Monday, 24 April 2017

AVROM LIESSIN (ABRAHAM WALT, VALT)

AVROM LIESSIN (ABRAHAM WALT, VALT) (May 19, 1872-November 5, 1938)
            He was born in Minsk to parents who descended from great rabbis and Talmud scholars.  On his father’s side—R. Ayzele Kharif; on his mother’s side—the Maharshal, the Baal Halevush, and Rifoel Hamburger, grandfather of the great intercessor in Germany, Gabriel Riesser.  While still a child, he demonstrated a sharp mind, extraordinary perception, and an unusual memory.  At age seven or eight, he was already knowledgeable in Talmud.  On his own he said that he was a little zealot and a big brat.  His friend, Dr. Sh. Louis, who studied with him in the same religious elementary school, recounts in his memoirs how little Avreml was allowed to grown a fingernail on the thumb of his right hand and, when he caught a student making an error, he would scratch with his nail a small stripe on the wooden table.  Avreml was also daring in the fights that gangs of children struck up.  He would take on several by himself, and even if he came out of it battered, he wouldn’t cry, but would boast about how he had “struck back” against the others.  This independent character of the subsequent poet and ethnic Jewish socialist had already emerged in his earliest youth.  While quite young, he began reading Hebrew-Aramaic religious texts.  He was drawn to history and such texts as: Shaarit yisrael (Remnant of Israel), Shevat yehuda (The tribe of Judah), Yosipon (Josephus), and Shalshelet hayuḥasin (Genealogy); these works exerted a strong impression on him.  As a youngster, he could practically recite the entirety of Kalman Shulman’s Divre yeme olam (History of the world) by heart.  He was enthusiastic about historical heroes.  In his youthful fantasy, he imagined that he was himself a hero, standing up for the Jews and triumphant against enemies.  In episodes from his childhood years, he recounted how, in his early youth when he had only just begun to study Tanakh, the story of Yiftaḥ (Jephthah) and his daughter made a deep impression on him.  “I remember how one time I went to see the triumphal gate that had been erected in Minsk to honor Mikhail Skobelev at the time of his welcome.  I looked and suddenly recalled Yiftaḥ, how he also returned valiantly from war and rode through such a gate, and how he had to subsequently offer up his daughter to God—a story that tormented my childhood fantasies.  So, I took to querying my father in an apprehensive voice if Skobelev had a daughter and if she would appear opposite the gate.  My father glanced at me, grabbed and pinched me, and then laughed out loud: ‘No, my son!  Not to worry, Skobelev is still unmarried.’”  The child lived with the heroes of Jewish history, and years later he immortalized them in his poetry.  At age nine he began writing Hebrew poems, in the style of Moshe-Chaim Luzzatto and other poets.  These poems were pious, though one can already detect in them the singer of Jewish heroism.  At age twelve, while he was studying in the yeshiva in Vilkomir (Ukmergė), doubts concerning his faith began in him to emerge.  He ran away from the yeshiva to Slobodka and fiercely plunged into the way of Musar which was the spirit of the yeshiva there.  Then, at age thirteen, he went to study at the famous Volozhin yeshiva, but there he was a bit of a heretic.  He stayed in this yeshiva for a year and acquired a reputation as a prodigy.  Already in Volozhin he had around him a circle of students with whom he spoke about faith, the Jewish Enlightenment, and secular matters.  The headmaster of the yeshiva—known there as “Der alter” (The old man)—got wind of this, and when someone additionally caught Liessin smoking a cigarette on the Sabbath, placed him under a ban and drove him out of the yeshiva.  Dr. Sh. Louis recounts in his memoirs how no one would allow the fourteen-year-old Avreml into any Jewish home.  He was afraid to return home and thus found a place to stay at the very edge of the city, but several days later the woman of the house found out that her tenant was under a ban, and she threw him out.  Fortunately, he already at that time had students who provided him with concealed night lodging.  He would steal in through a window into a home of a friend or student at dark and would spend the night there.  During the daytime he would walk around the fields by the town.  He was, however, unable to maintain his life in this manner for very long, and the young Liessin thus set off for Vilna.  There he fell in with a circle of the “Enlightened.”  He began to study secular subjects and sought out a teacher who would teach him Russian and mathematics.  M. M. Rozenboym recounts how “we set out to choose from among the devoted yeshiva students in Vilna the most capable lads, pour into them ‘European culture and science,’ and campaign among them new, progressive, and radical ideas.”  Young Liessin, who was still known at the time by his birth name, Valt (Walt), approached the leader of this group of radicals, Khonen Rapoport (later a leader of the Communist Party in France, Charles Rapoport) and asked him to provide him with a teacher.  And, Rozenboym, who met Liessin at this time, explained how Rapoport interrogated him both in religion and in history.  In religion he passed the examination, but when it came to history, he exhibited such independence of thought and judgment that both Rapoport and Rozenboym remained perplexed.  When Rapoport asked him what he thought of Robespierre, Liessin said that Robespierre was a tyrant and a despot.  Socialists, especially closeminded Jewish socialists, had heard no such thing at the time.  Astounded, Rapoport, though, understood that standing before him was an extraordinary young lad, and he forgave him: “He’ll learn and develop, and bit by bit he’ll rise to the proper pathway….”  Rozenboym then became his teacher of Russian and mathematics, and he recounted that mathematics was no problem for the young Liessin, but it was tough going with Russian.  At one point Liessin disappeared for several weeks.  One morning he arrived with a fat book under his arm and said that he had already mastered Russian.  The book was Yehoshua Shteynberg’s [Russian-Hebrew] dictionary and, over the few weeks, he had learned the entire dictionary by heart.  His path into poetry and socialism was simultaneous, as both would be forced out of one deep interior source in him.  Of course, the fount of a poem trickled out in his childhood years, when he wrote Hebrew verse.  But that poem of his in Hebrew was social, and Dr. Iser Ginzburg in his memoirs adduced three-stanzas of a poem that remained vaguely in his memory and Liessin himself helped him assemble them (the manuscript of the poem had been lost).  In a pair of stanzas, the child-poet sings of his mother Rokhl who is crying at the exile of her sons.  Later, though, when writing poetry was no longer a game but an assignment, they began to flow from a socialist source which, in essence, was profoundly Jewish for Liessin.  In his Zikhroynes un bilder (Memories and images), published by “L. M. Shteyn Folks-biblyotek” (L. M. Stein People’s Library), Liessin wrote:

