Malcah Zeldis was born Mildred Brightman in the Bronx, New York. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Detroit, where her father eked out a living as a window washer. She graduated from high school with strong Zionist leanings and in 1948 went to live on a kibbutz in Israel, where she met Hiram Zeldis, a writer also from Detroit. After marrying in Detroit, the couple moved to Israel, where Malcah was encouraged to paint by Israeli artist Aaron Giladi, who saw her work during a visit to the kibbutz. In 1958 the Zeldis family settled in New York, where Malcah worked as a housewife and mother. During the 1970s, as her children grew older and her marriage foundered, she enrolled in Brooklyn College. She graduated in 1974, worked as a teacher’s aide, obtained a divorce, and began to paint seriously.
Malcah Zeldis, one of the leading self-taught contemporary artists, is best known for her paintings depicting urban life, historical, and religious events, her heroes, and her own life. Her spirited narrative style expresses an optimistic life view and a strong social commitment, and her paintings have been widely exhibited. Of special note is the one-person show presented by the Museum of American Folk Art at New York University in 1988. It was the first time the museum had presented a one-person exhibition of the work of a living artist.