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Papers of Aliza Greenblatt (1885-1975)

 Collection
Identifier: P-855

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Aliza Greenblatt consist of Greenblatt’s writings, including handwritten and typed drafts as well as published versions of her poems, short stories, songs, and articles. It includes sheet music and newspaper clippings, some of which have been pasted onto scrapbook pages. There are also various drafts and notes for Greenblatt’s autobiography, both the Yiddish original and the unpublished English translation. A large section of her autobiography consists of Yiddish correspondence sent to her by her husband Isidore during his 1920 trip to Palestine and the collection contains the original letters, as well as copies and some partial English translations. There are newsletters, newspaper clippings, programs, and various publications related to Greenblatt’s Zionist and charitable commitments, particularly the Pioneer Women, the Jewish National Arbeiter Farband and the Zionist Organization of America. The collection also contains correspondence and some legal documents from Greenblatt’s family, including travel documents and a ketubah from her mother’s second marriage.

Particularly interesting is the correspondence from other Yiddish writers and poets, especially women writers and public figures, such as Celia Dropkin, Ida Maze, Sarah Reisen, Bella Bellarina, Bertha Kling, and Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, and numerous letters of appreciation in response to Greenblatt’s writings. Other correspondents include Shmuel Niger, Abraham Reisen, Zalman Reisen, H. Leivick, Joseph Tunkel, Yudl Mark, Chaim Grade, Jacob Glatstein, Abraham Liessin, and many others.

Dates

  • undated, 1882-1983, 1993

Creator

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Biographical Note

Aliza Greenblatt was born September 11, 1885 (some sources say September 8, 1888) to Avraham Aaronson and Brokhe Bas-Tsion Rozovsky in Azarenitz, Bessarabia (Ozaryntsi, Ukraine). The family lived with her paternal grandparents in Mohilev Podolsk (Mohyliv-Podilskyi) until Aliza was five, when they moved back to live with her maternal grandmother in Azarenitz. Her father died suddenly when Aliza was eight, just after her younger sister was born. It was at this point that Aliza first began to write poems, to express her grief over the death of her father. These poems were quite popular in the shtetl and were often set to music and sung by her neighbors.1

Aliza’s mother married David Waitsman in 1899. At this time, Aliza’s older sister, Taibele (later Tillie Jacobson) went to live with their father’s mother in Mohilev while the rest of the family went to live with the Waitsman family in Soroka. Soon after, when David Waitsman’s lumber business began to fail, he decided to travel to America with his sons. Aliza insisted that she be allowed to accompany them, despite the fact that she had not been included on the passport. After illegally crossing the border, Aliza met up with her step-father and her three step-brothers in Austria and they all traveled together, arriving in Philadelphia in 1900, where they originally stayed with Aliza’s cousin Abraham Barmack and his family. While her step-father started an apron and blouse business, Aliza worked at various jobs in the garment industry and went to night school. Her mother and younger sister, Chane-Chayele (later Helen Chasin) arrived in 1904. Aliza’s older sister Taibele came to the United States with her own family in 1922.

Aliza met Isidore Greenblatt in 1904. He had been born Israel Stukelman in Soroka in 1883. When he arrived in New York in 1896, he lived with the Greenblatt family, who had also come from Soroka. After a few years in New York, Isidore moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a stock clerk. He met Aliza’s eldest step-brother, Asher, and together they took her to lectures at the Radical Library in Philadelphia and introduced Aliza to socialist, atheist and anarchist ideas.2 Soon after, Isidore joined David Waitsman’s apron business, eventually taking over his step-father-in-law’s business. Aliza and Isidore were married August 30, 1907 in Philadelphia. They had five children, Herbert (1908), David (1914), Gertrude (1915), Marjorie (1917), and Bernard (1921).

In 1916, the family moved to the Sidkoff Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, where they would stay for the next five years. While in Atlantic City, Aliza became increasingly involved with fundraising, community support, philanthropy, and activism. She served as the president of the local chapter of the True Sisters charitable organization, organized an Atlantic City branch of the Jewish National Arbeiter Farband, a Yiddish socialist charitable organization, and started a Yiddish school. After the Balfour Declaration in 1917, she established the Atlantic City branch of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), working to help found a Jewish national home. She was also involved with organizing and fundraising for Magen David Adom, the Jewish National Fund and Histadrut and was the national president of the Organization for Pioneer Women in Palestine. She was particularly committed to involving other women in these causes.3

In 1919, Aliza and Isidore, ardent Zionists, decided that, in order to prepare for their family’s possible immigration to Palestine, Isidore would travel there to investigate starting a fruit cannery. He left America in March 1920, at which time he left his textile business in the hands of a manager. In Jerusalem, he helped to start a rug company, Marbadia, but his absence, coupled with the Depression, led to the failure of his business in Philadelphia and forced him to return to America. When Isidore returned to Atlantic City in August 1920, the family was almost bankrupt and had to leave the Sidkoff Hotel. After they sold the fruit canning business in Palestine and got back on their feet financially, Aliza was able to return to communal affairs, including the founding of an Atlantic City branch of Hadassah, in part because Isidore had been impressed with the Hadassah hospital in Palestine.4

Despite the financial setback, Aliza and Isidore still dreamed of one day settling in Palestine. In 1923, they sent their oldest son, Herbert, to the Herzlia Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. He remained there for four years, then became a sailor and teacher at the Haifa Nautical School. Seeking better educational opportunities for their children, the family moved back to Philadelphia in 1925 where Aliza became the chairman of the Yiddish Sternberg School, where her children attended. Aliza continued her philanthropic work, traveling throughout the country as the first national president of the Pioneer Women in the 1930s. Aliza had been publishing poems, short stories and articles in various Yiddish newspapers in the United States and Israel since the early 1920s, but the family continued to have financial difficulties throughout the 1930s. She published her first book of poems, Lebn mayns (My Life), in 1935 and her second book, Tsen lider mit gezang (Ten Poems with Music) in 1939. Her books were well-reviewed and she started to become well-known and popular in the Yiddish world.

