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Lea Goldberg - an enigmatic figure of Israeli culture

By Zanna Linskaia

First I saw Lea Goldberg, not real Lea, but her portrait in the office of newspaper “Davar”in Tel-Aviv where I worked as a journalist.

On my question -‘Who is this beautiful lady?, colleague asked me with wonder - Do not know her? , and then explained: She is one of the greatest Israeli poet and besides, she was once an editor and literature advisor of our newspaper “Davar” and “Al HaMishmar” and a drama critic for “Habima” theatre.

From that time I began to look at her life not only as an amazing woman but also as a sensual intellectual Israeli poet, playwright, translator, researcher in literature, author of popular children's books and beloved professor of Jerusalem Hebrew University.

Leah Goldberg was born in 1911 to a Jewish Lithuanian family from Kaunas, however her mother traveled to German city of Königsberg (today, Russian Kaliningrad) in order to give birth in better medical conditions. When the First World War broke out, little Goldberg had to escape with her parents to the Russian Empire, then returned after war to Kaunas without father who died. Goldberg's parents spoke several languages, though Hebrew was not one of them. Nevertheless, Goldberg learned Hebrew at a very young age, she was determined to write in Hebrew and mastered the language within a short period of time.


She received her PhD from the Universities of Berlin and Bonn in Semitic languages and

German. In 1935, she settled in Tel Aviv, where she joined a group of Zionist Hebrew poets of Eastern-European origin known as Yachdav (Hebrew:"together"). This group was led by Avraham Shlonsky and was belonged to Symbolism and Acmeism ,rejecting the style of Hebrew poetry by Haim Nachman Bialik.

As critics said later, she chose Hebrew and Hebrew chose her. Lea Goldberg admitted that in her poetry the words are alive, sometimes dangerous and this depends on the readers.

She loved birds and talked to them while they are flying.

With excellent knowledge of seven languages, Goldberg also translated numerous foreign literary works into Modern Hebrew from Russian, Lithuanian, German, Italian, French, and English. Of particular note is her magnum opus of translation, Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace, as well as translations of Rilke, Thomas Mann, Chekhov, Akhmatova, Shakespeare, and Petrarch, plus many books for children.

Her personal life was tragical. Extremely attractive and beautiful, Lea had many love adventures and lovers, but she never married and lived with her mother, first in Tel Aviv

and later in Jerusalem. Her great desire was in 1963 to Italian man - Paolo Vivante. They

wrote letters to each other and he asked her to come to Italy. After visiting him, she discovered that there is another young American woman with him. She was empty by soul

and body. She turned herself to the drawings and collages - very interesting and strange.

Goldberg was a heavy smoker, and in her late years she became aware of the damage in this habit. In the spring of 1969, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She stopped smoking, had a medical treatment but it was late. She died in 1970 at age of 59. In her poetry Lea Goldberg preferred to use traditional verse forms with musical rhythms, and stunning fresh images - that attract attention of many Israeli composers and songwriters who wrote music and songs with her lyrics and poems. Her poetry was born again. After Lea’s death her friend, fellow poet and last love who was much younger than she, Tuvia Ruebner published collection of 59 short poems from her notebooks - “On the Surface of Silence”.

Lea Goldberg was honored by prestige Israeli prizes, postage stamp of her image and

Memorial plaque on her house in Tel Aviv on Arnon 15 street. Also the design of the 100 new shekel banknote includes the portrait of Leah Goldberg and her poem “In the land of my love”- the almond tree blossoms in microprint.

To her 100th jubilee in 2011 documentary “5 houses of Lea Goldberg” about life and poetry of a magnetic persona whose works resonate in Israeli culture, was created and directed by Yair Qedar. This film ends with song by popular singer Hava Albershtein and poem by Lea Goldberg:

“Will there be the days of grace and forgiveness ,

And you shall walk in the field,

You shall walk it in innocence's and bareness on the wheat.

I like light at the edge of a cloud and you shall breathe.

And simple are the things and alive.

And you may touch them, and you may love.

You may love”.

These days when Israel celebrates 75 years of its Independence, Lea Goldberg, an

enigmatic and magnetic figure of Israeli culture, is now popular more than ever.


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