Tuesday, 25 April 2017


            The grandfather of Sholem Yelin, he was born in Shedlets (Siedlce), Poland.  He attended religious elementary school and yeshivas, acquired the reputation of a prodigy, and prepared to become a rabbi.  After the traditional period of support from his father-in-law, he became a bookseller and worked at it until he was quite old.  He was the founder of the first Jewish lending library in his city, and although a religious man himself, he nevertheless influenced youngsters in the spirit of the Jewish Enlightenment.  His first published religious works were: Ḥanukat haḥashmonaim (Maccabees’ Hanukkah), adapted from various sources (Warsaw, 1864), 48 pp.; and Paḥ hashemen (The jug of oil) (Warsaw, 1866), 48 pp.—both written in Hebrew with a Yiddish commentary.  In both of these volumes he also published his own first proverbs in stylized Yiddish, which later, with a greater many more of them, appeared in a number of holiday prayer books published in 1870s and 1880s in Warsaw.  These were the proverbs known as “Proverbs of Jacob” and “Star of Jacob.”  He was also the author of Mishley oves (Proverbs of the fathers), “Ethics of the Fathers” with a homiletic Yiddish translation (Warsaw, 1872), 102 pp.; Midrash pelia (The midrash of Peliah) (Warsaw, 1895), 184 pp.; Vehaya mishna (Warsaw, 1876), 64 pp.; Am lemikra velemasoret (People of the text and tradition) (Warsaw, 1882), 96 pp.; Binat nevonim (Understanding of the sagacious) (Warsaw, 1885), 120 pp.; Sefer matamim (Book of delicacies) (Warsaw, 1889), 144 pp.; Shivḥe kneset yisrael (Praise for the congregation of Israel) (Warsaw, 1890), 290 pp., in Hebrew-Aramaic and Yiddish; Sukot shalom (Tabernacles of peace) (Warsaw, 1891), 108 pp., explanation in stylized Yiddish of the prayers and customs of Sukkot, the “ushpizim” [guests], and some of the religious laws); Sefer matamim heḥadash (New book of delicacies) (Warsaw, 1894), 108 pp.; Lekhay oylem (To the life of the world) (Warsaw, 1900), 162 pp., a shortened version in Yiddish of Maavar yabok (Fording of the Yabok); Meein haberakha (From the fountain of blessing) (Pyotrkov, 1911), many other editions as well.  He also published (either without the name of the author or under the pen name Y. M’s) prayers in Yiddish primarily for women, among others: Di tkhine fun resh khoydesh benshin (The prayer for the new month); and Tkhine tsu di heylige teg (The prayer for the holy days) (Warsaw, 1872), 13 pp.  He translated into stylized Yiddish Gedulat moshe (The greatness of Moses [Gedules moyshe]) in verse (Warsaw, 1876) and Di mesholim fun dubner magid (The proverbs of the Dubner preacher) (Lublin, 1893), 138 pp.  For many years he contributed work to: Hamagid (The preacher), Hamelits (The advocate), and Kol mevaser (Herald), among others.  He published correspondence pieces from Shedlets, poetry, puzzles, and liturgical poems (under such pen names as: Yitskhok, M’s, and Y’mishedlets).  He was dubbed in his town “the raffleman,” because to everyone to whom he sold a book he would also give a ticket which might win something valuable.  He thus procured buyers and also readers for his little library.  He died in Shedlets.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Bet eked sefarim; Y. Goldberg, in Tsum 25 yorikn yubiley fun der biblyotek bay der gezelshaft yidishe kunst in shedlets (On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the library of the society of Jewish art in Shedlets) (Shedlets, 1926), pp. 20-22; Goldberg, in Sefer shedlets (Shedlets volume) (Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 582-84; Y. Kaspi, in Sefer shedlets, pp. 56, 74-76; information from Y. H. Fishman in New York.
