Ravitch, Melech

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RAVITCH, MELECH (pseudonym of Zekharye Khone Bergner ; 1893–1976), Yiddish poet and essayist. Born in Radymno, East Galicia, Ravitch left home at 14 and lived in various cities, including, for long periods, Vienna (1912–21) and Warsaw (1921–34), later emigrating to Australia (1936–38), Argentina, the U.S., and Mexico (1939–40), before settling in Montreal in 1941 for the rest of his life (excepting 1954–56 in Israel). His earliest lyrics appeared in Der Yudisher Arbeter (1910); his first volume of verse was Oyf der Shvel (1912). He worked in a bank before serving in the Austrian army during World War i. His Spinoza (1918) is a tribute to the philosopher whom he ranked with Moses and Jesus. From the early 1920s he was an active contributor of poems and essays to major Yiddish periodicals in Eastern Europe and beyond. He co-founded Literarishe Bleter (1924) and the Yiddish Pen Club. In Vienna he felt the impact of expressionistic poets such as F. *Werfel and E. *Lasker-Schüler and began to experiment with expressionistic technique. In his Nakete Lider ("Naked Songs," 1921), he gave up rhyme, regular meter, and stanzas. Impressed by the Yiddish revival in postwar Poland, he settled in Warsaw in 1921. There he joined Uri Ẓevi *Greenberg and Peretz *Markish, a triumvirate branded the *Khalyastre ("Gang"), in the struggle against realism in art. Ravitch reached the climax of his expressionistic striving in the poems "Dos Gezang tsum Mentshlekhn Kerper" ("Song to the Human Body"), "Gezang tsu der Zun" ("Song to the Sun"), "Dos Gezang fun Has un Libe tsum Yidishn Folk" ("Song of Hate and Love for the Jewish People"), and "Efntlekher Mishpet Ibern Toyt" ("Public Judgment of Death"), all four of which, having initially appeared in periodicals, were published in book form in Di Fir Zaytn fun Mayn Velt ("The Four Sides of My World," 1929). Ravitch's retreat from expressionism was reflected in the song and ballads of Kontinentn un Okeanen ("Continents and Oceans," 1937), a volume which embodied his moods and experiences of the restless decade that preceded his two years in Melbourne (1936–37). Instead of trying to shock and mystify his readers, he aimed at maximum clarity, proclaiming himself a citizen of the world, a poet beyond nationalism. In 1946 he and his brother H. *Bergner published the memoirs of their family as recorded by their mother Hinde Bergner (1870–1942) on the eve of World War ii. In Montreal he served as a catalyst of Yiddish literary, educational, and cultural activities. During his active association there with the Yidishe-folksbyblotek (Jewish Public Library), he revived the Yidishe-folksuniversitet (Jewish People's Popular University) to offer adult education programming in Jewish and non-Jewish topics from 1941 to 1954. Soon after he settled in Montreal, Ravitch embarked on a project to immortalize the Jewish cultural figures he had known in Poland, Israel, and America, and other countries and produced five encyclopedic volumes, Mayn Leksikon (1945–82). He also wrote three autobiographical volumes (Dos Mayse-bukh fun Mayn Lebn (1962–75), which appeared in Hebrew as Sefer ha-Ma'asiyot shel Ḥayai (1976).

Ravitch was one of the world's leading Yiddish literary figures after the Holocaust. His poetry and essays appeared in the international Yiddish press and in anthologies, as well as in translation. Ravitch published numerous collections of poetry, including 67 Lirishe, Satirishe, Natsyonale, Sotsyale un Filozofishe Lider fun di Letste Finf-zeks Yor (1946), Di Kroynung fun a Yungn Yidishn Dikhter in Amerike: Poeme (1953), Di Lider fun Mayne Lider (1954), and Iker Shokhakhti: Lider un Poemes fun di Yorn 19541969 (1969), as well as in Hebrew translation (Ḥamishim Shirim, 1969). His essays appeared in Eynems Yidishe Makhshoves in Tsvantsikstn Yorhundert (1949), and posthumously in Eseyen (1992). Ravitch edited and co-edited numerous collective projects, including the weekly literary supplement of the Keneder Odler (1943–49), Almanakh Yidish (1961), and Dos Amolike Yidishe Varshe biz der Shvel fun Dritn Khurbn (1966). During his long career, he was awarded numerous literary prizes including the prestigious L. Lamed, Yud Yud Segal, and Itzik Manger Prizes.

add. bibliography:

C.L. Fuks (Fox) (ed.), Hundert Yor Yidishe un Hebreyishe Literatur in Kanade (Montreal, 1982), 264–71; S. Niger et. al. (eds.), Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur, vol. 8, 314–18; E.H Jeshurin and W. Ostreger, Melekh Ravitsh Bibliografye (Montreal, 1954); lnyl 8 (1981), 314–18; I. Bruce, in: Traduction, Terminologie, Redaction, 7/2 (1994), 35–62; A. Eidherr, in: Informationen zur Deutschdidaktik, 2 (2001), 66–75.

[Sol Liptzin /

Jerold C. Frakes and

Rebecca Margolis (2nd ed.)]