Does the rain have a father?—Job once asked.  Revolutionary zeal that burns so wondrously on the Jewish street surely has its fathers—the prophets, the midrashim, the great and ardent expectations for the Messiah.  One might certainly ask: Why did these same prophets and these same messianic expectations find no revolutionary expression on the Jewish street a hundred years ago, even a decade ago, and can offer interesting explanations for this.  However, without the prophets and without the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming, it would be very difficult to explain why, for example, in Minsk at one and the same time young Jewish cobblers were able to organize easily, and nothing at all was able to be done with the young gentile cobblers.

This thought ripened very early for him, and he was his guide in socialism, in poetry, and in journalism.  At Blumke’s kloyz (house of study, yeshiva) in Minsk, on Friday evenings, nine-year-old Avreml heard stories of Russian revolutionaries, and “I was standing next to my father’s lap, a nine-year-old boy, devouring these stories.”  At the same time, however, he discover on his father’s shelf of religious works texts which recounted “the great martyrology of Jewish history—burning tides of Jewish tears and blood, bundled up in old, yellowing pages.”  Although he had a sharp mind and grasped the most difficult Talmudic topics, he noted nonetheless that “my thinking was not with the legal minds of Sura and Pumpedita and Nehardea, but with the martyrs of Mainz and Worms and Toledo.”  The emotions aroused in him in his early youth exceeded his extraordinary learning capacities.  He recounts how the tales of revolutionaries that he heard in Blumke’s kloyz mixed together with those of Jewish martyrs, “and in the story about the teacher, the socialist who went to shoot the Kaiser and had in his pocket a nut with poison ready for himself should he be caught, I felt the same shiver that I had felt in the old Jewish chronicles.  I found the sanctification of the name painful.”  In Vilna, where the young Avrom Valt became acquainted with revolutionary circles, he began to develop his own ideas about socialism—a Jewish socialism.  He did not join the propagandist circles, remaining among the unaligned, and while the others “had a distinctive weakness for Russian peasants and laborers, Liessin was drawn to Jews” (M. M. Rozenboym).  At one time he even thought of retiring to Talmud and commentators, becoming a rabbi, and campaigning for socialism among Jews as a rabbi.  This took place in his Vilna period.  Later, after he had already returned to Minsk, he led an ideological war with the local socialist propagandists.  He complained: “How can you approach Jews like a stranger with gentile books?  Approach them as one of their own, with Jewish literature, and you will accomplish much more.”  In Vilna he had students with whom he taught socialism in his own manner.  When he returned to Minsk, he expanded his circle of students, and before the Bund came into existence, there was the circle of “Valtovtses” (followers of Valt [Liessin])—the Jewish-socialist circle for which Liessin served as spiritual father.  In his later years, Liessin almost never spoke at any meetings, but in Vilna and, mainly, in Minsk he was an orator, an ardent propagandist for his ideas.  Everyone who remembered that period in Liessin’s life recount how he literally roused his followers with his speeches which were delivered in a fine Yiddish, full of imagination and vehement temperament.  At the same time, he began to write poetry in Yiddish, and he read them aloud before people nearby, and soon they spread through revolutionary circles of that era.  People read, declaimed, and learned them by heart, and many of them were set to melodies and sung.  And, with alacrity an entire booklet of his poems was assembled, and the manuscript made its way in secret throughout the city of Minsk, even reaching as far as other cities, from which both intellectuals and ordinary workers drew encouragement and enthusiasm for his new revolutionary ideas.  He remained independent in his own socialist path.  While in the Jewish labor movement of the early 1890s there arose the so-called “opposition” under the leadership of Avrom Gordon (Rezchik), Liessin was especially strongly affected by Jewish workers; he added a specific hue to the “opposition”: embracing its slogans (not moving the movement from “economism” to political agitation), and by the same token he also made use of the slogan of struggling against assimilated cosmopolitanism which dominated the Jewish labor movement; and he demanded that the movement be “ethnicized,” meaning that it should always take in consideration the specific conditions of the life of the Jewish masses.  In 1895 and early 1896 in Minsk, numerous strikes were brewing.  At first Liessin held that the Jewish householder was himself someone oppressed, that he was a poor man and that he may have suffered no small amount, like the laborer who worked for him.  He later expressed this thought in his classic song “Der hundertster kremer in gas” (The 100th shopkeeper on the street)[1]—a song that is sung till this day.  As he noted at the time, the economic fight had of course to be pursued, but the Jewish laborer would only be liberated through the liberation of the Jewish people; and the Jewish people would without a doubt suffer a great deal from a revolutionary struggle.  One could even expect pogroms.  In his memoirs of Minsk at that time, M. Ivenski recounts that Liessin said in his propaganda: “Our duty is to see that workers should only keep in mind their own economic interests, and the Jewish people of whom the poor comprise the greatest portion suffered more than all peoples in the world.  As they will suffer even more for taking part in revolution, this martyred people should be liberated first.”  In the early 1890s political Zionism had begun to spread through cities and towns, and Liessin, who was attentive to all issues of the day, rejected Zionism in his debates and in his sarcastic poems.  He carried around with him romantic Zionist ideas, while he did not believe in the actual possibility of those ideas, and he therefore fought them no less than the Jewish revolutionaries from within whom emerged the Bund.  Years later, when he was in the United States, he was one of the first Jewish socialists to accept Zionism, and in his journalism he spiritedly—characteristic of his temperament—applauded every accomplishment of the pioneers in the land of Israel and of political Zionism.
