Memorial plaque on Lea Goldberg house in Tel Aviv

Lea Goldberg (Hebrew: לאה גולדברג‎; May 29, 1911, Königsberg – January 15, 1970, Jerusalem) was a prolific Hebrew-language poet, author, playwright, literary translator, and comparative literary researcher. Her writings are considered classics of Israeli literature.


Lea Goldberg was born to a Jewish Lithuanian family from Kaunas, however her mother traveled to the nearby German city of Königsberg (today, Russian Kaliningrad) in order to give birth in better medical conditions. When asked about her place of birth, Goldberg often stated Kaunas rather than Königsberg.

When the First World War broke out, three-year-old Goldberg had to escape with her parents to the Russian Empire, where they spent a year in hard conditions. In Russia, her mother gave birth to a baby boy, Immanuel, who died before reaching his first birthday.

According to Goldberg's autobiographical account in 1938, when the family traveled back to Kaunas in 1919, a Lithuanian border patrol stopped them and accused her father of being a "Bolshevik spy". They locked the father in a nearby abandoned stable, and abused him by preparing his execution every morning for about a week and cancelling it at the last moment. When the border guards finally let the family go, Goldberg's father was in a serious mental state.[1] He eventually lost his ability to function normally and left Kaunas and his family to receive treatment, though it is unclear what was his fate and why he never returned to his family. Goldberg and her mother became very close and lived together until Goldberg's death.

Goldberg's parents spoke several languages, though Hebrew was not one of them. And yet, Goldberg learned Hebrew at a very young age as she received her elementary education in a Jewish Hebrew-speaking school. She began writing personal diaries in Hebrew when she was 10 years old. Her first diaries still show limited fluency in Hebrew and influence of the Russian language, but she was determined to write in Hebrew and mastered the language within a short period of time.[2] Even though she was fluent and literate in various European languages, Goldberg wrote her published works, as well as her personal notes, only in Hebrew. In 1926, when she was 15 years old, she wrote in her personal diary, "The unfavourable condition of the Hebrew writer is no secret to me [...] Writing not in Hebrew is the same for me as not writing at all. And yet I want to be a writer [...] This is my only objective."[2]

Goldberg received a PhD from the Universities of Berlin and Bonn in Semitic languages and German. Her scholarship and renown was such that a leading newspaper in Palestine excitedly reported her plans to immigrate to Palestine.[3] In 1935, she settled in Tel Aviv, where she joined a group of Zionist Hebrew poets of Eastern-European origin known as Yakhdav (Hebrew: יחדיו‎ "together"). This group was led by Avraham Shlonsky, and was characterised by adhering to Symbolism especially in its Russian Acmeist form, and rejecting the style of Hebrew poetry that was common among the older generation, particularly that of Haim Nachman Bialik.

She never married and lived with her mother, in Tel Aviv and later Jerusalem. A heavy smoker, she died in 1970 of lung cancer.

Literary career

Goldberg worked as a high-school teacher and earned a living writing rhymed advertisements until she was hired as an editor by the Hebrew newspapers Davar and Al HaMishmar. She also worked as a children’s book editor at Sifriyat Po'alim publishing house, and wrote theater reviews and literary columns. In 1954, she became a lecturer in literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, advancing to senior lecturer in 1957 and full professor in 1963, when she was appointed head of the university's Department of Comparative Literature.[4]

Lea Goldberg (1964)
Leah Goldberg's poem Ha'omnam od yavo'u

Goldberg wrote Hebrew poetry, drama, and children's literature. Goldberg's books for children, among them "A Flat for Rent," (דירה להשכיר Dira Lehaskir) and "Nisim Veniflaot" have become classics of Hebrew children's literature.

With exemplary knowledge of seven languages, Goldberg also translated numerous foreign literary works exclusively into Modern Hebrew from Russian, Lithuanian, German, Italian, French, and English. Of particular note, Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace – her magnum opus, as well as completing translations of Rilke, Mann, Chekov, Veraline, Akmatova, Shakespeare, and Petrarch, among others, plus many other works including reference books and works for children.

Literary style and influences

Goldberg's poetry perceives the general in the specific: a drop of dew represents vast distances and the concrete reflects the abstract. Her poetry has been described as "a system of echoes and mild reverberations, voices and whispers," that recognizes the limitations of the poem and language. Her work is minor and modest, taking a majestic landscape like the Jerusalem hills and focusing on a stone, a thorn, one yellow butterfly, a single bird in the sky.[5]

Critical acclaim

Goldberg received in 1949 the Ruppin Prize (for the volume "Al Haprikhá")[6] and, in 1970, the Israel Prize for literature.[7]

The American Hebraist, Gabriel Preil, wrote a poem about Goldberg: "Leah's Absence".

In 2005, she was voted the 87th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[8]

In 2011, Goldberg was announced as one of four great Israeli poets who would appear on Israel's currency (together with Rachel Bluwstein, Shaul Tchernichovsky, and Natan Alterman).[9]


  1. ^ Leah Goldberg, YIVO
  2. ^ a b Lea Goldberg's Diaries, edited by Rachel and Arie Aharoni, Sifriat Poalim – Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House Ltd. Bnei Brak/Tel Aviv 2005, ISBN 965-02-0299-4 (in Hebrew), p. 9, "About the Diaries" (preface by Arie Aharoni)
  3. ^ The diplomats of the literary world, Jerusalem Post
  4. ^ Lea Goldberg and her poetry
  5. ^ Lea Goldberg and her poetry
  6. ^ report about the ceremony in Hebrew
  7. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site – Recipients in 1970 (in Hebrew)". 
  8. ^ גיא בניוביץ' (June 20, 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet. Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  9. ^ Nadav Shemer, Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2011.

Further reading