Ruinengroz (Ruin Grass), by Melech Ravitch. (Brno: Jüdischer Buch- und Kunstverlag M. Hickel, 1916 or 1917). (YIVO)

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Ravitch, Melech

(Melekh Ravitsh; pseudonym of Zekharye-Khone Bergner; 1893–1976); Yiddish poet, essayist, playwright, and cultural activist. Melech Ravitch was born in Radymno, eastern Galicia, into a home where the main spoken languages were Polish and German. Ravitch received a secular general education, including business school, as well as a limited traditional Jewish education. Influenced by the Czernowitz Language Conference, he began to write in Yiddish; his initial pieces appeared in 1910 in Yiddish publications in Galicia. He lived in Lemberg and Vienna, where he worked in a bank, and during World War I served in the army.

Israel Joshua Singer (left), Melech Ravitch (right), Ravitch’s wife, and their two children, Yosl and Ruth, ca. 1925. (YIVO)

The first decade of Ravitch’s creativity, starting with his earliest book of poetry, Af der shvel (On the Threshold; 1912), reflected the neoromantic trend that characterized Yiddish poetry in Galicia at that time, under the aegis of Shmuel Yankev Imber. The long poem Shpinoza (Spinoza), published in 1918, exhibited the essential elements of Ravitch’s later work, such as his predilection for lengthy poetic genres (later, also ballads), an interest in philosophical themes, and a stress on meditative elements.

The book Nakete lider (Naked Poems; 1921) signaled Ravitch’s turn toward modernism in its expressionist form. The main features of this work are its broad thematic range, sharp imagery, and predomination of free verse. Ravitch created a poetic persona who is consciously intellectual, socially engaged, and who speaks out against the accepted truths of bourgeois society in the name of his own ideological values. Taken as a whole, Nakete lider is one of the most representative achievements of the modernist revolution in East European Yiddish poetry.

In 1921, Ravitch settled in Warsaw, where for a brief and intense period of time he became very close to Perets Markish and Uri Tsevi Grinberg, the poet who, as Ravitch did, made the transition from late neoromanticism to modernism. Although one does not have to consider these poets as a close-knit literary group with a common literary credo, they did collaborate on endeavors that popularized Yiddish modernist poetry for a wider audience, and were known as Di Khalyastre (The Gang). Ravitch was editor of the journal Di vog (The Scale; 1922, three issues) and also printed pamphlets against the opponents of modernist Yiddish poetry, including Dovid Eynhorn and Hillel Zeitlin.

Masthead of Literarishe bleter: Ilustrirte vokhnshrift far literatur, teater, un kunst-fragn (Literary Pages: Illustrated Weekly of Literature, Theater, and Art), no. 5 (6 June 1924), Warsaw. (YIVO)

Between 1924 and 1934, Ravitch served as executive secretary of the Fareyn fun Yidishe Literatn un Zhurnalistn in Varshe (Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw), located at 13 Tłomackie Street. Thanks to his organizational skills, that site was transformed into the central address for Yiddish literature in Poland and one of the symbols of secular Yiddish culture in general. Along with Israel Joshua Singer, Markish, and Nakhmen Mayzel, Ravitch was a cofounder of the main literary journal in interwar Poland, Literarishe bleter (Literary Pages), which he also coedited from 1924 to 1926. Later he edited the literature page of the Bundist daily Folks-tsaytung, using his position to encourage young Yiddish writers and writing numerous reviews of Yiddish books.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Ravitch’s poetry was characterized by its wide thematic, emotional, and linguistic range. In his Di fir zaytn fun mayn velt (The Four Sides of My World; 1929), the influence of Walt Whitman is striking. The work combines the topics of sensual primitiveness, the contemporary problems of Jewish nationalism, and metaphysical explorations. Kontinentn un okeanen (Continents and Oceans; 1937) creates the image of a Yiddish poet as a citizen of the world who writes poems on a wide geographic, human, and cultural canvas that extends from European capitals to the deserts of Oceania. In that period, Ravitch tried his hand at writing plays, but in that genre never matched the level of his other work.

