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(Pseudonym of Rokhl Bernshteyn; 1869–1942), Yiddish poet and writer. Virtually forgotten today, Yehudis is notable for her bold poems, several dramatic pieces, short stories, fragments of a novel, translations from Russian, and a memoir of her youth. Born into a well-to-do merchant family in Minsk, Bernshteyn was educated by private tutors and began working in her parents’ shop at age 12. Her subsequent exposure to the socialist movement, and through it to Russian culture, led her to read widely on her own. She and her husband, Shmuel Bernshteyn (whose family name was the same as hers), a leading Jewish intellectual in Minsk, hosted authors whose involvement in the new Yiddish literature inspired her to write.

Yehudis first published a chapter from her childhood memoirs, “A vinter-shabes” (A Winter Sabbath), in Saint Petersburg’s Fraynt (1907). Subsequent publications included lyric poems; fragments of a novel; a one-act play, Bay der arbet (At Work), which appeared in Khayim Zhitlovski’s Dos naye lebn (The New Life; 1909); a dramatic scene, “In undzere teg” (In Our Days; published in Dos naye lebn in 1911), which expressed, according to the Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literature, “contemporary religious moods of certain circles of the Jewish intelligentsia.” Other works appeared in 1911 in the New York annual Dos naye land (The New Land), edited by Avrom Reyzen, and the Warsaw collection Fraye teg (Free Days).

After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Yehudis published short stories, poems, and memoir chapters in the Bundist newspaper Der veker (The Alarm Clock) and in Soviet Yiddish publications. Her three-act play about the Jewish workers’ movement on the eve of the 1905 Revolution was published in Minsk in book form (1925); it included an introduction by Ber Orshanski and the lyrics and music to folk and revolutionary songs. Yehudis also published a translation of the Russian novel Golod (Hunger) by Sergei Semenov (1923).

Three of Yehudis’s poems were included by Morris Bassin in his collection Antologye: finf hundert yor yidishe poezye (Anthology: Five Hundred Years of Yiddish Poetry; 1917), and seven poems were included by Ezra Korman in his anthology of women Yiddish poets, Yidishe dikhterins: Antologye (Yiddish Women Poets: Anthology; 1928). These poems are characterized by themes of illicit passion juxtaposed with motherhood, romantic ennui, and rebellion. In a kind of ars poetica, Yehudis speaks of the poet’s work with a metaphor of the female craft of weaving. Another poem, “Tsum dikhter” (To the [Male] Poet), attacks the “cold . . . spiritless . . . weak” dreams of conventional writers. In contrast to stereotypes about the way women poets were expected to write, Yehudis presented a public as well as a private voice in her lyric poems. In June 1941 she was evacuated from Minsk to Moscow, where she died a year later.

Suggested Reading

Kathryn Hellerstein, “Canon and Gender: Women Poets in Two Modern Yiddish Anthologies,” in Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, ed. Judith R. Baskin, pp. 136–152 (Detroit, 1994); Ezra Korman, Yidishe dikhterins: Antologye (Chicago, 1928), pp. 62–70, 345; “Yehudis,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 4, col. 244 (New York, 1961).