Zelda: A Simple Woman

It’s not surprising that the poet Zelda was a descendent of Rabbinic dynasties on both sides of her family. In fact, on her father’s side she was the first cousin of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Chabad Rabbi. Her roots are reflected not only in her poetry, but in the way she lived her life, which is examined in “Zelda: A Simple Woman”, (part of the series “The Hebrews”).

Like many other of the poets in the series, she was not born in Palestine, however she did arrive at a young age, 12, with her parents. Soon after her father died, and she was left to care for her mother. This was to be a defining characteristic of Zelda. In some ways being responsible for her mother led her to poetry. She wanted to become a painter, but after her mother fell ill shortly after she began her studies in Jerusalem, Zelda returned to her. Unable to complete a formal education in painting, she turned to poetry. She also began teaching at this time.

Much later, when her and her mother moved back to Jerusalem, at the age of 36, she met Hayim Mishovsky and married him. He fell ill soon after their marriage, and along with her mother she cared for him as well. He encouraged her writing. It was after her marriage that she gave up teaching to write full time. Hayim would celebrate the release of each of her new poems. In all aspects it was a happy marriage. His passing away would affect her greatly, and would be reflected in her works afterwards. As one of those interviewed in the film remark, many of the Hebrew poets dealt with loneliness and loss too. However, it was Zelda who uniquely dealt with the loneliness and loss of widowhood in her poetry.

After Hayim’s passing, childless, Zelda took in boarders, young women, students who became devoted to her. It seems like she always had to be caring for someone.

Her poetry is highly spiritual while at the same time quite direct, and her deep faith can be seen in her words. It is complex, layered with religious meaning. While one does not need an understanding of Judaism to appreciate the meaning of her work, they do assume the reader possess this knowledge, and doing so gives access to these deeper layers. In fact, one of her poems, “Every Person Has A Name”, which has achieved mythical status as the poem recited during Holocaust memorial services, while on the surface seems simple, is in reality a highly complex narrative on the nature of man.

One of the fascinating aspects of the film, is as a persona who lived during relatively recent times, we have film footage of Zelda talking and reading her poetry. This the movie uses to great effect. The dichotomy between the complexity of her words, and her simple, unadorned visage, bring us closer to this phenomenal woman. It would not be a stretch to think that in another life and time, she herself would have been a Hassidic Rabbi, surrounded by her court of followers. Instead, the world was blessed with a brilliant poet in “Zelda: A Simple Woman”.

Watch a trailer:

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