Today in Yiddishkayt… August 3
Birthday of J.I. Segal, Yiddish poet
Jacob Isaac (Yankev Yitskhok) Segal was born on August 3, 1896 in Solobkovtsy (today: Солобківці, Ukraine). He spent most of his childhood in the Hasidic center of Korets (today: Корець, Ukraine), a town he would later idealize in his poetry. Growing up in an impoverished family, he received a traditional education in kheder and in the Korets talmud torah. At 15, he emigrated to Montreal in 1911 assisted by his two older siblings who had arrived in Canada before him. For a number of years he worked stitching trouser pockets in garment factory, a job he detested. He began writing poetry to escape the tedium of his factory job. He published his first collection of Yiddish poems in 1918.
Segal was an active member of the Jewish community and a stalwart of Yiddish cultural life in Montreal. He was the editor of the Montreal-based modernist literary journal ניואַנסן (Nuances) and from 1938 until 1945 was the literary editor of Canada’s Yiddish newspaper, the קענעדער אַדלער (Canadian Eagle), the paper in which he published his first poem in 1915.
In his poem “Yiddish’s Song of Songs” Segal laments the decline of Yiddish:
Yes, every single one of us is the father of Yiddish
and, because of her, [we] wander around worried and silent.
Her younger brothers treat their sister, Yiddish, badly
let her sit in the corner of the room over long late evenings.
Segal is considered among the foremost Canadian Yiddish poets and journalists of his generation. He continued publishing into 1950, in total producing 10 volumes of poetry in his lifetime. He died in 1954. In 1968, the Montreal Jewish Public Library began awarding the J.I. Segal Prize “to honor and perpetuate the memory of the great Yiddish-Canadian poet, J.I. Segal, and to foster Jewish cultural creativity in Canada.”
Listen to Josh Dolgin aka “Socalled” and anthropologist Pierre Anctil share some insight about Segal and the Jews of Eastern Europe who emigrated to Montreal in the early 20th century: