Connect with us


YIVO digitizes writer Chaim Grade’s archive, a Yiddish treasure with a soap opera backstory



(JTA) — Years ago, when I worked at the Forward, I had a cameo in a real-life Yiddish drama.

A cub reporter named Max Gross sat just outside my office, where he answered the phones. A frequent caller was Inna Grade, the widow of the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade and a fierce guardian of his literary legacy. Mrs. Grade would badger poor Max in dozens of phone calls, especially when a Forward story referred kindly to the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Grade’s widow described Singer as a “blasphemous buffoon” whose fame and reputation, she was convinced, came at the expense of her husband’s.

As Max explains in his 2008 memoir, “From Schlub to Stud,” Mrs. Grade “became a bit of a joke around the paper.” And yet in Yiddish literary circles, her protectiveness of one of the 20th century’s most important Yiddish writers was serious business: Because Inna Grade kept such a tight hold on her late husband’s papers — Chaim Grade (pronounced “Grah-deh”) died in 1982 — a generation of scholars was thwarted in taking his true measure. 

Inna Grade died in 2010, leaving no signed will or survivors, and the contents of her cluttered Bronx apartment became the property of the borough’s public administrator. In 2013, Chaim Grade’s personal papers, 20,000-volume library, literary manuscripts and publication rights were awarded to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the National Library of Israel. They are now stored in YIVO headquarters on Manhattan’s W. 16th Street.

This week YIVO and the NLI will announce the completion of the digitization of “The Papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade,” making the entire archive publicly accessible online. When the folks at YIVO invited me to come and look at the Grade collection, I knew I had to invite Max, not just because of his connection to Inna Grade but because he has become a critically acclaimed novelist in his own right: His 2020 novel “The Lost Shtetl,” which imagines a Jewish village in Poland that has somehow escaped the Holocaust, is in many ways an homage to the Yiddish literary tradition.

We met on Thursday with the YIVO staff, who were tickled by the T-shirt Max was wearing, which had a picture of Chaim Grade and the phrase “Grade is my homeboy.” (Max said his wife bought it for him, although neither could imagine the market for such a shirt.)

Stefanie Halpern, director of the YIVO archives, and novelist Max Gross discuss a thick file containing news clippings relating to the late Yiddish novelist Chaim Grade at YIVO’s Manhattan offices, Feb. 2, 2023. (New York Jewish Week)

The Grade papers — manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, lectures, speeches, essays — are stored in folders in gray boxes, whose neatness belies the years of effort that went into putting them in order. Jonathan Brent, executive director and CEO of YIVO, described for us the Grades’ apartment, which he visited shortly after Inna’s death.

“It was like a combination of my grandmother’s apartment and a writer’s home,” he said. “Everything was books, books to the ceiling. You open a drawer in the kitchen where you think there’ll be knives and forks, there are books, there are manuscripts. You open the cabinet in the bathroom, there are more manuscripts and books and books…. But the thing I remember most is that at the top of a shelf there was that much dust.” He held his fingers about two inches apart. 

Inna Grade was Chaim Grade’s second wife. The writer was born in Vilna (now in Lithuania) in 1910. He was able to flee east during the Nazi occupation, leaving behind his mother and his first wife under the assumption that the Germans would only target adult men. It was a tragic miscalculation, and their deaths would haunt Grade the rest of his life. Inna Hecker was born in Ukraine in 1925, and met Grade in Moscow during the war. Married in 1945, they immigrated to the United States in 1948. 

Chaim Grade had already established a reputation as a poet, playwright and prose stylist before the war; English translations of his novels “The Agunah” and “The Yeshiva” and serial publication of his novels in the Yiddish press brought him recognition in America for what the Yiddish scholar Ruth Wisse calls a “Dostoyevskian talent to animate in fiction the destroyed Talmudic civilization of Europe.” Columbia University professor Jeremy Dauber, in a YIVO release, says that Grade was possessed “by the spirit of the yeshiva world he’d left behind; then possessed by the spirits and memories of those who’d been murdered by the Nazis.”

Stefanie Halpern, director of the YIVO archives, showed us the physical evidence of that possession: Grade’s notebooks, in which he wrote down ideas and inspiration in a careful Yiddish script; manuscripts for at least two unpublished dramatic works, “The Dead Can’t Rise Up” and “Hurban” (“Sacrifice”); a photograph of Grade standing amidst the ruins of Vilna during his only visit after the war; pictures of the Bronx apartment taken when the couple was still alive, book-filled but still tidy. 

Halpern also showed us the Yiddish typewriter recovered from the apartment, with what is believed to be the last page he worked on still rolled in its platen.

Chaim Grade’s typewriter, preserved in the condition it was found when the Yiddish author died in 1982, contains what are apparently the last lines he ever wrote. (New York Jewish Week)

The archivists are also careful to give Inna her due. After arriving in America she studied literature and received a master’s degree from Columbia, and often translated her husband’s work. Thanks to her, hundreds of clippings of Grade’s work and articles about him have survived. 

Her correspondence reflects the lengths she went to protect her husband’s legacy during and after his lifetime, including a bizarre and lengthy letter to the Vatican complaining about Singer. “She was a brilliant and creative person, devoted in a way only a widow can be,” said Brent. “And perhaps devoted to a maddening extent.”

If all that sounds like the stuff of Jewish fiction, it is: In 1969, Cynthia Ozick wrote a novella called “Envy; or, Yiddish in America,” about Yiddish writers very much like Grade consumed with envy for a writer very much like Singer. “They hated him for the amazing thing that had happened to him — his fame — but this they never referred to,” wrote Ozick. “Instead they discussed his style: his Yiddish was impure, his sentences lacked grace and sweep, his paragraph transitions were amateur, vile.” 

Halpern showed us a mailgram from Inna to the Forward that makes it clear that she and her husband read and hated the story. In it she describes Ozick as “no less grotesque than evil.”

For all of the gothic Yiddish aspects of its retrieval, “this is probably the single most important literary acquisition in YIVO’s postwar history,” Brent said of the archive. He described publishing projects already underway with Schocken Books and other publishers that will draw on the material. 

Max and I discussed what it felt like to see what had become “a bit of a joke” around the Forward office placed at the center of an epic exercise in literary preservation. Max was struck by the way Inna’s personality came through in the papers. “This was her,” he said. “Her obsession, her struggle, all these things. It was definitely remarkable to see that.”

I recalled overhearing his conversations with Inna, and how her behavior could seem funny and exasperating, but also admirable and more than a little sad — in that her devotion to her husband’s reputation may also have prevented scholars from doing the work that would have made him better known. 

“Exactly, but that’s one of the reasons why you get into Yiddish literature, because all of these things are true at the same time,” said Max. “Those kinds of scores, rivalries, feuds within Yiddish literature is what is so great about it. It is great to see that somebody really cared and that literature was taken so seriously. And the pettiness was something you couldn’t quite divest from the rest of it.”

The post YIVO digitizes writer Chaim Grade’s archive, a Yiddish treasure with a soap opera backstory appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News