erase this world.

Like Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan , Molodowsky wrestles with the burden of tradition in a post-Holocaust world, using her poetry to enact a theological revaluation of sorts. The covenantal structure is, for her, implicated in and immensely damaged by the Holocaust; at the same time it becomes a crucial and necessary structure for the revaluation process for the poetic tikkun that is to follow. Like Celan and Sachs, her quest for a language that will not violate its object necessitates a return to traditional forms and symbols; this return involves a reworking and rethinking of scripture, a Midrashic encounter of sorts that imbues these textual moments with immediacy and urgency.

In Molodowsky's poetry, as in the poetry of Celan and Dan Pagis , language is forced to undergo its own revaluation; language is not only the vehicle for but also the object of a poetic encounter that aims for an almost visceral binding of self to other. This "new" language, the language that "went through … the thousand darknesses of death bringing speech … enriched by it all," as Celan argues in his Bremen Preis speech, binds past to future, does not overcome the past (as in the sense of Vergangenheitsbewältigung), but confronts it, starkly, unflinchingly, and painfully. This confrontation becomes most explicit and deliberate, most self-conscious, in Molodowsky's final volumes of poetry, Der melekh dovid aleyn iz geblibn and Likht fun dornboym. "My Language" from Likht fun dornboym, for instance, describes a language that slips closer to silence, that suspects its own incapacity for expression at the same time that it responds to the imperative to bear witness:

For this much grief
The spoken word
Or silenced word
Will not suffice.
There lives in me
A language, white,
A word that I
Have never sealed.
Speechless, dumb,
Not formed from words,
My white language,
My utterance, voice,
Assaults my soul.

Language is depicted here as insufficient and intensely private, open, unending, but violent in its refusal to take on form. Even as it strains toward the listening, reading other, it fears it will miss its mark.

Thus the communicative gesture of Molodowsky's poetry is often met by frustration; this very gesture names alienation, solitude, as the given condition even as it attempts to overcome this condition. The act of writing expresses for Molodowsky, as it does for Elie Wiesel , a commitment to the process of renewal, a commitment to try to find words for the unspeakable, a commitment to build a relation in the space of absence. According to Hellerstein, such a commitment betrays an implicit hope, perhaps become explicit in her continued evocation of the Paper Bridge, which will carry us, tradition claims, into paradise when the Messiah comes. But, like the paper out of which this bridge is constructed, this is a fragile and precarious hope, alternatingly nourished and broken by the starkness of despair.

—Beth Hawkins

See the essay on Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky.

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Molodowsky, Kadya

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