Israelis You Should Know: Leah Goldberg
The Fellowship | May 19, 2017
Lived: May 29, 1911 – January 15, 1970
Known for: An extremely prolific poet, author, playwright, translator, and researcher, Leah Goldberg’s writings are classics of Israeli literature.
Why you should know her: Leah Goldberg was born into a Jewish family in Kaunas, Lithuania. While Lithuanian, Leah was born in the German city of Konigsberg, as her mother hoped to give birth under better medical care. When WWI began, the Goldberg family escaped to Russia, where they lived under harsh conditions. Leah’s father was arrested when they tried to go back home to Lithuania, accused of being a Bolshevik spy. The torture and fake executions her father suffered destroyed him mentally and left him unable to care for the family.
Leah’s parents spoke several languages. At a young age, she learned Hebrew, and began keeping a diary in the Jewish language at the age of 10. Although she was fluent in many European languages, Leah only wrote her published works – as well as her personal writings – in Hebrew. At age 15, she wrote a journal entry that highlighted the Hebrew language’s importance to her: “The unfavorable condition of the Hebrew writer is no secret to me…Writing in a different language than Hebrew is the same to me as not writing at all. And yet I want to be a writer…”
After receiving a PhD from universities in Berlin and Bonn (studying both Semitic languages and German), Leah’s plans to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) were widely reported. She at last arrived there in 1935, settling in Tel Aviv and joining a renowned group of Zionist writers. Teaching high school and writing advertisements tided Goldberg over until she was hired as an editor by the Hebrew daily papers Davar and Al HaMishmar. She also edited children’s books and wrote theater and literary reviews.
At last, Goldberg put her education to work in 1954, when she became a literature lecturer at Hebrew University, becoming a full professor in 1963, when she was also appointed head of the Department of Comparative Literature.
Her writings included Hebrew poetry, drama, and children’s literature, which include such books as A Flat for Rent and Miracles and Wonders, both Hebrew children’s classics.
Leah Goldberg passed away after battling cancer, but was honored during her lifetime and posthumously, earning the Ruppin Prize in 1949, the Israel Prize for literature in 1970, and in 2011 being named one of four Israeli poets who would appear on Israel’s currency.
In her beloved poem, “From Songs of Two Autumns,” Goldberg writes of the finite lives we live, as opposed to the infinite nature of God and His Holy Land:
In the hills the stone has been chiseled.
The grass is soft as a flock of sheep.
Don’t look upon my vanishing,
For the pine is an eternal candle.