Chaim Bader, a Yiddish poet, author, journalist and literary scholar, died of cancer Sunday morning in New York. He was 83.
He was born into a family of furriers in Kupel, a small town in Volhynia in what is today Ukraine, to parents who were barely literate. He, his brother and his three sisters were educated at their father’s urging.
Bader’s initial exposure to Yiddish literature came from books in a local clubhouse, which he devoured by the shelf, without teacher or guide, often by candlelight. While the young Bader ruined his eyesight this way, he developed his literary talents, which he tested at an early age by writing for Yiddish youth magazines. He attended high school at the Yiddish Pedagogical Technicum of Odessa and studied at the university level in the Yiddish department of the Odessa Pedagogic Institute. Then he became part of the explosive literary environment of the early Soviet Union.
His poems appeared in Yiddish periodicals such as Young Guard, Der Shtern, Der Emes and Sovietish Heymland.
By 1940, he was assigned a teaching post in a Russian school in a rural area of the Ukraine to teach Russian language and literature. (The Yiddish schools had already been closed by then.) In autumn 1941, Bader was evacuated to Turkmenistan, where he continued to teach and publish in local papers. Bader returned to the Ukraine in March 1946 to work in the local Ukrainian press, the Moscow Yiddish journal Eynikayt and Der Shtern.
In 1947, his first collection of poetry was aborted by lingering fears of Stalinist repression that halted all Yiddish and Jewish activity. But Bader managed to live for decades as a teacher and journalist in the Ukraine. He completed his dissertation and was able to move his family to Leningrad by 1970.
After teaching for a year in Birobidzhan, the so-called Jewish Autonomous Republic on the Chinese border, he accepted an invitation in 1973 to join the staff of the Moscow-based Yiddish journal Sovietish Heymland. He ultimately became the associate editor.
This was the richest period of Bader’s creative life. He authored books for children, poetry collections and some 1,000 entries for the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia, as well as the libretto for the first opera of the revived Yiddish theater, “A Black Bridle for a Whole Pony” (1978).
Bader moved in 1996 to New York, where he published in many Yiddish literary journals and scholarly volumes. He contributed to the Yiddish Forward and “The Forverts Hour” radio show, and was editor of the literary journal Zukunft. He left a legacy of unpublished materials.
Bader’s first wife died several years ago. He is survived by his second wife, Yeva, and two sons, Boris and Vladimir, and their families.
Translated from the Yiddish Forward.