Award-winning Yiddish Author Yehuda Elberg, 91, Dies in Montreal

By Rachel Zuckerman

Published October 31, 2003, issue of October 31, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Award-winning Yiddish author Yehuda Elberg died in his sleep in Montreal on October 18. He was 91.

A widely acclaimed Yiddishist whose body of work documented shtetl life, he gained popularity in the English-speaking world after a 1997 English translation of two of his novels: “Ship of the Hunted” and “The Empire of Kalman the Cripple.” In an interview with the Forward last year, Elberg said of his two books’ English translation: “At the age of 85, I gave birth to twins.”

While he found new audiences with his English translations, Elberg remained committed to the Yiddish language. “I don’t accept what people say, that Yiddish is dead or dying,” he told the Forward. “Something that is dead doesn’t grow.”

Born in Zgierz, Poland, in 1912, Elberg became a rabbi but primarily focused his energies on writing. He published his first short story in 1932 and went on to write for several Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers. During the Holocaust, Elberg was actively involved with both the Lodz and Warsaw resistance movements, setting up safe houses and managing to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. Toward the end of the war, he got military accreditation to trail the American military as a correspondent and, according to his son Nathan, wore an American military uniform. Most of his stories written during the war were lost.

After the war, he lived in Paris and became close friends with the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade, who pushed Elberg to continue working. “One day [Grade] came in to me and said, ‘Why aren’t you writing?’ in a fatherly tone,” Elberg told the Forward in 2002, explaining how Grade had nurtured him “like a brother or father.”

A committed Zionist, Elberg worked in New York after World War II, helping Jewish refugees immigrate to Palestine. He married Tahilla Feinerman, also a Zionist, who died in 1955. He relocated the following year to Montreal, where he remained for the rest of his life with his second wife, Shaindle Stipelman Bloomstone, who died in 1987. In his adopted city of Montreal, Elberg became a prolific writer and published many of his stories in literary journals.

Elberg was often compared to famed Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer — his distant cousin — but the comparison made Elberg bristle. In an interview with the Canadian Jewish News in 1998, Elberg said that Singer was “a pessimist” whose stories portrayed shtetl life in a negative light.

Elberg was honored with numerous prizes during his lifetime. In 1977, he won the Itsik Manger Prize, which is often called the Nobel Prize of Yiddish Literature; he was granted the award in Tel Aviv by Golda Meir, in her last public appearance. In 1984, he won the Prime Minister’s Award, an Israeli literature prize that had been given only once before to a non-Israeli: Singer.

“Often his advice would take the form of quotations from the Talmud,” said his daughter, Eve Elberg, in an interview with the Forward. “He had an oceanic knowledge of Hebrew rabbinical texts, but at the same time was very worldly and knew how to take things in perspective. He had a joie de vivre that was amazing, considering how much he had undergone in his life. He inspired and set an example for us.”

Since last December, Elberg was in a nursing home in Canada, where his son Nathan read the Forward to him.

He is survived by his daughter, Eve; his sons, Gary and Nathan; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.






Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.