With the money brought in from her books, Aliza and Isidore moved to Sea Gate, Brooklyn in 1940. This move served as both a change of scene for Isidore and an opportunity for Aliza to join the Yiddish community in New York. Isidore worked as a dry goods salesman and Aliza continued to write and publish her poems, several of which were set to music by well-known composers such as Abraham Ellstein and Solomon Golub and recorded by Theodore Bikel and Sidor Belarsky, among others. Her work was published widely in the American Yiddish press and praised by her fellow poets, particularly her children’s songs and poems. Ikh zing (I Sing) came out in 1947, followed by a book of love poems, Ikh un du (Me and You), published in 1951.

Aliza’s successful publishing career allowed her and Isidore to once again consider immigrating to Israel and in September 1952, Aliza and Isidore traveled to Tel Aviv, hoping to settle there permanently. While Isidore worked to revive the Marbadia rug company, Aliza was unhappy and homesick for her children and grandchildren. After a difficult year, Aliza moved back to Brooklyn and Isidore followed soon after. Her daughters Marjorie and Gertrude had married brothers, Joseph and Daniel Mazia, in the late 1930s. Marjorie danced with the Martha Graham Company and taught at the Martha Graham dance school in the 1930s and 1940s. Marjorie married Woody Guthrie in 1945 and they had four children together. Woody Guthrie was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease in 1952 and after Aliza and Isidore came back from Israel, they lived with Marjorie in Coney Island for a year, taking care of the children while Woody was in the hospital. Although Woody was not Jewish, Aliza and he had a connection through poetry and music, as well as social justice and pro-labor activism.5

Aliza and Isidore moved to Neptune Avenue in Sea Gate in 1954. Her last book of poems, In si-geyt baym yam (In Sea Gate by the Ocean), came out in 1957. Isidore spent the last five years of his life devoting all his time, money and energy to the Marbadia rug company in Israel, hoping the company could support needy families in the new country. He ultimately gave up the company and went back to being a salesman until his death on April 3, 1960. Aliza continued to write and publish her work in the Yiddish press. Her autobiography, Baym fenster fun a lebn (At the Window of a Life), was published in 1966. An English version of her autobiography, A Window on Life, written in conjunction with Aliza by Irma Bauman, a colleague of Marjorie’s, was never published. Aliza died September 21, 1975 in Brooklyn, just after celebrating her 90th birthday.6

References

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6

Extent

3.5 Linear Feet (7 manuscript boxes, 1 MAP folder)

Language of Materials

Yiddish

English

Hebrew

Russian

French

Overview

The papers of Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt include copies of published and unpublished songs, poems and articles in both typed and handwritten manuscript form, newsletters, newspaper clippings, programs, scrapbook pages, and sheet music. There are also drafts and correspondence regarding her autobiography, including original letters sent to her from her husband Isidore when he visited Palestine in 1920, which form a portion of her autobiography. The collection also contains correspondence and legal documents from Greenblatt’s family, documents relating to her Zionist and charitable activities, and correspondence from other Yiddish writers and poets.

Arrangement

The collection is organized into three series, the first of which is divided into two subseries. Each series and subseries is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

Donated by Marjorie Greenblatt Guthrie in 1982.

Digitization Note

Box 4, Folders 6 and 8 have been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.

Previous Finding Aids and Concordance

This finding aid supersedes the September 2009 finding aid. A concordance for the first three boxes links the box and folder numbers from that finding aid to the current arrangement. It has been provided for reference and can be used to track previous citations. The concordance can be found here: http://digital.cjh.org/3481296

Related Material

All five volumes of Aliza Greenblatt’s poetry as well as her Yiddish autobiography are available from the American Jewish Historical Society and YIVO, through the Center for Jewish History’s reading room. The YIVO Archives holds photographs of Greenblatt and her family in Philadelphia (RG 538). In addition, Greenblatt’s correspondence and original songs and poems can be found in several collections, including the Papers of Abraham Liessin, RG 201; the Papers of Shmuel Niger, RG 360; and the Papers of Vladimir Heifetz, RG 1259, all in the YIVO Archives. There are also numerous other archival collections relating to Yiddish poetry and children’s songs and poems.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

The first three boxes of the collection were originally processed by Holly Snyder in 1992 and reprocessed by Adina Anflick in May 2007. A finding aid for these three boxes was created in September 2009. In December 2015-January 2016, four additional boxes were processed. The arrangement of the collection has been modified, folder titles have been revised and boxes and folders have been renumbered. A concordance was created linking the previous box and folder numbers to the new numbers. Collection-level, as well as series- and subseries-level description has also been added.

Many of the folders have small pieces of paper in the front briefly describing the folder contents, possibly written by Greenblatt. These papers have been retained and folder titles are often related to these descriptions. Because the word for poem and song is the same in Yiddish and because many of the songs using Greenblatt’s words were originally written as poems, all folders previously titled song have been renamed as poems, unless the folder also contains music. Thus, a folder previously called ‘Love songs’ is now called ‘Love poems’ while a folder previously titled ‘Songs and correspondence’ is now called ‘Published songs and sheet music’ since there is sheet music in the folder.
Title
Guide to the Aliza Greenblatt (1885-1975) Papers, undated, 1882-1983, 1993 P-855
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Holly Snyder and Adina Anflick. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison
Date
©2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Edition statement
[This version was derived from AlizaGreenblatt_P-855.xml]

Revision Statements

  • October 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States