Candles of Song: Malka Lee

Yiddish poems about mothers, in memory of my mother, Miriam Pearlman Zucker, 1914-2012.

Photo of Malka Lee

Malka Lee (1904-1976) (pseudonym of Malka Leopold-Rappaport) was born in Monastrikh, Eastern Galicia into a Hasidic home. During the World War I she and her family fled to Hungary and then to Vienna where they lived until 1918. She studied in a Polish elementary and high school. She began writing poetry in German but in 1921, the year she emigrated to New York, she turned to Yiddish. In 1922 she made her literary debut in Di feder, NY, and after that she contributed poems, stories and memoirs to many newspapers and magazines including: Fraye arbeter shtime, Frayheyt, Tsukunft, Tog-morgn-zhurnal, Idishe kemfer, Di goldene keyt and Kinder-zhurnal.

She and her first husband, the Yiddish writer Aaron Rappaport, owned and operated a bungalow colony in High Falls, New York which became a haven for Yiddish intellectuals based in New York. According to Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Lee’s work “is representative of an entire generation of Jewish women born and educated in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century who found a very different life in America. Her early poetry intertwines the memories of shtetl life in a Hasidic family with the realities of the secular immigrant experience. Her volumes published between 1945 and 1950 reflect the personal pain of observing the Holocaust, with its destruction of family and childhood home, from the safety of distance in America. Her later work expresses a love of nature and attachment to America, as well as her Zionist devotion to the State of Israel.”

Lee published 6 volumes of poetry: Lider (Poems), 1932, Gezangen (Songs), 1940,  Kines fun undzer tsayt (Lamentations of our times), 1945, Durkh loytere kvaln (Through pure springs), 1950, In likht fun doyres (In the light of generations), 1961, Untern nusnboym (Under the nut tree), 1969  as well as her memoirs Durkh kindershe oygn (Through childish eyes), 1955 and a children’s book Mayselekh far Yoselen (Stories for Yosele), 1969.

Here, Mayn Mamen, by Malka Lee, read by Sheva Zucker: