Remembering Lea Goldberg, A Litvak-Israeli Poet

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Lea Goldberg
A number of years ago, I was contacted by Ziporah Peer, then President of Hadassah in Israel and a member of my Kupiskis SIG group. She had an idea to commemorate the memory of outstanding Israeli poet, songwriter, novelist, playwright, children’s author and translator, Lea Goldberg (1911-1970). Goldberg was born in Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad), Lithuania, and her origins were very clearly reflected in her works, as can be seen in the following excerpt from one of her poems:
My homeland, a poor and fair land
The Queen has no home, the King has no crown

And there are seven days of spring-time a year

All the rest are rain and chill.
Whilst Lea Goldberg was well-known in Israel, where several generations of children read her books and her songs resonated amongst both the young and the old, and where she had received the Ruppin Prize in 1949 and the Israel Prize for literature in 1970, there was no mention of her in her homeland of Lithuania. This was surprising as her profound knowledge of both Lithuanian and Hebrew, had allowed her to translate the popular Lithuanian folk song, “The Maiden’s Song” as well as many others. In addition, her later works reflected this connection to her homeland. This connection can be seen in the following poem which was recorded as a song in Israel and touches on one of her other common motifs, things of nature:


Here I will not hear the voice of the cuckoo.
Here the tree will not wear a cape of snow.
But it is here in the shade of these pines

my whole childhood reawakens.

The chime of the needles: Once upon a time –
I called the snow-space homeland,

and the green ice at the river's edge -
was the poem's grammar in a foreign place.

Perhaps only migrating birds know -

suspended between earth and sky -

the heartache of two homelands.

With you I was transplanted twice,

with you, pine trees, I grew -

roots in two disparate landscapes.
© Translation: Rachel Tzvia Back From: Collected Poems [Yalkut Shirim] Publisher: Iachdav/Writers Association, edited by Tuvia Rivner 1970

This lack of recognition in Lea Goldberg’s homeland sent Ziporah Peer on a protracted journey to remedy this. At first, she thought that a marker placed on Goldberg’s family home which was located at Kestucio gatve 16a would be appropriate as Lea’s home in Israel had already been designated as an historical site in that manner.

Eventually, it was decided that a commemorative plaque at the school, where she began her education and gained her love of literature and languages, might be a better choice.
How to go about accomplishing this feat was the question. As a past President of the Israeli Soroptimist Club (2000-2002), she thought to involve that organization in the project she had in mind.

The Soroptimist Club is an international volunteer organization for business and professional women with approximately 95,000 members in 120 countries. They work to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities throughout the world and take on many interesting community projects.
She discussed this with Nili Posin, President of the Israel Soroptimist Club (2008-2010) and then decided to contact her peers in Lithuania - Nijole Petkeviciute, President of the Lithuanian Union of Soroptimist Clubs and Asta Balciunaitine, President of the Kaunas Soroptimist Club.

In addition, contacts were made with Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel (now Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs) Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene and Lithuanian Consul Irena Skardziuviene.
The women became intrigued by the idea and worked together to bring it to fruition. Years of back and forth e-mails have now resulted in a cooperative effort with the municipality of Kaunas to affix an historical plaque written in Hebrew, English and Lithuanian to the wall of the Schwabe Hebrew Gymnasium in Kaunas, where Lea Goldberg attended school.

In addition, Yair Landau, the trustee of Lea Goldberg’s estate was involved in ensuring that the information utilized for the project was authorized and correct.
In regard to the Schwabe Hebrew Gymnasium, it was named for Moshe Max Schwabe (1886-1956), who directed the Department of Schools in the Lithuanian Ministry of Jewish Affairs.

He founded and directed the gymnasium until he left it in October, 1923. The school had a great impact on Lea as can be seen in her Journals which were published in 2005, so it is appropriate that the plaque be placed there.
The placement of the plaque will mean that Lea Goldberg and the school will become a remembrance or heritage stop for Israelis, Litvaks and other Jews from around the world visiting in Kaunas.

The historical plaque for Lea Goldberg
Schwabe Gymnasium, Kaunas, Lithuania
April 11, 2010

The unveiling of the plaque took place on Sunday, April 11, 2010, where it was the highlight of the March of the Living Program which was visiting Kaunas on that day.

Some further resources to learn more about Lea Goldberg, her life and her contributions to Litvak and Israeli culture are as follows:



Mechora Sheli – Lea Goldberg speaking her own poetry



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