            Liessin came to the United States in 1896 and soon joined the social democratic faction which had fought a bitter struggle against Daniel De Leon and his followers in the Socialist Labor Party (SLP).  He was one of the first contributors to the Forverts (Forward), in which he published his poems and journalistic articles.  He also wrote editorials for the newspaper, mainly on the eve of holidays, and he led (using the name “Dr. Iks”) a ferocious campaign against both De Leon’s daily newspaper Abend-blat (Evening newspaper) and the Orthodox daily Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily news).  When Ab. Cahan became editor of the Forverts, Liessin cooled toward the newspaper.  His break with the paper came when Cahan rejected an article of his against Zionism.  Liessin then left the newspaper and for a time suffered from considerable want.  He supported himself selling newspapers on the street and from other lines of work.  Even when he was working at the Forverts, his economic situation was very severe.  Max Fayn describes how in the morning he would enter Liessin’s room on Cherry Street, take the editorial from him that he was to have published that very day, find him there half dressed; the bed his writing table, and kneeling, leaning over the bed and writing.  But when the socialist public of that era demanded their suffering writer back, the editorial board bent to the will of the people and recalled the repudiated Liessin.  To be sure, Cahan also had to publish the anti-Zionist article by Liessin, and the public quieted down.  When Cahan left the Forverts, Liessin helped L. Miller edit the newspaper, and in 1902, when Miller parted ways with the newspaper, Liessin edited it (with William Edlin).  At that time he was publishing historical monographs, stressing the heroic chapters in Jewish history, to undercut B. Faygenboym’s assimilationist propaganda.  After the Kishinev pogrom (Passover 1903), he launched a spirited campaign in the newspaper on behalf of the Bund.  With flaming momentum, he expressed in this article the notion that Jews must be revolutionaries, but they must also bear responsibility for one another.  He was a delegate to the seventh congress of the Bund in Lemberg in later summer 1906, and there he demanded a more positive stance on Jewish ethnic issues.  He was the fiercest fighter in the Bund for “neutralism” on the nationality question.  The Bund at the time offered to publish a book of essays by him.  He agreed and assembled the book, but the editorial board of the Bundist publishers rejected several of the essays for being too nationalistic, and Liessin thus withdrew the book, although it had already been typeset.  At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, his journalistic work was like an invigorating, raging rain on a dry summer day.  In Jewish socialism of that time period, his journalism was literally revolutionary with the themes of Jewish populism, the great esteem for Jewish tradition, and its enthusiasm for Jewish national and historical values.  His poetic talent also began to develop in America, as if a fresh, creative source opened in him in the land of immigrants.  So began the period of creating heroes in Jewish history which remained essential to his poetic course.  At the time when the Yiddish poem—especially the epic, narrative poem—was still the reigning form for full expression, Liessin’s poems were linguistically and vividly full.  They poetically carried through the idea that the poet conceived.  In their complex, ideological thematic, Liessin introduced purity, narrative dramatism, and train of thought that common readers understood and experienced.  Many of his poems became the chant of the Jewish revolutionaries on their way to Siberia and on the cold, Siberian steppes.  His nationalistic poems also became popular, mainly songs of historical Jewish heroes.  They were declaimed at conferences and served as a source of enthusiasm for the great Jewish past.  Over the course of several years, Liessin wrote no poems—a kind of spiritual, poetic crisis transpiring within him—as he was searching for a new means to express in poetic form the ideas fermenting in him.  When he began to write poetry once again, one senses in them a kind of renewal—both in form and in the language itself.  He returned to poetry loaded with fresh expressiveness which he had been incubating during his years of silence.  In his personal life, Liessin was not destined to enjoy much happiness.  In 1901 he married the beautiful, highly intelligent Libe Ginzburg, who hailed from a rabbinical family in Smorgon (Smarhon).  She was learned in Jewish matters, but she had also in her early youth begun to study secular subjects.  She was involved early on in the socialist movement, and at the beginning of the twentieth century she was compelled to immigrate to the United States, so as to avoid falling into the clutches of the Tsarist police.  Liessin met Libe Ginzburg in New York, and they were married.  They gave birth to a daughter, Rokhl, who was half paralyzed and suffered from an enlarged head.  Libe died in 1912, and after her death Liessin was virtually cut off from the world.  He looked after his sick daughter himself, and although she never attended any school, she was quite intelligent; she wrote and read and enjoyed a broad acquaintance with Yiddish literature.  Concerning his personal life, Liessin wrote one of his most profoundly sad poems: “Dos glik zikh optsuzogn fun glik” (Happiness refuses to be happy).  He led his life like a recluse, rarely attended public meetings, and lived with his books and with his creative work.  In 1913 he took over the editorship of the journal Di tsukunft (The future) and all but ceased writing for Forverts.  With zeal he threw himself into the work of editing the journal, and over the course of eight months the circulation grew from 4,000 to over 20,000.  