Rivka Basman Reciting “Vayskayt”

a vayskayt for blog

Rivka Basman Ben- Haim delighted in Kadya Molodowsky’s poetry when she herself was a schoolgirl in pre-WWII Lithuania.  After WWII,  when Molodowsky edited a collection of poems on the Holocaust (entitled Lider Fun Khurbn, Poems of/from the Holocaust), one of Basman Ben-Haim’s poems was chosen for the anthology.

It is no accident that Basman Ben-Haim dedicated a poem entitled “A Whiteness” to Kadya Molodowsky. White was Molodowsky’s color of choice. It was the color of the “wings of a dream” ( “un khaloymes…./…mit vayse fligl“, and dreams with white wings. See Paper Bridges, pp. 110-111),  and joy and whiteness whiteness were intertwined in her psyche, (“vayse lider fun mayn glik“, white poems of my joy. See Paper Bridges, pp. 114- 115.)

The two women poets met and got to know each other in the early 1950s when Molodowsky lived in Tel Aviv and Basman Ben-Haim, on kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil.  Basman Ben-Haim could not have known that in a letter written while she was in Israel, Molodowsky told a friend that she was getting browbeaten for “living well with the Almighty”. Of course, as Molodowsky herself said (on a different occasion) to live well with someone is to argue with them.  And she had serious arguments with the God of Israel.

As I understand it “A Whiteness” is Basman Ben-Haim’s rejoinder to  Molodowsky’s poem “El Chanun“, Grace-granting God. In “El Chanun“, Molodowsky railed against the Jewish God: “Choose another people”, she cried out. Coming in the wake of the Holocaust, Molodowsky’s anger is understandable. Her friends, her younger brother, his wife and their baby were murdered. She was bereft. Basman Ben-Haim, herself a Holocaust survivor. does not meet Molodowsky on these grounds. Instead, she reminds Molodowsky of the beauty of the natural world, and rhetorically asks: “Is God not there as well?”


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