1893 – 1962
A “communitarian-proletarian” Yiddish writer whose generosity, both material and emotional, turned her Montreal home into a magnet for Yiddish writers and a focus of Yiddish culture, Ida Maze (sometimes rendered as Maza or Massey) was born on July 9, 1893 in the village of Ugli, near Kapulye, south of Minsk in Belarus. Her family was related to Mendele Mokher Seforim (1837–1917), who was born in Kapulye. Ida’s father, Shimon Zukofsky, was an innkeeper and her mother, Musha Govezniansky, a homemaker. Ida had two brothers and two sisters, as well as a brother and sister who died in childhood. Before the age of twelve, when she immigrated with her parents to North America, Ida had approximately one year of schooling in a heder-style establishment, but was otherwise an autodidact who acquired Russian and Hebrew by listening in on her brothers’ lessons and later amassed a wealth of knowledge of classical English, European, American and world literature. Her son Irving Massey wrote that he “found it a source of embarrassment as well as pride that on her deathbed she still knew her George Eliot better than [he] did, particularly since [he] happened to be teaching George Eliot at McGill [University] at the time” (Massey 62).
In 1905, together with her parents and one sister, Ida arrived in New York. The following year the family moved to Montreal, where they settled permanently. In 1912 she married Alexander Massey (Ellie-Gershon Maze, c. 1893–1961), who was related to the Zionist leader and Hebrew writer Jacob Mazeh (1859–1924). Alexander was a traveling salesman who dealt in men’s clothing accessories. The couple had three sons: Bernard (c. 1913–1923), Israel (1918–1962) and Irving (b. 1924).
Ida became active in Montreal’s Jewish cultural activities, which were then conducted largely in Yiddish. A warm and caring person, always willing to help those in need, she soon came to be known as the “mother of Jewish writers,” helping them, especially the younger poets, to publish their works. During and after World War II, she was active in obtaining Canadian entry visas for Jewish writers and cultural leaders whom she helped settle in Montreal. Her home became a meeting place for impecunious poets and painters, who read their works aloud, tried out new ideas for publishing, discussed new books or just gossiped in what her son, Irving, describes as a “dense cultural atmosphere.” Maze not only responded to their spiritual hunger and yearning, but also served them plentiful food.
Maze began writing lyrical poems in Yiddish while still in her teens, and in particular, poetry for young people. Her first work, published in book form as A mame (A Mother: Children’s Songs; Montreal, 1931), was composed in the wake of the death of her firstborn son, Bernard. Described by Miriam Waddington (3) as “full of warmth and a lyrical charm,” her early work appeared in J. I. Segal and A. S. Shkolnikov’s short-lived journal, Kanade (1935), with a group of poems titled “Songs of My Child.” Perceived as original and innovative in Yiddish poetry, they were enthusiastically welcomed. Thereafter, her work, which was influenced by the impressionistic poets of England and America as well as by the American-Jewish literary group Di Yunge, appeared regularly in periodicals such as Kanade and Heftn, and in collections such as the Kanader Adler, Der Yidisher Journal, Bei Unz in Toronto and Zukunft, Kinder-Journal, Kinder-Velt and Kinder Zeitung in New York, as well as Goldene Keit, Heimish and Folksblat in Israel and Far Unzere Kinder in Paris. She often appeared in special literary supplements of newspapers such as the Forverts, all over the Yiddish world.
In addition to A mame, Ida Maze published Lider far kinder (Songs for Children, with an introduction by Leib Mlakh, Warsaw: 1936), Naye lider (New Songs, Montreal: 1941) and Vakhsn mayne kinderlech (My Children Grow: Mother and Children’s Songs; Montreal, 1954).
Together with I. Karman and N. I. Gotlib, she edited the journal Heftn (Montreal, 1935–1937). Of the material she left after her death, only Dina, a poetic novel she wrote when she was sick, appeared, under the editorship of her friend, the writer M. M. Shafir. The work drew on her colorful childhood memories of life in the Jewish shtetls of White Russia that vanished in World War II.
Some of Maze’s poems were translated into Hebrew, Russian, French and English. She is represented in I. Leftwich’s The Golden Peacock (London, 1939). Rochel Korn said of her, “Ida Maze, a delicate poet, loved all Yiddish poetry perhaps even more than her own, and was indeed the den mother for a generation of Yiddish writers in Montreal.” This tribute appeared with those of Israel Rabinovitch and M. M. Shafir in the Kanader Adler issues on June 15, 26, and 28, 1963. She had passed away on June 13, 1963, in Montreal.
Cutler, May. “Cutler’s Last Stand.” MacLean’s (December 1974): 66–72; Fox, Chaim Leib. 100 yor yidishe un hebreishe literatur in Kanade. Montreal: 1980, 156–157; Kalter, Bella. “The Two Suitcases.” The Atlantic Monthly 1960–1961 (40–45); Massey, Irving. Identity and Community: Reflections on English, Yiddish, and French Literature in Canada. Detroit: 1994; Niger, Shmuel and Yakov Shatsky, eds. Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, Vol. V. New York: 1956; Waddington, Miriam. “Mrs. Maza’s Salon.” Apartment Seven: Essays Selected and New. Toronto: 1989.