He attracted to the journal the most eminent Yiddish writers in America and Europe.  He encouraged young writers, published them, and even instructed them in a fatherly manner to emend a poem or a story.  Under his editorship Di tsukunft became the center of Yiddish literature in all its forms and expressions.  Socialism assumed an honored place in the journal.  At the same time, he also published in it research works on Judaism and Jewish history.  He inspired writers of a variety of ideologies to publish their writings in the journal.  He published an editorial himself every month, which was replete with tremblings of the times, with pathos, and with great erudition.  Also, in most every issue he published a poem of his, and in Di tsukunft was published virtually all of his poetic creations from 1913 until the final days of his life.  Although he went almost nowhere himself, there was an open door for writers and painters.  Just as he was a quiet bibliophile and his private library was one of the richest, so too he was a collector of works of art.  He never accepted presents from artists, paying generously for a painting, and his home was a small museum of paintings and sculpture.  The more he became engrossed in Jewish history and the heroic images he drew from it, the closer he came to the notion of a national Jewish revival.  He did not become a Zionist, but with love and exaltation he wrote about the pioneers in the land of Israel and even about the political developments within Zionism.  In the last years of his life, he carried around the dream of writings a series of poetic dramas on the messianic idea.  To those close to him, he confided his dream.  He was himself a harmonious mixture of steadfast physicality and high spirituality, and the heroic figures from Jewish history were also body and spirit blended together in heroism.  In the poetic images that he created, there was a great deal of dramatism, and he sensed within himself the strength to embody the dramatism of Jewish history in dramas which he conceived and never staged.  After the March Revolution in Russia (1917), for several months he sided with the Kerensky regime, though later when he saw how the regime vacillated and was incapable of making up its mind to rule the land with a firm hand and handle foreign politics, he began to support the Bolsheviks.  He did not become a Bolshevik ideologically, but held that a steady Bolshevism and not the lax Kerensky would save the revolution.  He was, though, soon thereafter disappointed with Bolshevism, and especially with Communism, which spelled the full destruction of Jewish life in Russia.  He fought bitterly against this disappointment in the Russian Revolution.  His last years, when Di tsukunft began to drop in circulation and the Forverts, which published the journal, wanted to wash its hands of it, were tragic for Liessin.  He obstinately brought his influence to bear on the leaders of the Forverts, that the journal ought not be discontinued or diminished.  Di tsukunft had become for him a great spiritual fortress which he had built with so much love.  The diminution of the journal was for him a diminution of his person.  He relied on his young colleague, B. Vladek, who was for years the manager of the Forverts.  Vladek saved the journal from collapse on several occasions, and when Vladek suddenly died in late October 1938, his death was a shocking tragedy for Liessin.  In the week between Vladek’s death and his own, Liessin wrote a moving elegy, but he did not live to see it published.  Saturday morning, November 5, the poet of Jewish heroism and refined Jewish socialism departed this world.
            His books include: Moderne lider (Modern poetry) (Minsk, 1897), 54 pp., hectographically printed, illegally, by the “Group of Social Democrats” in Minsk (a rare copy of this booklet may be found in the Bundist archive in the name of F. Kurski in New York); Di militerishe intervenshon in rusland (Military intervention in Russia) (New York, 1918), 15 pp. (a publication of the Jewish International Socialists in America); Lider un poemen, 1888-1938 (Poetry, 1888-1938), three volumes, with drawings by Marc Chagall and a foreword by Hillel Rogof (New York, 1938), vol. 1, 351 pp., vol. 2, 342 pp., vol. 3, 354 pp., with a preface by Liessin and a chronological arrangement of Liessin’s poems from 1888 until his last one, “Baym ruder a geshmidter” (Shackled to the rudder) and the unfinished poem “Yanai hameylekh un di prushim” (King Yannai and the Pharisees); Zikhroynes un bilder (Memories and images), with biographical-critical notes (New York: L. M. Shteyn Folks-biblyotek, 1954), 310 pp., including his youth, subsequent years in Russia, images and portraits, and more.  A portion of his letters, such as twenty-one letters to John Mill, written over the years 1917-1937, were published in Unzer tsayt (Our times) (New York) (February-March 1941); three letters to B. Rivkin in Yidishe shriftn (Yiddish writings) (New York) 7.1 (1944); and one letter in Yiddish from Hayim Nachman Bialik to Liessin, published in Ilustrirte literarishe bleter (Illustrated literary leaves) (Buenos Aires) (1954).  Liessin’s poems also appeared in the following anthologies: M. Basin, 500 yor yidishe poezye (Anthology, 500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1917); Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word), anthology (New York, 1955); and the Hebrew-language Al naharot (To the rivers) (Jerusalem, 1956); among others.  He was a regular contributor to Kh. Y. Minike’s Yontef bleter (Holidays sheets) (New York) from 1901 to 1924.  His essay on Eugene V. Debs was published in Oysderveylte shriftn (Selected writings) of Eugene Debs (New York, 1926).  On the fortieth anniversary of his literary activity in 1936, a double issue of Di tsukunft was published (February-March), edited by Hillel Rogof, with essays by seventy-five writers (many of the articles were fragments of longer works and monographs about Liessin).  On the third anniversary of his death (1941), a collection of articles about Liessin by various Yiddish writers appeared, assembled by Yudel Mark: A. lisin, tsum 3tn yortsayt (A. Liessin, on his third yortsayt) (New York: Tsiko), 47 pp.


