Leyb Malakh’s The Maiden of Ludmir

Nathaniel Deutsch

Chapter 2: Writing the Maiden

In 1924 Leyb Malakh, a young Jewish immigrant to Argentina, published the first dramatic adaptation of the Maiden of Ludmir’s life. Malakh was born Leybl Zalzman in the Polish shtetl of Zvolin, where his Hasidic father eked out a living as a melamed (teacher) and horse dealer. After the traumatic death of his mother, in his early teens Malakh abandoned Zvolin for the bright lights of Warsaw, where he earned his keep as a mirror polisher, a baker’s boy, and a painter, before deciding to become a Yiddish writer at the age of sixteen. By the time Malakh stepped off the boat in Argentina ten years later, he was already an accomplished and prolific author. The Jewish community of Buenos Aires that greeted Malakh upon his arrival teemed with Yiddish organizations, theaters, and newspapers, as well as enough Jewish pimps and prostitutes to warrant their own synagogue and cemetery.

“Das Gorn Shtibl,” Malakh’s work on the Maiden of Ludmir, was serialized in a Buenos Aires Yiddish weekly from November 1923 to May 1924. [1] Stylistically “Das Gorn Shtibl” most resembles a play, but Malakh called his drama “a legendary poem.” Several factors suggest that Malakh had access to oral traditions different from those earlier employed by Horodezky. Most notably, as the work’s title indicates, Malakh knew the correct name of the Maiden of Ludmir’s study house, though he mistakenly refers to her as “Feyge,” rather than as Hannah Rochel, a name supported by archival sources. The real significance of Malakh’s highly fictionalized work lies not in the historicity of its details, however, but in its groundbreaking awareness of the dramatic appeal of the Maiden of Ludmir’s life.

Malakh, who later wrote a Yiddish drama called Mississippi concerning race relations in the Deep South, perceived that the story of a Jewish woman attempting to navigate the rough waters between tradition and her own desires would resonate with Jewish immigrants confronting modernity on the mean streets of Buenos Aires. Like Ansky’s play The Dybbuk, Malakh’s drama unfolds in a Hasidic shtetl, but both works speak to the very modern question of what happens when an individual questions the absolute authority of her family, her community, and her culture. The fact that the Maiden of Ludmir was a woman, like the main character in The Dybbuk, intensified this sense of conflict, since the changing role of women was one of the most significant social issues affecting Jewish society during the first few decades of the twentieth century. While Jewish immigrants could identify with the subversive elements of the Maiden of Ludmir’s story, they could also look with nostalgia at her painful struggle to remain within the Hasidic fold, albeit on her own terms. Perhaps this very ambivalence is what made the Maiden of Ludmir’s story compelling to Jews—including Leyb Malakh—who felt torn between the Hasidic shtetlekh of their youth and their current lives in the bustling immigrant neighborhoods of cities like Buenos Aires and New York.

“Das Gorn Shtibl” was the first work that Malakh published after arriving in Argentina, but it was not his last to deal with the issue of women’s rights. Only three years later, in 1926, Malakh ignited a controversy when he wrote a play sharply criticizing the powerful Jewish pimps of Buenos Aires for their abuse of immigrant Jewish women. Enraged, the pimps pressured a theater to withdraw the drama, sparking a broader struggle to free the local Yiddish theater from the patronage of the sex industry. [2] In the same year, Malakh adapted his work on the Maiden of Ludmir to the stage, where it was performed by the Young Argentina theater group. Before his premature death in 1936, Malakh extensively revised “Das Gorn Shtibl.” Now called “The Maiden from Ludmir,” the unpublished manuscript attracted favorable attention from the great Yiddish dramatists Maurice Schwartz in New York and Michael Veichertin Warsaw, as well as from the literary critic Elhanan Zeitlin.

1. “Das Gorn Shtibl: A Legendary Poem in Four Acts” was serialized in the Argentine Yiddish weekly For Groys un Kleyn from 9 November 1923 to 29 May 1924.

2. On Malakh’s involvement in this controversy, see Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Warsaw, 1934), 2: 1333–34. See also Leyb Malakh (Los Angeles: Leyb Malakh Book Committee, 1949).

SOURCE: Deutsch, Nathaniel. “Writing the Maiden” [excerpt], foreword by Janusz Bardach, in The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 34-35, 245.

Letters from Abroad: Two Generations in the Argentine,”
by Leon [Leib] Malach

de Lejb Malaĥ (1894-1936)
(Antaŭparolo & Biografio)

Anonco pri Misisipi

Esperanto & Laborista Movado / Esperanto & the Labor Movement

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo (kun interlingvistiko)

Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe Study Guide

Alireteje / Offsite:

Misisipi [kompleta teksto]
de Lejb Malaĥ

Gejunulara ĵurkanto de Leib Malach,
trad. I. Jurysta; en Proletaria Kantaro, 1924

Leib Malach @ Ĝirafo

Icek Jurysta - Vikipedio

Icek Jurysta by Lotty Malach

Mississippi, 1935 · YIVO Online Exhibitions

Malach, Leib in the Jewish Virtual Library

Leib Malach (1894-1896) : Jidlingvaj Libroj / Books in Yiddish

The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman
by Nora Glickman

Caftens, Kurvehs, and Stille Chuppahs: Jewish Sex Workers and their Opponents in Buenos Aires, 1890-1930
by Mir Yarfitz

Seeking Mameloshn Down South
by Ilan Stavans

The King of Lampedusa and Remolding
by Joel Berkowitz

Farmitlung and Shtadlones in Latin American Yiddish Literature
Alan Astro

Yiddish South of the Border
ed. by Alan Astro

Director's Prologue to Leib Malach's play "Remolding"
by Jacob Botoshanski (pp. 89-91)

Remolding (excerpts of a play, pp. 92-8)
by Leib Malach

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 7 May 2023

Site ©1999-2023 Ralph Dumain