Russian Yiddish Poet Appeals for Help to Yiddish Folk Singer to Emigrate to Israel

A Russian Yiddish poet, whose applications for permission to emigrate to Israel were repeatedly rejected by Soviet authorities, has appealed for help to a Yiddish folk singer who had better luck when she decided to leave Russia. The singer, Nehama Lifshitz, made public a letter she received from her friend, Iosif B. Kerler, through the American Jewish Committee. It was released today in the New York Times.

Mr. Kerler, 52, was wounded while serving in the Red Army during World War II. He wrote, “I am a Yiddish poet and as such I am utterly superfluous in the Soviet Union. Surely no one can any longer deny that because of certain historical developments, there is absolutely no future for Yiddish culture here.” He wrote to Miss Lifshitz that in December, 1965 he had received an emigration permit for himself, his ailing wife Anya and their son to join Mrs. Kerler’s sister in Israel, but it was revoked without explanation a month later. He said that two subsequent petitions were denied, again without explanation. He appealed to the singer. “All we ask, dearest Nehema, is that you help us knock on all the doors. Perhaps through you our pain, our cry of woe, will reach the highest Soviet authorities.”

Miss Lifshitz was permitted to leave Russia for Israel a year ago. She has become an Israeli citizen and has just completed a concert tour of the United States. Many of her songs contain lyrics written by Mr. Kerler who was born in the Ukraine in 1918 and published his first collection of poems, “For My Land,” in 1944.

CHARGES DROPPED AFTER RELEASE FROM PRISON

In 1948, Kerler was arrested in the wave of persecution of Yiddish culture which culminated in the 1952 purge of Jewish intellectuals by Stalin. He was released in 1954 and all charges against him were dismissed. In 1959, his collection was re-issued in Russian translation together with another volume. “The Vineyard of my Father.” His poems have appeared in the Soviet periodical “Yiddish Heimland,” in the Warsaw Yiddish newspaper “Folkstimme” and in the leftist Yiddish newspaper. “Freiheit,” in New York. His latest book was published in 1965. But he wrote to Miss Lifshitz that he hasn’t published a line in the last four years.

“Without Yiddish educational and cultural institutions, without a press, a theater and above all, without a mass Yiddish readership – what is there for a Yiddish writer to do here?” he said in his letter. “It is only natural that a Yiddish poet should want to live where his people, his culture, his language, are firmly established.” Mr. Kerler included a poem in his letter which indicated that he bears no malice toward Soviet Russia. In it he said: “Dear land where I was cradled, farewell. I leave you now…I go with heavy heart, with leaden steps. With each step I tear away pieces of earth soaked with my blood. I wrench my eye away. I wrench my heart away. And wish you: Let all be well.”

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