From the 1930s on, Ravitch lived in Australia, Argentina, and Mexico, until finally settling in Montreal. His comprehensive anthology of his own work, Di lider fun mayne lider (The Poems of My Poems), was published in that city in 1954. The first two volumes of the series Mayn leksikon (My Lexicon; 1945–1947) offer intimate portraits of Yiddish writers in Poland. His memoirs, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The Storybook of My Life; 3 vols., 1962–1975), describe his life in Galicia, Vienna, and Warsaw.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber fun tsvantsikstn yorhundert, vol. 1, pp. 349–369 (New York, 1972); Abraham Baer Tabachnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (New York, 1965), pp. 339–349.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1139, Abraham Cahan, Papers, 1906-1952; RG 1142, Joseph and Chana Mlotek, Papers, 1950-1990; RG 1171, Bertha Kling, Papers, 1907-1978; RG 1176, Rivka Kope, Papers, 1960s-1980s; RG 1193, Moshe Dluznowsky, Papers, 1930s-1970s; RG 1217, B. Margulies, Papers, 1942-1954; RG 1247, Paul (Pesakh) Novick, Papers, 1900-1988; RG 1279, Vladimir Grossman, Papers, 1950s-1960s; RG 209, David Herman, Papers, ca. 1932-1946; RG 227, Alexander Mukdoni, Papers, 1918-1958; RG 232, Abraham Reisen, Papers, 1924-1948; RG 258, Yiddish Culture Society, Records, 1928-1943; RG 275, Eliezer Schindler, Papers, 1930s-1950s; RG 279, Moshe Starkman, Papers, 1942-1973; RG 280, Jacob Mestel, Papers, 1914-1958 (finding aid); RG 282, Lamed Shapiro, Papers, ca. 1934-1947; RG 353, Jacob Glatstein, Papers, 1920s-1960s; RG 357, Mark Schweid, Papers, ca. 1920s-1969; RG 366, Isaac Nachman Steinberg, Papers, 1910s-1950s; RG 367, Malka Lee, Papers, 1916-1964; RG 394, Ben-Adir, Papers, ca. 1934-1942; RG 421, Daniel Charney, Papers, 1920s-1959; RG 423, Berl Lapin, Papers, 1909-1954; RG 436, Joseph Opatoshu, Papers, 1901-1960; RG 439, Chaim Gutman, Papers, 1913-1960; RG 451, Ephim H. Jeshurin, Papers, ca. 1900-1960s; RG 457, Ezra Korman, Papers, 1926-1959; RG 473, Jacob Adler, Papers, 1890s-1970; RG 479, Benjamin Jacob Bialostotzky, Papers, ca. 1929-1963; RG 485, Israel London, Papers, ca. 1947-1964; RG 489, Chaim Barkan, Papers, ca. 1927-1966; RG 491, Mani Leib, Papers, 1915-1953; RG 492, Jacob M. Rothbart, Papers, ca. 1918-1970s; RG 500, Alexander Pomerantz, Papers, 1920s-1960s; RG 507, Leibush Lehrer, Papers, ca. 1908-1968; RG 518, Mattes Deitch, Papers, 1920s-1960s; RG 526, Louis Lamed Foundation for the Advancement of Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, Records, 1940-1960; RG 535, Rachel Holzer, Papers, 1930s-1960s; RG 546, Judah Achilles Joffe, Papers, 1893-1966; RG 556, Aaron Glanz-Leieles, Papers, 1914-1966; RG 558, Harry (Yitzhak Hersh) Radoshitzky, Papers, 1909-1955; RG 561, Rashel Weprinsky, Papers, 1936, 1958-1966; RG 569, Shlomo Bickel, Papers, 1920s-1969; RG 584, Max Weinreich, Papers, 1930s-1968; RG 596, Abraham Aaron Roback, Papers, ca. 1925-1960; RG 601, Leon Feinberg, Papers, 1920s-1968; RG 609, Ephraim Auerbach, Papers, 1924-1969; RG 610, Leib Olitzky, Papers, 1940s-1960s; RG 626, Berish Weinstein, Papers, 1928-1968; RG 650, Aleph Katz, Papers, 1920s-1969; RG 698, B. Alkwit, Papers, 1920s-1950s; RG 701, I.L. Peretz Yiddish Writers’ Union, Records, 1903-1970s; RG 753, Reuben Iceland, Papers, 1906-1954; RG 833, Peretz Hirschbein, Papers, 1900-1957.



Translated from Yiddish by Yankl Salant