Sutzkever’s Ascent—-A Memoir
In late May 1967, my mother picked up the phone in our home in Montreal to call the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever in Tel Aviv. From the screaming headlines in the three Yiddish dailies to which we subscribed, she knew that UN Secretary General U Thant had capitulated to the demand of Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to pull the UN Emergency Force out of Sinai. The Egyptians and Syrians were now massing their troops for war on the borders with Israel, which for all intents and purposes had been abandoned to its fate by the rest of the world. Mother offered to wire funds so that Sutzkever, his wife Freydke, and their daughter Mirele could fly to Canada for safety.
What Sutzkever said to her in reply I never learned. They had not been personally acquainted for very long—when my parents left Vilna in 1930, Sutzkever, born in 1913 and today still living in Tel Aviv, was an adolescent, and their paths had never crossed. But my mother’s Montreal salon was a fixture of the Yiddish-speaking world, as well known as were her financial benefactions to Yiddish poets and artists, and in the late 1950’s they had at last met. My guess is that he now laughed at her offer to help him leave Israel.
About the Author
David G. Roskies teaches literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. This is adapted from a work in progress, The Last Yiddish Novel: A Memoir. Copyright © 2005 by David G. Roskies.