“Abraham Walt,” from Hutchins Hapgood,
The Spirit of the Ghetto


Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; D. Ignatov, Shriftn (Writings), vol. 1 (New York, 1912); Yankev Milkh, in Der pinkes (Vilna) (1913), pp. 202-30; Milkh, Di antshteyung fun “forverts” (The rise of the Forverts) (New York, 1936); Aleksander Harkavy, in Di tsukunft (New York) (April 1914); M. Olgin, in Di tsukunft (July 1915; April 1919); B. Y. Byalostotski, in Di tsayt (New York) (February 25, 1921); Byalotsotski, Lider un eseyen (Poems and essays) (New York, 1932), pp. 79-130; Byalostotski, Kholem un vor, eseyen (Dream and reality, essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 214-95; M. Winchevsky, in Di tsukunft (July 1921); Dr. N. Sirkin, in Di tsayt (July 16, 1921); Vladimir Medem, in Di tsukunft (August 1921); R. Abramovitsh, in Di tsukunft (December 1922; December 1924); Gina Medem, in Di tsukunft (March 1923); Y. Entin, Yidishe poetn (Yiddish poets), vol. 2 (New York); Entin, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (May 22, 1948); Entin, in Di tsukunft (February-March 1953); Bal-Makhshoves, in Di tsukunft (August 1928); Y. Kreplyak, in Di tsukunft (September 1928); A. Litvak, in Der veker (New York) (November 2, 1929); Litvak, in Di tsukunft (December 1931); Khayim Krul, Arum zikh (Around itself) (Vilna, 1930), pp. 8-9; Sh. Ogurski, in Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 4 (1930), p. 249; Dr. A. Ginzburg, in Di tsayt (July 17, 1931); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4 (1932), pp. 354-87; Y. Bronshteyn, Problemen fun leninishn etap in der literatur-kentenish (Problems of the Leninist stage in literary knowledge) (Minsk, 1932), pp. 9ff; Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (October 10, 1934); Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955), see index; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (May 5, 1935; December 17, 1935); Niger, in Foroys (Warsaw) (August 4, 1939); Niger, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), Yidn 5 (New York, 1957), pp. 114ff; H. Rogof, in Forverts (New York) (June 23, 1935; December 19, 1948); M. Nadir, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (August 31, 1935); B. Grobard, A fertl yorhundert, esey vegn der yidisher literatur in amerike (A quarter century, essay on Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1935), see index; Sh. Klitenik, Verk un shrayber (Works and writers) (Moscow, 1935), pp. 160ff; B. vladek-bukh (B. Vladek volume) (New York, 1935), pp. 316-64; Sh. D. Zinger, in Der veker (April 25, 1936); Zinger, Dikhter un prozaiker, eseyen vegn shrayber un bikher (Poets and prose writers, essays on writers and books) (New York, 1959), pp. 9-13; B. Rivkin, in Idisher kemfer (April 24, 1936; July 24, 1936); M. Shveyd, in Idisher kemfer (June 30, 1938); D. Pinski and Leyb Glants, in Idisher kemfer (November 11, 1938); M. Ribalov, in Hadoar (New York) (November 11, 1938; December 9, 1938); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Nayer folksblat (Lodz) (November 16, 1938); D. Eynhorn, in Foroys (November 25, 1938); E. Almi, in Der veg (Mexico City) (December 3, 1938); M. M. Rozenboym, in Idisher kemfer (December 8, 1940); Y. A. Bronshteyn, Impresyes fun a leyener (Impressions of a reader) (Chicago, 1941), see index; Eliezer Grinberg, Moyshe-leyb halpern in rom fun zayn dor (Moyshe-Leyb Halpern in the context of his generation) (New York, 1942); Elye Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1943), pp. 200-6; Y. Y. Vohl (Jacob Joseph Wohl), Bishete reshuyot (By two authorities) (New York, 1944), see index; Mortkhe Yofe, in Hadoar (May 23, 1947); Yofe, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (December 11, 1953); F. Kurski, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (November 12, 1948); Kurski, in Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (New York, 1952), pp. 323-41; D. Kaplan and Avrom Reyzen, in Forverts (December 19, 1948); Alter Epshteyn, in Tog (December 25, 1949); Yankev Fikhman, Regnboygn (Rainbow) (Buenos Aires, 1953), pp. 240-41; Y. Kisin, Lid un esey (Poem and essay) (New York, 1953), pp. 157-64; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (November 1, 1953); Kazdan, in Foroys (Mexico City) (January 1, 1955); Y. Pat, in Letste nayes (December 4, 1953); R. Ayzland, Fun undzer friling (From our spring) (New York, 1954), pp. 195-217; Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (February 26-March 1, 1954); Leo Finkelshteyn, Loshn yidish un yidisher kiem, eseyen (The Yiddish language and Jewish survival, essays) (Mexico City, 1954), pp. 267-76; A. Leyeles, in Tog (August 21, 1954); Shloyme Bikl, in Di tsukunft (December 1954); Zalman Shazar, Or ishim (Light of personalities) (Tel Aviv, 1955), pp. 195-207; B. Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Novolipye 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955), see index; R. Rodak, Kunst un kinstler (Art and artist) (New York, 1955), pp. 56-57; L. Shpizman, in Geshikhte fun der tsienistisher arbeter-bavegung fun tsofn-amerike (History of the Zionist labor movement in North America), vols. 1 and 2 (New York, 1955), see index; Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1956), pp. 42-47; Sh. Sreberk, Zikhronot hamotsi laor (Memoirs of a publisher) (Tel Aviv, 1954), pp. 119ff; V. Grosman, Amol un haynt, zikhroynes un gendanken (Then and now, memories and thoughts) (Paris, 1955), pp. 179-80; H. Royznblat, in Idisher kemfer (March 23, 1956); Z. Vaynper, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (March 1956); N. Mayzil, in Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, Yankev Dinezon and Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957), pp. 83-94; Di geshikhte fun bund (The history of the Bund), vol. 1 (New York, 1960), pp. 72, 94, 100; L. Khanukov, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays) (New York, 1960), pp. 24ff; G. Pomerants, in Der idisher zhurnal (Toronto) (August 22, 1960); Y. Yeshurin, in Di tsukunft, jubilee issue (New York, 1962); A. A. Robak, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), pp. 200-1; Y. Ḥ. Biletzky, Avraham lisin, meshorer, masai, orekh (Abraham Liessin, poet, essayist, editor) (Tel Aviv, 1981), 29 pp.
Froym Oyerbakh




[1] Translator’s note. This is actually a line from the son “Der kremer” (The shopkeeper). (JAF)

Friday, 21 April 2017

MARK LEV

MARK LEV (b. ca. 1850s)
            In the 1880s, he was living in Kishinev where he worked as a lawyer.  He published a collection of poetry, Naye motivn far dem yidishn folk (New motifs for the Jewish people) (Kishinev, 1886), written in a Christian spirit, and a poem Hodel (Hodl) (Kishinev, 1890), an adapted sentimental theme which at the time was new and even bold in Yiddish literature.  With passable verse, he depicted in the poem the moving fate of a fallen Jewish woman.  Additionally, he was known as the author of a love poem, written in a light, ringing verse and published in the anthology Der kleyner veker (The little alarm) (Odessa, 1890).  He later made his way to England, where he was said to be close to local missionaries.

