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Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887) was a Sepharadi Jewish-American poet, writer, translator, and Georgist from New York City. Her sonnet "The New Colossus" (1883), was inscribed and installed in 1903 on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Upon the proscriptive May Laws of 1881 Lazarus rose to the defense of Russian-Jewish immigrants in powerful articles contributed to The Century (May, 1882, and February 1883). Lazarus became more interested in her Jewish ancestry after reading the George Eliot novel Daniel Deronda, and as she heard of the Russian pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. As a result of this anti-Semitic violence, thousands of destitute Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from the Russian Pale of Settlement to New York. Lazarus began to advocate on behalf of indigent Jewish refugees. She helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to assist destitute Jewish immigrants to become self-supporting. In 1883, she founded the Society for the Improvement and Colonization of East European Jews. An important forerunner of the Zionist movement, Lazarus argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term "Zionism." Contact with the Jewish emigrés from Russia led her to study Hebrew, Torah, Judaism, and Jewish history. Her Songs of a Semite (1882) is considered to be the earliest volume of Jewish-American poetry.

דער נײער קאָלאסוס | Emma Lazarus’s paean to the Shekhinah, “Mother of Exiles” (The New Collosus, 1883), Yiddish translation by Rachel Kirsch Holtman (1938)

Contributed on: 04 Jul 2018 by Aharon N. Varady (transcription) | Rachel Kirsch Holtman (translation) | Emma Lazarus |

This is the sonnet, “The New Collosus” (1883) by Emma Lazarus set side-by-side with its Yiddish translation by Rachel Kirsch Holtman. Lazarus famously penned her sonnet in response to the waves of Russian-Jewish refugees seeking refuge in the Unites States of America as a result of murderous Russian pogroms following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Her identification and revisioning of the Statue of Liberty as the Mother of Exiles points to the familiar Jewish identification of the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence, in its feminine aspect) with the light of the Jewish people in their Diaspora. . . .

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