Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
etry to the English language . . . the first Jew to contribute
authentic poetry to the literature of English speech.”
Klein’s relationship to Jewish life and, as a corollary, his per­
sonal identity as poet, have their sources in the immediacy of
the immigrant life he experienced as child and young man
growing up in the Yiddish-speaking community of Montreal.
He was born in the Ukraine in 1909 and was brought to
Montreal by his Orthodox parents the following year (for var­
ious reasons he later claimed Montreal as his birthplace). The
family settled in the Jewish neighborhoods in the areas adjacent
St. Lawrence Street — “the Main” — where the majority of
the recent immigrants lived. In addition to being the center
of Jewish commercial and cultural activities, the street served
primarily as the boundary line between the French-speaking
eastern part of the city and the English-speaking western sec­
tion. In this way geography represented the cultural and po­
litical reality of the metropolis: the Jewish minority found itself
surrounded by the often hostile majority peoples. This condi­
tion had important effects on the immigrant community. The
natural process of acculturation was considerably slowed — no
melting pot here! — and in a positive spirit of self-reliance Jews
established the network of religious, political and cultural in­
stitutions for the perpetuation of their national identity. It is
therefore not exceptional to find Klein as a young man
equipped with a comprehensive Jewish education including Bi­
ble, Talmud, midrash, and aggadah; nor to discern in his at­
titudes — even as he defined himself as a secularist — an ir­
remediable attachment to his folk and their religious texts. And
it also underscores his lifelong involvement in a number of Jew­
ish organizations, including Young Judea, the Zionist Organ­
ization of Canada, and the Canadian Jewish Congress.
CULTURAL VARIETY
But just as the relative isolation of the Jewish urban enclave
imparted the sense of cultural autonomy, it also provided a
dramatic object lesson in the cultural benefits to be derived from
a city where a multiplicity of languages and traditions jostled
each other on the streets, the schoolyard, the workplace. In
this setting Klein naturally added English and French to his
native Yiddish and Hebrew. O f equal importance to his mastery