Source: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2.


ZISKIND LEV

ZISKIND LEV (1896-summer 1937)
            He was born in Zhedishev, near Reyshe (Rzeszów), western Galicia.  He attended religious elementary school, a Polish public school, and later became a carpenter.  In August 1914, when WWI broke out, he volunteered to join the Austrian army and served on the front until the end of 1918.  In 1919 he came to Vienna, was an employee at Yudishe morgnpost (Jewish morning mail), and in 1920 left for Berlin where he joined the Communist Party and was later active in the leftist movement in Poland, Austria, and Germany.  From 1931 he was living in the Soviet Union, where he settled in Minsk.  He participated in meetings of Jewish and general Soviet writers’ conferences in Minsk.  His writing activities began (using the pen name Zishe-Leyb) with poetry in Lemberg’s Togblat (Daily newspaper) in 1914, later also writing stories and articles.  He was also a contributor to the Communist Literarishe tribune (Literary tribune) (Lodz-Warsaw, 1925-1931), Dos vort (The word) (Cracow, 1931), and other serials.  He co-edited (with M. Naygreshl) the publication Yidish (Yiddish) in Vienna (1928); and he contributed to Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw (until 1932) and Tsushtayer (Contribution) in Lemberg (1931-1932).  From 1930 he was a regular contributor to Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom) in New York, in which he published the novels, Getsl safrans veg tsu der revolutsye (Getsl Safran’s path to the revolution) (1931) and Der oyfshtand fun shvyenta sarne (The uprising of Shvyenta-Sarne) (1932), a series of reportage pieces entitled “Vos ikh hob gezen in galitsye” (What I saw in Galicia), stories, and articles.  He also wrote for the Communist magazine Hamer (Hammer)—in which he published his novel Andrey un der pop (André and the priest)—Signal (Signal), and other serials in New York.  The Soviet period in his writing began happily, as the Yiddish publications opened for him a new and broad realm in which he was able to realize his creative plans.  In Soviet Russia he was a regular contributor to: Oktyabr (October) and Shtern (Star) in Minsk—in which he published portions of a long story entitled “Tshvishn zbrutsh un dnyester” (Between the Zbruch and the Dniester [Rivers]); Der emes (The truth) in Moscow, in which among other items he published in 1934 “Di proletn fun berlin” (The proles of Berlin); the collections Sovetish (Soviet) in Moscow, in which in 1934 he placed his long story “Frants kanotop farkoyft zayn zun” (Frantz Kanotop sells his son); and In shotn fun tlies, almanakh fun der yidisher proletarisher literatur in di kapitalistishe lender (In the shadow of the gallows, an almanac of Yiddish proletarian literature in the capitalist countries) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932); among others.  In book form he published: (using the pen name Yoysef Tishler), Der videroyfboy fun erets-yisroel (The reconstruction of the land of Israel) (Vienna, 1919), 32 pp.; Poyln, a shekhthoyz far mentshn (Poland, a slaughterhouse for men), a portion of which appeared in Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom) in New York, with a foreword by P. Novik (New York, 1933), 72 pp.; Fir mentshn zukhn di revolutsye (Four men search for the revolution), a novel in four parts (Minsk, 1933), 172 pp.; Fun velt tsu velt (From world to world), stories (Moscow, 1936), 342 pp.; and German Fridberg, a play in Russian (Moscow, 1936).  His play in three acts, Der shtrayk fun di shniter (The strike of the harvester), was staged in 1935 in the Artef Theater in New York.  On the tenth anniversary of the journal Shtern in Minsk, he published therein the first part of his story “Fishl kopytshik un petre yeremtshuk” (Fishl Kopchik and Petre Yeremchuk), a remembrance of WWI and class struggle, the primary theme of his entire oeuvre.  He published under the pen name “Ziskind Leyb” as well.  “His fictional writings,” noted M. R.., “excelled with raw, primitive naturalism—and an intuitive, artistic graphic quality.”  At the Jewish writers’ meeting in Minsk (March 1937), a number of speakers fiercely attacked him, and one publicly said that “in the Yiddish literature of Byelorussia, an agent of the Gestapo had sneaked in: Ziskind Lev” (Oktryabr 121, March 1937).  He was arrested in late 1936.  From that time there was no news from or about him.  According to unconfirmed rumors, he died in a camp somewhere in the Pechora wilderness.

Sources: Shmuel Niger, in Der tog (New York) (January 18, 1931; December 28, 1931); B. Fenster, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (January 26, 1931; March 28, 1931; May 2, 1931); Moyshe Nadir, in Morgn-frayhayt (April 2, 1932); H. Reminik, in Shtern (Kharkov) 244 (1934); M. Litvakov, in Der emes (Moscow) 234, 236 (1934); D. Kurland, in Shtern (Minsk) 6 (1934); A. Pomerants, in Proletpen (Kiev) (1935), p. 89; Pomerants, in Signal (New York) (April 1936); M. Olgin, in Morgn-frayhayt (October 13, 1935); V. Edlin, in Tog (October 16, 1935); H. Vaynraykh, Blut af der zun (Blood on the sun) (New York, 1950), p. 64; N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 30, 1953); Dr. M. Naygreeshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955), p. 390; N. Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher arbeter in sovetn-farband (Jewish creation and the Jewish worker in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), see index; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index.
Khayim Leyb Fuks

[Additional information from: Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 210-11.]


