Chaske Blacker (Blacher)
In her short life, Chaske Blacker wrote two novellas and a dozen short stories while acting as the main breadwinner for her two children and her husband. After immigrating to the US with her family in 1923, she married the poet Menke Katz and bore two children. She supported the family by working in tobacco and dress factories and wrote in Yiddish for Frayhayt and Der Hamer, both left-wing publications. Her stories mainly focused on the precarious existence of working-class people. After Blacker’s first marriage ended in 1938, she remarried in 1941. Her second husband did not encourage her writing, and Blacker suffered from bone cancer in the last few years of her life. Her work tapered off, leaving just a handful of stories to speak to her potential.
Chaske Blacker was born during a pogrom in 1905 in Uvarevitsh (Uvarovichi in Belarus, 26 km NW of Homel), Russia, where the Jews were mostly Lubavitch (Habad) hasidim (as were her parents). In 1923 she moved to Passaic, New Jersey, with her mother, Shtsheshye (née Ugolnikov, 1878–1951) and twin younger sisters, Evelyn and Shirley, to rejoin Moyshe Blacker (1879–1955), a kosher butcher who had already arrived in 1914. Within a few years, she married Yiddish-English poet Menke Katz (1906–1991) and bore two children, Troim (b. 1927) and Noah (1928–1969). Her daughter, Troim Katz Handler, is a Yiddish poet; Noah died at 41. In the U.S., Blacker became a left-wing sympathizer who wrote in Yiddish for Frayhayt and Der Hamer. Most of her work was produced during her first marriage, which ended in 1938. In 1941 she married Joseph Friedman (1899–1947), who was not interested in her writings. She became ill soon after the marriage.
Her longest work, Katzovim (Butchers), serialized in Frayhayt (August 15–September 12, 1936), dealt with the lives of kosher butchers in a small New Jersey town. Her novella, Farbitene (Exchanged, 1938), concerned two infants, one black, one white, exchanged in a hospital nursery. “In a Radio Fabrik” (published in Der Hamer, October 1933), is a proletarian story. “Marta” is about a girl who looks after her younger siblings but fails to notice when her parents’ pay envelope contains only change. Blaming herself for the loss of the bills, she commits suicide. Submitted under the pseudonym Ugolnikov in a Frayhayt writing contest (September 1933), “Marta” won readers’ votes for second prize. “A Mayse Funem Dnieper” (A Story of the Dnieper) originally appeared in the Frayhayt and was republished in Di Pen (Oxford) in 1995.
After a long illness, Blacker died of bone cancer on April 22, 1944, in her home in Passaic, New Jersey.
“A Lebediker Shtul” (A Living Chair). Der Hamer, September 1939; “Mundirn in Shop” (Uniforms in the Shop). Frayhayt, May 1941; “Memorial Day.” Frayhayt, May 1941; “Kinder Shpiln Zikh” (Children Play), Frayhayt, April 1942.