Goldberg, Lea (1911 - 1970)

Author, poetess, playwright and translator

Poetess, author of books in prose for children and grown-ups, playwright, translator and specialist of literature, Lea (Leah) Goldberg is a monument of Israeli literature. Her texts inspired many Israeli singers.

Born on May 29, 1911 in Königsberg, at the time in East Prussia, Lea (Leah) Goldberg spends her childhood in Kovna in Lituania. When the first world war breaks out, her family moves to Russia. There, her brother Emmanuel is born, but he will die of a serious meningitis before turning 1 year old. That memory will haunt the poetess during all her life.

At the end of the war, the family comes back to Kovna. But the father, suspected of belonging to the communist party, is arrested by the Lituanian authorities and cruely tortured. He will never recover of the trauma he lived, and will get mentally ill, which will cause the divorce of the couple. That tragic story will strongly mark Lea Goldberg. After seeing that her uncle also suffered of a mental illness, she took the decision of not having children.

Since her dear childhood, Lea Goldberg felt a great attraction to literature and languages. In 1933, after following studies of philosophy and semitic languages in the universities of Kaunas (Lituania) and Berlin, she supports her thesis on the Samaritan dialect at the Bonn university. After she received her PhD, she goes back to Lituania where she teaches literature at the Hebraic Gymnasium (high school) of Raseiniai. She joins the literary society Petah and, in 1932, her poems start to be published in newspapers in Hebrew. Thanks to a permission of immigration sent by the poet Abraham Shlonsky, she moves to mandatory Palestine in spring 1935. There, she joins the group of modernist poets Yahdav (« Together ») in which belong also Abraham Shlonsky, Nathan Alterman, Yaakov Horovitz and Israël Zmoura. In that same year 1935, she publishes her her first poetry collection called Smoke Rings.

The next year, her mother emigrates also, and both of them settle in Tel Aviv. Lea Goldberg finds a job of literary council for the national theatre Habima and childrens’ book editor at Sifriat ha-Po’alim editions. She is also redactor of Davar le-Yeladim and Orot Ketanim, magazines for children of the diaspora. She translates the most important works of foreign classic literature and writes literary and theatrical reviews.
In 1954, she is appointed in charge of the literature class in the Hebraic university of Jerusalem, then lecturer and finally professor. In 1963, she leads the department of compared literature at the Hebraic university of Jerusalem.

She passed away in Jerusalem the 15th of January 1970, at the age of 59 after a cancer.

The childrens’ books written by Lea Goldberg, such as « My Friends from Arnon Street » (1943), « What Do the Does Do? » (1949), « Who Will Live in the Little Cabin? » (1959), « A Flat to Let » (1959), « Miracles and Wonders » (1954), « Where is Pluto? » (1957), « The Absent-Minded Guy from Kfar Azar » (1968) are still very popular nowadays, considered as jewels of Hebraic literature for young readers.
Her poems, characterized by particular respect of rhyme and rythm, are still popular in the Israeli culture. Many of them have been put on music and performed by singers, such as Chava Alberstein, Yehudit Ravitz, Nurit Galron, Achinoam Nini, Arik Einstein and Yossi Banai.

Lea Goldberg received the « Ruppin Award » (1949) and the « Israel Award of literature » (1970) (given after her death, to her mother, Tzila, who will live 13 more years after her).

Sources: Wikipedia and Lettres d’Israel

Listen to the playlist The poems of Lea Goldberg put on music

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