Thursday, 20 April 2017

ELIAS (HILLEL) LIBERMAN (LIEBERMAN)

ELIAS (HILLEL) LIBERMAN (LIEBERMAN) (November 10, 1888-October 1969)
            He was born in Bobr, Mohilev region, Byelorussia.  He attended religious elementary school, the Minsk yeshiva, and later graduated from a Russian high school as an external student.  In 1909 he immigrated to the United States, engaged in a variety of jobs, and at the same time continued his studies and later became a lawyer.  He was active in the trade union movement, and over the years 1915-1917 led the Ladies’ Dressmakers’ Union in New York.  He was a member of the national executive of the Workmen’s Circle (1931-1935) and vice-president (1933-1935).  He debuted in print with a story, “A kind” (A child), in Forverts (Forward) in New York (July 1910), and from that point he published sketches, stories, and articles as well in: Glaykhheyt (Equality), Di naye tsayt (The new times), Der yudisher arbayter (The Jewish worker), and Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), among other periodicals in Yiddish and English in New York.  He was the author of the books: The Collective Labor Agreement: How to Negotiate and Draft the Contract (New York, 1939), 233 pp.; and Unions before the Bar: Historic Trials Showing the Evolution of Labour Rights in the United States (New York, 1950), 371 pp.—the latter of these also appeared in a Japanese translation as: Rōdō kumiai to saibansho: Amerika ni okeru rōdōsha no kihonken no hatten o shimesu rekishiteki na rōdō jiken (Labor unions and the courts, historic labor events showing the development of basic rights for workers in America) (Tokyo, 1958), 410 pp.  He was last living in New York and working as a lawyer.

Sources: Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO) (Warsaw, 1928), p. 89; Y. Yeshurin and Y. Sh. Herts, 50 yor arbeter ring in yidishn lebn (Fifty years of the Workmen’s Circle in Jewish life) (New York, 1950), p. 395; M. Epshteyn, Jewish Labor in the U.S.A. (New York, 1957), p. 35.
Khayim Leyb Fuks


YOYSEF LIBERMAN (LIEBERMAN)

YOYSEF LIBERMAN (LIEBERMAN) (b. December 28, 1896)
            He lived in the colony of Entre Rios, Argentina, where his father was among the first Jewish colonists in the country.  He studied Yiddish and Hebrew in the colony’s school, later graduating from a Spanish-language high school in Buenos Aires.  For many years he worked as a teacher and director of Jewish and general schools in Argentina.  At the same time he completed his doctoral degree in natural sciences at the Universidad National in Buenos Aires where he would later be a professor himself.  His literary work began (in 1909) with poetry, sketches, and political articles in Folks-shtime (Voice of the people) in Buenos Aires, and he went on to publish in Idisher argentiner vokhnblat (Jewish Argentinian weekly newspaper) in Buenos Aires (1909-1914), and then he became a contributor to Sh. Y. Lyakhovitski’s publications: “Bikhlekh far yedn” (Pamphlets for everyone) (1918-1919); and “Far groys un kleyn” (For big and small) (1922).  He also wrote for the daily newspapers Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) and Di prese (The press)—in Buenos Aires.  He served as editor of the weekly papers: Dos folk (The people) and Dos idishe folksblat (The Jewish people’s newspaper) in Buenos Aires (1920-1925).  He was a regular contributor to the Spanish-Jewish and Spanish-language newspapers: La Razon (The reason) and La Acción (The action), among others.  For many years he was editor-in-chief of Spanish-language Jewish weekly Israel (Israel) in Buenos Aires, for which he translated stories and essays from Yiddish literature, among them: Sholem Asch’s Di kishufmakherin fun kastilien (The Witch of Castile) and Kidesh hashem (Sanctification of the name) which appeared also in book form.  He edited a Spanish-language journal for middle-school teachers.  His books include: Dos yor 50,000 (The year 50,000), “in the series ‘Bikhlekh far yedn,’ a fantasy of the entire world’s transformation” (Buenos Aires, 1919), 24 pp.; Der paynender sfinks (The tormented sphinx) (Buenos Aires, 1924), 64 pp.  He also authored a series of works in Spanish.  He was last living in Buenos Aires.

Sources: Sh. Y. Lyakhovitski, foreword to Dos yor 50,000 (The year 50,000), p. 3; Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), p. 176; Volf Bresler, Antologye fun der yidisher literatur in argentine (Anthology of Jewish literature in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1944), p. 925; P. Kats, Shriftn (Writings), vol. 7: Idishe literatur in argentine (Yiddish literature in Argentina) (Buenos Aites1946), p. 57.
Khayim Leyb Fuks


HERSH-BER LISKER

HERSH-BER LISKER (1888-June 3, 1934)
            He was born in Kiev, Ukraine.  Until age fourteen he attended religious primary school, thereafter studying painting for three years in a government school, from which he was barred for his role in a revolutionary circle (1905).  He studied in a Vilna high school (1907-1908), and later he was a business employee in Kiev where, until the revolution of 1917, he was active among the Zionist socialists, later in the “Fareynikte” (United socialist party), the “Kultur-lige” (Culture league), and other organizations.  At the same time he was studying political economy at Kiev University.  In 1925 he made his way to Mexico, and there he became one of the pioneers of the Yiddish press.  He was the organizer and statistician of the first Yiddish newspaper in Mexico (1934).  He contributed to virtually all of the Jewish cultural institutions in Mexico.  He wrote articles on socio-economic and political matters for the daily newspaper Di naye tsayt (The new times) in Kiev (1917-1918), contributing as well to: Unzer veg (Our way) in Homel (1917), Der shtral (The beam [of light]) in Homel (1918); Unzer veg, Nayer veg (New way), and Frayer veg (Free way) in Warsaw; and other partisan periodicals in Yiddish and Russian.  He was co-editor of Meksikaner yidish lebn (Mexican Jewish life) (1927), and later a regular contributor to Di vokh (The week) (1928), Unzer vort (Our word) (1929), and Meksikaner idishe shtim (Mexican Jewish voice) (1932-1934).  He also published under such pen names as: H. Gonzales, A. Farb, A. Shtoltsman, A. Shleyfman, and F. Enrikevitsh.  He died in a gunpowder explosion in Mexico.  At the commemoration thirty days following his death (July 3, 1934), a special issue of Meksikaner idishe shtim was published with articles about him by Yankev Glants, M. Kh. Dubovitsh, Y. Landau, and M. Biderman.

