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Malka Heifetz Tussman (–1987)

Author of With teeth in the earth : selected poems of Malka Heifetz Tussman

Includes the names: מלכה חפץ-טוזמן

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Malka Heifetz was one of eight children in a Hasidic Jewish family in the village of Khaytshe, or Bolshaya-Chaitcha, in the Ukraine. Her birth coincided with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, but she disputed the exact year, stating it variously as 1893, 1895, or 1896. Malka and her siblings were educated in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and English, initially by private tutors and later in Russian schools in the nearby towns of Norinsk and Korostyen. She began to write poems in Russian as a child. In 1912, she emigrated to the USA and joined family members in Chicago. "Under terrible conditions she pursued her learning," as she wrote about herself. She wrote in English for the anarchist publication Alarm in 1914, and her first Yiddish short story appeared in 1918. Her first poem was published in 1919. At age 18, she married Shloyme Tussman, a cantor, with whom she had two sons. The family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Malka Heifetz Tussman began to teach in a Yiddish school and study at the University of Wisconsin. In 1941 or 1942, they moved to Los Angeles, where Malka taught Yiddish elementary and high school students at the Workmen’s Circle School in Boyle Heights. In 1949, she became an instructor of Yiddish language and literature at the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism). After her husband’s death in 1971, she lived for a year in Israel. Upon her return to the USA, she settled in Berkeley, California.
Her poems, short stories, and essays appeared in the leading Yiddish newspapers, magazines, and journals of her day. She published six volumes of poetry between 1949 and 1977. She also translated poems from other languages by a wide range of writers such as Yeats, Rossetti, Auden, and Tagore into Yiddish. Throughout her career as a poet, she sustained literary friendships and extensive correspondences with Yiddish writers in the USA, Canada, Poland, France, and Israel. In her later years, Malka Heifetz Tussman taught informally and befriended younger poets, many American-born and writing in English, who helped disseminate her Yiddish poetry through their translations. She also served as a mentor for some younger Yiddish poets, the best-known of whom was Rukhl Fishman.
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