Feldman was born in the village of Shapiska in Kovner, Lithuania, and
when his father went to South Africa to try and make a living for his family,
his mother, Minne, his two brothers, Zalman and Leibl and sister Rochel went to
live in Rakishik. In 1910, when he was a boy of thirteen his family emigrated to
South Africa. He was thus unique
among S. African Yiddish writers in that he received both a South African and a
Jewish education. In Lithuania he
had studied at an haskilic Yiddish
school; in Johannesburg he attended the Jewish Government School.
In Lithuania he had been fired with Zionistic fervour; in Johannesburg he
became one of the pioneers of the Young Zionist Society.
In 1924 he visited what was then Palestine as a tourist, and was so taken with
what he saw that he joined a kibbutz for a while. Returning
to South Africa, he was instrumental in founding a local branch of Po’alei
Zion, an international Jewish movement which tried unsuccessfully to fuse
Socialist and Zionist ideals, and which eventually did not materialise.
In 1927, following a visit of Dr Leon Bramson, one of the leaders of the
world organisation of Ort-Oze Emidirekt (a body which dealt with the threefold task of
reconstructive relief, preservation of health, and emigration from Eastern
Europe), Feldman became active in developing Ort in South Africa, and after he married in 1930, both he and his
wife Freda, played an important part in establishing it permanently in 1936.
Feldman was one of the prime
movers in the establishment of the Jewish War Victims Fund after 1918, later he
became a prominent member of the South African Labour Party, serving as
secretary of its organising committee before being elected to the Transvaal
Provincial Council in 1943, as Labour representative for Johannesburg City, a
seat he held for eleven years. He
was also a member of the Central Rand School Board, and an executor of the
Morris Isaacson Education Fund which had its origin in the Peretz School for
Africans. Through the fund he set
up, he not only helped provide education bursaries but was instrumental in
building the first high school for black students.
He wrote prolifically in English, regularly publishing a wide range of
articles on current political and cultural matters in local newspapers and
Despite the fact that he had
received a substantial part of his education in Johannesburg, Feldman’s
abiding love remained Yiddish, which he read extensively.
His only book of stories Schwartz
un Vays [Black and White], written in Yiddish, was first published in Warsaw
in 1935; twenty-two years later in
1957, it was republished in New York by the Central Yiddish Cultural
Organisation (CYCO), and issued in a dust-cover designed by the well-known
artist, Irma Stern, the only South African Yiddish book to achieve a second
Richard Feldman died in 1968 in Johannesburg after a long illness, leaving his
wife, son, Josse and daughter Mona.