"What Balm for the Heart ...?" the Yiddish Poetry of David Fram (1903-1988)

By Sherman, Joseph | Midstream, July-August 2006 | Go to article overview

"What Balm for the Heart ...?" the Yiddish Poetry of David Fram (1903-1988)


Sherman, Joseph, Midstream


In retrospect, it is amazing that a far-flung, troubled country like South Africa could have become a seed-bed for the ideal of "Yiddishism". Articulated by Khaym Zhitlovsky (1865-1943) and strongly canvassed at the Czernowitz languague conference of 1908, this ideal, which viewed Jews as a nation distinguished by extraterritoriality and deriving its cohesion from the cultural autonomy conferred by the Yiddish language, was encouraged when a Jewish delegation was received at the Versailles peace conference in 1919. This was the first time in history that Jews as a nation and Yiddish as a language had been recognised internationally. Also in the aftermath of World War 1, when the government of South Africa permitted a fresh wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe to join a sizable Yiddish-speaking community already established in the country since the end of the nineteenth century, it further encouraged committed Yiddishists. Among them was David Fram, a poet who became Africa's finest Yiddish praise singer.

Fram's verse, like his engagement with the social, political, and artistic life of his adoptive home, reflects the turbulent forces that shaped this rich sub-continent. Through the medium of what was once the lingua franca of most of world Jewry, Fram's work testified to the belief that secular Jewish culture could spread to the most remote corners of the Diaspora. With one of those ironic reversals for which history is notorious, however, that distant foreign land which like Lithuania before it--had offered a home to an earlier generation of Jews is now recalled, if at all, as the birthplace of a failed promise, a fact that lends poignancy to the refrain of disillusionment that echoes through Fram's poetry:

   I thought at last to find my respite here,
   That here the days might give me limitless content,
   That now no more the beckoning path would call to me
   To wander on again, to somewhere else.

   Yet once again with weariness I long for still, white rest.
   I thought that local earth might yet be dear--
   But destined all anew is wandering for me
   To seek another comfort somewhere else ... (1)

Born in Ponevezh (Panevezys), Lithuania, on October 14, 1903, Fram received a traditional Jewish education supplemented by secular instruction from private tutors. When Jews were expelled from the Pale of Settlement at the outbreak of World War 1, Fram and his family were cast adrift in Samara (now Kuibyshev), a city on the Volga in Russia. There he studied in the local Russian gymnazium, and at the age of eighteen he published his first poem, in Russian, in a student journal. Significantly, in terms of the emotional concerns of his later work, it was entitled "Zima" (Winter). In 1921, having matriculated at a Soviet workers' school, he returned to Ponevezh, but since the Lithuanian government refused to recognize Soviet educational qualifications, in 1923 he entered the Yiddish gymnazium in Vilkomir (Vilkmerge, later Ukmerge), a town 43 miles north of Vilna (Vilnius) and 30 miles east of Keidan on the Shventa River, in which Jews had been settled from the late sixteenth century onwards. There he lived in the house and under the tutelage of the great Yiddish linguist and scholar, Yudel Mark (1897-1975), who exerted a profound literary influence on him. Determined to make his mark as a poet, Fram contributed regularly to Yiddish papers in Kovno (Kaunas), and had some work accepted by the prestigious Warsaw periodical, Literarishe bleter. Only with the appearance of his long poem, "Reb Yoshe in zayn gortn" (Reb Yoshe in his Garden), in New York's Oyfkum (Rebirth) in 1927, however, did Fram truly enter the international world of Yiddish poetry. (2)

In 1926 the restlessness that characterized his whole life drove Fram to France, where he joined his four sisters, all long-time members of the vibrant Yiddish-speaking community of Paris, in whose midst writers and artists--Marc Chagall (1887-1985) among them--flourished.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"What Balm for the Heart ...?" the Yiddish Poetry of David Fram (1903-1988)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.