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SHTERN, SHOLEM, [after 1927]-1990

Sholem Shtern fonds. - predominant 1960-1990. - 4.84 m of textual record and other material.

Biographical Sketch

Sholem Shtern was a poet, essayist, and teacher best known for his novels in verse depicting the life of Jewish immigrants in Canada. He was born in 1906/1907 in Tishevitz, a small town near Lublin, Poland. His father, Ha-rav Avraham Dovid Shtern, was a shochet (rituals slaughterer), a lamdan (traditional primary school teacher), and a highly respected scholar who published several works of Jewish scholarship. Shtern received a traditional Jewish education, and then earned his living giving private Hebrew lessons.

Shtern emigrated to Canada in 1927. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he spent almost two years at the Mount Sinai Hospital in the Laurentians. There he met Sonia Elbaum, who was employed as a nurse. Sonia had grown up in Bialistok and had been brought to Canada by her aunt. She and Shtern were married in 1928. Sonia and Sholem Shtern had two sons, Leo (Leybl) and David Stern. The family resided on Colonial Street between Mount Royal and Duluth Streets in the Plateau area of Montréal. They moved to their home on Wiseman Street in Park Extension in 1957.

Shtern was a member of a prominent Yiddish literary family in Montréal. His three brothers, Jacob Zipper, Yehiel and Israel Shtern, his sister, Shifre Krishtalka, and his nephew, Aaron Krishtalka, were Yiddish writers and poets. The siblings had arrived one by one to Canada from their native Poland, and eventually brought over their parents as well.

Shtern began to write Yiddish poems and essays, which were published in various Yiddish literary magazines. The couple settled in Montréal, where Shtern initially worked selling Yiddish magazines door-to-door. He worked in a fruit store and then as a clerk in a bookstore. Concerned about earning a living, Shtern found a position teaching at the UJPO (United Jewish People's Order or Faryenikter yidisher folks ordn) in the Morris Winchevsky School. He eventually became its principal, a position he occupied for some twenty years.

Shtern had early on become interested in Marxism as a road to security for the Jewish people and the universal improvement of human life. While not a party member, he was involved with many leftist organizations. He wrote for the Communist and Socialist press, and was active in the UJPO. As a young man he toured Canada to promote the Socialist message. He maintained extensive contacts with Yiddish writers in Poland, and in 1949 travelled to Poland. He was invited to Poland again by a group of Yiddish writers but was bitterly disappointed in the lack of a government involvement in preserving Jewish life in Poland. Although he became increasingly disillusioned by Communism, he remained committed to issues of social justice to the end.

Shtern's first poems appeared in Oyfkum, a monthly Yiddish literary magazine in New York. He went on to have his works published in a wide variety of Yiddish publications around the world, including the Tsukunft, the Morgn Freiheit, and Literarishe Bleter. His work also appeared in English translation in Jewish Currents and other magazines, as well as in French, Russian, and Polish translations. His poetry has been included in Yiddish, English, French, Russian and Polish language anthologies, as well as being set to music, performed, and recorded. At the same time, Shtern was a prolific journalist in the Yiddish press, contributing regularly to the Toronto Vochenblatt and other publications.

Shtern's greatest passion was writing. By 1945, he had published three well-received books of poetry: Noentkayt: lider (Toronto: Oyfgang, 1929), Es Likhtikt (Montréal: Kulture komitet baym yidishn hilfs fareyn, 1941), and Inderfri (Montréal: Kanader Vokhnblat, 1945). During the period 1945 to 1960, Shtern's primary occupation was with the Winchevsky school, although he did publish in the press. The end of his tenure with the school in 1959 allowed him to devote more time to his writing, and the next fifteen years were his most productive. He published three Yiddish novels in verse: In Kanade (2 vols) (Montréal: Sholem Shtern Bukh-komitet, 1960-1963), Dos Vayse Hoyz (New York: YKUF, c.1967), and Di Mishpokhe in Kanade un Dos Hoyzgesind fun profesor Sidni Goldstin: Tsvey noveln (Montréal: [S. Shtern], 1975). Still, while his main occupation was as a journalist and poet, Shtern remained an educator, giving private lessons in Yiddish and Hebrew, and taught a Yiddish Creative class at Montréal's Golden Age Association from the 1970s until shortly before his death in 1990.

Shtern placed great importance of the translation of his works into other languages, and all of his novels in verse were translated and published. In Kanade appeared in English and French under the titles In Canada: A Novel in Verse (Trans. Judith Rotstein. Montréal, 1984) and Au Canada: un roman en vers (Trans. Tatania Hais. Montréal: S. Shtern, 1984). His most well-known work, Dos Vayse Hoyz, appeared in Hebrew, English, and French under the titles Ha-Bayit ha-lavan be-harim (Trans. Shimshon Meltzer. Tel Aviv: ha-Menorah, 1972), The White House (Trans. Max Rosenfeld. New York: Warbrooke Publishers, 1974), and Velvl: un roman en vers (Trans. from English by Guy Maheux. Montréal: Société de belles-lettres Guy Maheux, c. 1977). Di Mishpokhe in Kanade un Dos Hoyzgesind fun profesor Sidni Goldstin: Tsvey noveln appeared in English and French under the titles The Family in Canada: A Novel in Verse (Trans. Yiddish to French Tatiana Hais. Revised Guy Maheux. Montréal: S. Shtern, 1984), La Famille Au Canada: un roman en vers (Trans. Tatania Hais. Montréal: S. Shtern, 1984), and The Household of Professor Sydney Goldstein: A Novel in Verse = La Maisonnée du Professor Sydney Goldstein: un roman en vers. Trans. French to English: Guy Maheux, Revised: Guy Maheux. Montréal: S. Shtern, 1984). Shtern's final published work was a book of Yiddish essays and memoirs titled Shrayber vos ikh hob gekent: memuarn un esayen (Montréal: Sholem Shtern bukh fon komitet, 1982).

Shtern took an active role in all the phases of the publication and distribution of his works. In addition to fundraising and finding publishers, he personally sold his works at every opportunity. At the same time, he was involved in selling a record on the Folkways label titled Jewish Classical Literature because it contained a dramatic reading of one of his poems, "Alef Beys," by Chaim Ostrovsky.

Shtern was the recipient of the Annual YKUF Prize for Literature, the Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky Prize for Literature, in addition to numerous project grants for the publication of his works in Yiddish and in English and French translations.

Shtern died after an extended illness in Montréal in August of 1990.

Scope and Content

The fonds contains a variety of materials which relate to Shtern's activities as a poet, journalist, teacher, and community figure. Included in the fonds are handwritten correspondence from a wide variety of individuals and organizations, manuscripts of published works, and publicity materials for public readings held by Shtern. Together they present insight into the various facets of Shtern's life. The Shtern fonds can also be of interest to those interested in any of the following individuals active in the Yiddish literary world (a list by no means exhaustive): Herz Bergner, Israel Bercovitch, Abraham Bick, Yosef Burg, Philip Cherner, Sheen Daixel, B. Z. Goldberg, Ber Green, V. J. Jerome, Berl Kagan, Menke Katz, Aaron Kramer, Rokhl Pressman, Chana Safran, Y. E. Ronch, Zishe Weinper, David Weiss, and Yankl Zipper.

This fonds contains the following series: Correspondence, Preparatory Materials and Manuscripts, Professional Materials, Personal Memorabilia, and Published Works.

Immediate Source of Acquisition: acquired from his son, David Shtern, and his daughter-in-law, Elspeth.

Language: material in fonds is predominantly in Yiddish.

Restrictions on Access and Use: some restrictions on access.

Finding Aid: finding aid available.

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