Sources: A. Forsher, in Meksikaner shriftn (Mexican writings), vol. 6 (Mexico City, 1937), p. 90; M. Glikovski, in Der veg jubilee volume (1930-1940) (Mexico City, 1940).
Khayim Leyb Fuks


Y. A. LISKI (I. A. LISKY)

Y. A. LISKI (I. A. LISKY) (June 12, 1903-May 22, 1990)
           The pseudonym of Yude-Itamar Fuks, the brother of the writer A. M. Fuks, he was born in Yezerna, eastern Galicia, to a father who was a village merchant.  He attended religious elementary school, a Baron Hirsch school, and later worked with a private tutor.  In his youth he traveled with his father through villages.  During WWI, when the Russia army was occupying Galicia, Liski fled to Lemberg and worked there for a time in a tavern, before returning home.  Over the years 1924-1930, he lived in Vienna where he was a member of the circle of young Yiddish writers (M. Naygreshl, B. Shnafer, Ziskind Lev, and others).  He later lived for a time in Paris, from whence he moved to London where he lived for some time.  In 1957 he visited the state of Israel with a delegation of community leaders.  He debuted in print with a story entitled “Payn” (Anguish) in Yidish (Yiddish) in Vienna (no. 1, 1928), and in issue no. 3 he published the story “Gendz” (Geese).  He also wrote for Tsushayer (Contribution) in Lemberg (1929-1930).  Soon after settling in London, he became an internal contributor to Morris Meyer’s Di tsayt (The times), in which he published sketches and articles and performed journalistic editorial work.  He was co-editor of Di ovnt-nayes (The evening news), an afternoon publication of Di tsayt.  He also placed work in Di idishe post (The Jewish mail) in London, and later (until its last issue in 1940) once again wrote for Di tsayt.  He also wrote for: Der morgn (The morning) in Lemberg (1930-1932); Oyfgang (Arise) in Sighet-Marmației (1933); Y. N. Shteynberg’s Dos fraye vort (The free word) in London (1935-1936); Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), Hamer (Hammer), and Frayhayt (Freedom) in New York (1938-1939); Yidish london (Jewish London) in London (1938-1939); the almanacs Vaytshepl lebn (Whitechapel life) in London (1951) and Yoyvl-almanakh (Jubilee almanacs) in London (1956); Fraye horizontn (Free horizons) in Paris (1952); Loshn un lebn (Language and life) in London.  From 1932 he was the main contributor and for a time co-editor (with B. A. Sokhatshevski and L. Sh. Kreditor) of the weekly newspaper Di yidishe shtime (The Yiddish voice) in London.  He also wrote for the English-language periodicals The Left Review, New Life, and was a regular writer for Jewish Chronicle—all in London.  From 1958 he was writing for Unzer shtime (Our voice) in Paris, where he published, among other items, portraits of the young writers’ group in Galicia between the two world wars.  His books include: Produktivizatsye, dertseylungen (Productivization, stories), concerning Jewish life in Galicia during the era of WWI (London, 1937), 136 pp.; For, du kleyner kozak, dertseylung (On your way, little Cossack!, a story), with a foreword by Sh. Goldberg and drawings by Alva (London, 1942), 48 pp.; Melokhe bezuye, dertseylung (Humiliating profession, a story), describing the spiritual condition of Jewish life during the era of WWII, with drawings by Dovid Nomberg (London, 1947), 100 pp., English edition translated by Hanna Berman under the title The Cockerel in the Basket (London, 1955), 56 pp.  A number of Liski’s stories were published in the five issues of Jewish Literary Gazette (London, 1951), which he edited with Y. Zontag.  He also compiled and edited the two-volume Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) of the deceased poet Y. H. Levi (London, 1956-1959).  He was one of the leaders of the Jewish Writers’ and Journalists’ Union in London and vice-president of the association “Friends of the Yiddish Language in England.”

Sources: Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (December 28, 1931); Morris Meyer, in Di tsayt (London) (January 12, 1937); B. Shlevin, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (Mfrch 26, 1937); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 17, 1937); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (August 25, 1937; January 10, 1943); Y. H. Levi, in Di tsayt and Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings), vol. 2 (London, 1956), pp. 57-59; Sh. Ravidovits, in Metsada (London) (December 1943); Avrom Shulman, in Kiem (Paris) 9-11 (1952); Shulman, in Unzer shtime (Paris) (February 9, 1960); Sh. Oyerbakh, in Di idishe shtime (Paris) (March 14-15, 1959); M. Mindl, in Loshn un lebn (London) (October 1954); Dr. M. Naygreshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955), pp. 390-91; A. Nehor, in Yediot aḥaronot (Tel Aviv) (October 16, 1959); N. M. Sida, in The Circle (London) (February 1937); Y. Heler, in Zionist Review (London) (December 31, 1943); Cassel’s Encyclopedia of Literature (London, 1953).
Khayim Leyb Fuks