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  • Yiddish Poetry by Sore Shabes
  • Hinde Ena Burstin (bio)

Sore Shabes (Sara Shabat) was born Sore Lakhovitski, in Niesvich, Belarus, on March 6, 1913. She completed a Hebrew gymnasium (junior college) shortly before arriving in Palestine in 1934. She lived on kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, near Haifa until 1940, then moved to Kibbutz Beit-Alpha, where she still lives today. Like her mother, she became a seamstress, and images of sewing permeate some of her finest works.

Shabes's daughter Tamara describes her mother as "always writing, on scraps of paper, on napkins, always writing." Shabes wrote Yiddish poetry throughout her life. For many years, she didn't feel the need to publish her work. She wrote mainly for herself and showed her poems only to a few close friends.

By coincidence, Shabes's long-time friend and neighbour on the kibbutz, the well-known Yiddish poet Rokhl Fishman, learned that Shabes penned Yiddish poetry. Fishman, along with writers Mordechai Khalmish and Moshe and David Cohen, encouraged Shabes to publish her work. Shabes's first publication was on November 14, 1979, in the journal Isroel-Shtime, where four of her poems appeared, accompanied by an article by Khalmish about her work.

Her first book, Fun Heym tsu Heym (From Home to Home) was published by Isroel-Bukh in Tel Aviv in 1981. She followed this up with: Tsvishn Zun un Shotn (Between Sun and Shadow, Isroel-Bukh, 1983); Vi a Feder in Vint, (Like a Feather in the Wind, Isroel-Bukh, [End Page 44] 1985), and Trit Tsvishn Grudes (Steps Between Clods of Earth, Isroel-Bukh, 1989). A Hebrew translation of Fun Heym tsu Heym by Dov Yarden was published privately (Yarden, 1986). Trit Tsvishn Grudes was translated into Hebrew by Asher Shofet (Smedar Press, 1991).

Shabes's books were well-received. Reviews describe her as a fine poet whose work brings a fresh, distinctly female tone to Yiddish poetry. Her writing was lauded for its richness of language, originality of plot and abundance of imagery. Shabes has a vibrant voice and presents an overtly feminist perspective that is rare in contemporary Yiddish poetry. Her poems address women's strength in contrast with men's glorification of power. War, ever-present in Israel, is a common theme in her writing, including her clever and commanding poem presented below, Mener Zogn (Men Say). Shabes's daughters feel she "voices the collective ideas of her society" in her feminist anti-war poems.

Her depth of feeling is apparent throughout her poetry. She has written with insight, imagination and empathy about her "sisters from the Tanakh," female Biblical figures, and women from Jewish history. Her daughter-in-law Katherine describes Shabes as "the most positive person you will ever meet," and this positive approach is apparent in Shabes's poetry. She employs a gently mocking tone in many of her poems, and is steadfast and forthright in her assertion that women are equal to men, poking fun at men who believe that they are stronger.

Coming across Yiddish poetry such as Shabes's is like finding a rare gem, and indeed, I felt like a fossicker who had found her fortune when, almost by coincidence, I discovered Shabes's work. I was at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, looking for contemporary Yiddish poetry by women. Aware that there are many talented women poets beyond the few whose words and works are now known, I decided to ignore that old adage, and judge my books by their covers. I scanned the shelves of Yiddish literature, seeking the logos of the few publishers of Yiddish writing today.

I gathered quite a few volumes of recently published Yiddish poetry, written by a range of women writers, but once I started reading Sore Shabes's poems, I was enthralled. I pushed the other books aside and lost myself in Shabes's words. Time flew by, unnoticed. I was surprised and disappointed when the library announced that it was closing. I made copies of several poems that were most appropriate to my research, and reluctantly ret-turned the books to the library shelves.

I was determined to find out more about this enigmatic poet whose work had such...


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Archived 2012
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