Today in Yiddishkayt… July 4
Birthday of Malka Lee, Poet
Malka (Leopold) Lee was born on July 4, 1904, in the shtetl of Monasterzyska, Galicia (today Монастириська, Ukraine). During World War I, her family fled to Vienna; they returned to Poland after the war. Lee began writing poems in German at an early age. When her father discovered her writing, he expressed his severe consternation at the idea of a young woman writing by stuffing her poetry into the stove pipe above the kitchen oven. After she immigrated to the U.S in 1921 she began writing in Yiddish, her mother tongue.
She attended Hunter College and the Jewish Teachers Seminary. Her first published poetry appeared in 1922, and from that moment until her death, she continued to submit poetry to Yiddish literary journals and anthologies all over the world. Her early poems juxtaposed her memories of Hasidic shtetl life with her secular immigrant experience. The work was well received by many Yiddish readers because the poems resonated with their own experiences in the Old World and the New.
Lee and her first husband, writer Aaron Rappaport, owned and managed a bungalow colony in High Falls, New York, which became a destination for many Yiddish intellectuals based in New York. There she cultivated friendships with a variety of Yiddish writers and critics. Among the volumes of poetry she published are Gezangen (1940), Kines fun undzer tsayt (1945), Durkh loytere kvaln (1950), In likht fun doyres (1961), and Untern nusnboym (1969). A digitized collection of her works can be found HERE.
Between 1945 and 1950 Lee wrote primarily about the pain of observing the horrors of World War II, and learning of the death of her family, from a safe distance in the U.S. In 1955, she expanded her first autobiographical article, originally published in 1927 in the Yiddish newspaper Frayhayt, into a book of memoirs entitled Durkh kindershe oygn (Through a Child’s Eyes). In 1965, she was awarded the Hayim Greenberg Award of Pioneer Women of America. In 1969, Lee published a book of short stories and fables for children entitled, Mayselekh far Yoselen (Little stories for Yosel). Her later work expressesed a love of nature and her attachment to America, as well as her devotion to the State of Israel.
Lee died in New York on March 22, 1976.