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Gorshman, Shira

(1906–2001), Yiddish prose writer. Born in the Lithuanian town of Krakes, Shira (or Shirke; original surname unknown) grew up in poverty, with little attention from her parents. She moved to Palestine in 1924, but in 1929 arrived in Odessa with a group of disillusioned members of the Gedud ha-‘Avodah labor corps. Led by Mendl Elkind, they attempted to recreate their commune in the Soviet Union by establishing the agricultural settlement of Vojo Nova (“New Way [of life]” in Esperanto) in Crimea. At that point, Shira Kushnir (as she was known then; Kushnir may not have been her surname at birth) was a single mother of three daughters.

Shira held fast the idea that “Jews didn’t have to write and to be writers, to study at universities in order to become doctors or to rock over the Talmud; rather, everyone had to be a peasant or an artisan.” Her stance changed after she met and married the artist Mendl (Mikhail) Gorshman (1902–1972), whose Moscow circle of friends included Yiddish writers, notably Leyb Kvitko, who encouraged Gorshman to record her narratives, which became popular among Yiddish literati. Her stories appeared in Soviet Yiddish newspapers, and her first collection of works, Der koyekh fun lebn (The Power of Life), was published in 1948, with illustrations by her husband. Because the volume appeared when Stalin’s government was supporting Israel, Gorshman was able to include stories set both in Crimea and Palestine. Her second book, 33 noveln (33 Stories), was published in Warsaw in 1961.

The most active period of Gorshman’s creative life began in 1961, when the journal Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland) was launched in Moscow. The journal regularly published Gorshman’s own works, as well as her translations from Russian into Yiddish. The story collection Lebn un likht (Life and Light; 1974) represents her output of the 1940s through the 1960s. Before immigrating to Israel in 1990, she traveled to Birobidzhan, and described the results of Soviet Jewish colonization as analogous to the mythical villages shown by Potemkin to Catherine the Great.

In Israel, Gorshman published edited versions of her works, most notably her autobiographical novel Khanes shof un rinder (Hannah’s Sheep and Cattle; 1993), and wrote (historically little reliable) pieces about her life in Palestinian and Crimean communes. Russian translations of her stories were published in 1963 (Tret’e pokolenie [Third Generation]), 1979, and 1983 (Zhizn’ i svet [Life and Light]).

Suggested Reading

Sandra Bark, ed., Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars: Jewish Women in Yiddish Stories (New York, 2003); Frieda Forman, ed., Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers (Toronto, 1994); Shire Gorshman, In di shpurn fun “Gedud ha-‘avodah” (Tel Aviv, 1998).