Bella Briansky Kalter, age 90, passed away December 13, 2011. She was the beloved wife of Harold Kalter; devoted mother of Eliot (Sandra) Kalter, Henry (Juliet Gal) Kalter and John (Esther) Kalter; beloved sister of Rita Prezament, Shirley Miller and the late Rebecca Duchow; cherished grandmother of Benjamin, David, Matthew, Talia, Gavriella, Adar and Tamar Kalter. Also survived by many nieces and nephews.
A resident of North Avondale for more than 50 years, Mrs. Kalter moved to Rockville, Md. in March 2011.
Bella was born July 22, 1921 in Grajewa, Poland to Pinchas and Chava Briansky. Pinchas, a Yeshiva-trained rabbi, immigrated to Ansonville, Ontario in 1927. Two years later Chava followed with Bella, age 8, her older sister Rebecca, 10, and her younger sister Rita, 4. Youngest sister Shirley was born a year later. Bella quickly learned English and soon began writing poetry and stories. In an early published poem, called “Coloured Walls,” she wrote in 1938 at age 17:
“Once I dreamt of fairy halls
Made from fragrant flower walls;
Roses red and violets blue,
Rustling, dancing with the dew.
Once I dwelt in palace halls
Built of dazzling diamond walls;
Floors of marble, grey and blue,
Playing with the diamond dew.
Now I dream of solid walls
Standing firm when world peace falls;
Colours red and white and blue,
Spread thine arms when war is due.”
At the age of 18 she moved to Montreal to study nursing. In a letter to the Canadian Jewish Chronicle in 1945, supporting the need for a nurses’ training school, she wrote of her experiences: “I began applying to different hospitals and my applications were always rejected. I had all the requirements. I had passed my matriculation exams and I had all the recommendations necessary. Finally I had to accept the awful truth, that one thing disqualified me. I was a Jewess.” She was eventually accepted at the one hospital in Montreal which accepted Jewish nursing students, the Woman’s General Hospital. Even here she received anti-Semitic verbal abuse from the Superintendent and other teachers. Despite this, upon graduation she received the prize for leading her class in theory and practice, and she went on to become Head Nurse of the Outpatient Clinic of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
In March 1945, while visiting her aunt in Miami Beach, she met Staff Sergeant Harold Kalter, when Jewish soldiers stationed nearby were invited to join local families for the Passover seder. Their love quickly kindled and they married that November. Harold, after three years in the U.S. Army, including a year and a half overseas, attended McGill University on the GI Bill. That, plus Bella’s nursing career, provided their financial support in their early years together.
With sons Eliot, born in 1950, and Henry, born in 1952, they moved to Cincinnati in 1955 when Harold took a position at the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation. Their third son, John, was born in 1957. Mrs. Kalter moved from nursing and shifted her attention more fully to her love of writing. She had many short stories published and received awards from the Atlantic Monthly, the University of Kansas City Review, the Cincinnati Arts Consortium, the Cincinnati Mercantile Library and the University of Cincinnati Literary Club.
Also a playwright, a number of her plays were produced in Cincinnati. Among them were “Fugue,” performed by the Studio Theater at the Arts Consortium, “What Are You Feeling,” performed by Xavier University Players Theatre Workshop, and “Sara and The Interrogator,” which opened the ninth annual Cincinnati Theatre Festival at the Playhouse in the Park. A monologue about Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase was selected by the Cincinnati Bicentennial Commission to be performed during Cincinnati’s Bicentennial year.
From 1987 to 1989 a series of articles entitled “This Year in Jerusalem” was published in The American Israelite, in which she described her impressions on a three-month stay in Israel.
In an account of the Jewish community of Ansonville, Ontario, the town where she grew up from age 8 to 18, published by the American Jewish Archives, she began by writing: “Oh, it was lovely, lonely, lighted with snow in the wintertime, sun and wildflowers in the summertime, people there all the time, the same people, like people in one’s family always there, they would always be there, so it seemed, sharing the joys and sorrows of their lives with one another, feuding, loving—a small community…. And then suddenly, so it seemed, they were gone from there, the Jewish community no longer there, an epoch in time come and gone with hardly a landmark, hardly a vestige left of what had been.”
In 1975 she returned to Grajewa, Poland to see the town of her early childhood and to search for any signs of the life she had known. In an account published in the magazine, The Jewish Dialog, she wrote: “…we went to meet the bus that would take us out of Grajewa and back to Warsaw, the shrill cries of rooks overhead mocking our departure—they’re dead!—they’re dead! And as we settled into our seats and the bus began to move, I was looking back, still looking for the corn fields and flowers of my childhood, still looking for a face that would have in it a fond remembrance of the time that was … that was … that was …’They’ve stamped it all out, not only the flame, but their ashes too are gone,’ I said. ‘There’s no trace any more of the Grajewa dead.’”
In the memoir that appeared in the Israelite, about her first visit to Jerusalem, she wrote, “No matter where we are, everywhere we’ve been, everything we’ve seen, remains in its place, has become part of our consciousness, no matter how far away we are, we know it is no less real than if we were in sight of it.”
Contributions in Bella Kalter’s memory may be made to Wise Temple, 8329 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45236, JPDS of the Nation’s Capital or Adas Israel Congregation of Washington, D.C. Condolences may be sent to Harold Kalter at Ring House, 1801 East Jefferson Street, Rockville, Md. 20852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.