Khayim Leyb Fuks


ELYE (ELIAS) LIPINER (February 23, 1916-April 26, 1998)
            He was born in Khotin (Khotyn), Bessarabia.  He studied with his father, an itinerant elementary school teacher, and with other such teachers, and he studied secular subjects as well.  While young he worked in a publishing house.  He made his way to Brazil in 1935, where a sister of his was living.  For a time he worked as a peddler but he had no success with it.  He went on to serve as editor of San pauler yidishe tsaytung (São Paolo Yiddish newspaper).  He then became a teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew at the school “Hateḥiya” (The revival).  When the government of Getúlio Vargas published a decree that teachers at Jewish schools had to possess a diploma from a general middle school, Lipiner learned Portuguese and passed the examination.  In 1941 his book Oysyes dertseyln (The letters explain) appeared with the subtitle: “Vor un legende in der geshikhte fun yidishn alef-beys” (Reality and legend in the history of the Jewish alphabet) (São Paolo, 119 pp., with drawings by Lazar Segal), an overview of the history of square script, its origins, development, symbolic meaning, the legends around the letters according to the Kabbala and Talmud, and more.  Expanded and deepened, it was reprinted under the title Di geshikhte fun a fargetert ksav (The history of an idolized writing) (Buenos Aires: YIVO, 1956), 331 pp.  Around 1944 when Yiddish was forbidden in Brazil, for a time he was the unofficial editor of the Portuguese Jewish weekly (Where will we go).  He also wrote for the journal Ineynem (Altogether) in Buenos Aires, a publication of the Culture Congress, and elsewhere.  He studied law in Rio de Janeiro and graduated as a lawyer.  After acquiring a thorough knowledge of Old Portuguese, he began researching Old Portuguese documents concerning Jews in Portugal and Brazil in the past, and the result was a book: Bay di taykhn fun portugal (By the rivers of Portugal) (Buenos Aires: YIVO, 1949), 331 pp., a rare contribution to Yiddish literature and to Jewish cultural and historical research.  “Elye Lipiner,” wrote Dr. Shimen Bernshteyn, “has enriched us with a gift, which will again warm the hearts of the Jewish research and reader….  With his scholarly erudition, with his lovely, fluid Yiddish, and fine, literary style, and with his rich bibliography and his numerous notes, he has presented us with a text that is truth, crisp and clean.”  This work was awarded the Louis Lamed Prize for 1949.  In 1950 Lipiner founded in São Paolo the newspaper Der nayer moment (The new moment), published at first twice weekly and later as a weekly, for which he served (1950-1952) as editor.  He also contributed the essay, “Yidn in brazil” (Jews in Brazil) for the Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), Yidn 5 (pp. 385-98), was a contributor to the publications of YIVO in Argentina, and contributed a piece in the collection Undzer baytrog (Our contribution) (Rio de Janeiro, 1956).  By 1968 he was living in Israel, and in 1969 he graduated as a lawyer in Israel as well.  He published works of research in: Bay zikh (On one’s own), Goldene keyt (Golden chain), and Gesher (Bridge), among others, in Israel.  His books include: Ideologye fun yidishn alef-beys (The ideology of the Jewish alphabet) (Buenos Aires: YIVO, 1967), 596 pp.; Tsvishn maranentum un shmad (Between Marrano-hood and conversion to Christianity) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1973), 491 pp.  In Portuguese: Breve história dos judeus no Brasil (Short history of the Jews in Brazil) (Rio de Janeiro, 1962), 151 pp.; Os judaizantes nas capitanias de Cima (On Judaizers in the captaincies of Cima) (São Paolo, 1969), 223 pp.; Santa Inquisição, terror e linguagem (Holy Inquisition, terror and language) (Rio de Janeiro, 1977), 147 pp.; O tempo dos Judeus, segundo as Ordenações do Reino (The epoch of the Jews according to the king’s decrees) (São Paolo, 1982), 248 pp.; Gaspar da Gama, um converso na frota de Cabral (Gaspar da Gama, a convert in Cabral’s fleet) (Rio de Janeiro, 1987), 276 pp.; Izaque de Castro, o mancebo que veio preso do Brasil (Izaque de Castro, the young man who came to Brazil) (Recife, 1992), 321 pp.; As Letras Do Alfabeto Na Criacao Do Mundo : Contribuicao e pesquisa da natureza la linguagem (The letters of the alphabet in the creation of the world, contribution and research on the nature of language) (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), 133 pp.; O sapateiro de Trancoso e o alfaiate de Setúbal (The shoemaker of Trancoso and the tailor of Setúbal) (Rio de Janeiro, 1993), 363 pp.; Gonçalo Anes Bandarra e os cristãos-novos (Gonçalo Anes Bandarra and the New Christians) (Trancoso and Lisbon, 1996), 245 pp.; Two Portuguese Exiles in Castile: Dom David Negro and Dom Isaac Abravanel, translated from Portuguese by Menahem Pariente (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1997), 173 pp.; Os baptizados em pé, estudos acerca da origem e da luta dos Cristãos-novos em Portugal (The baptized on foot, studies on the origin and struggle of New Christians in Portugal) (Lisbon, 1998), 492 pp.  And, a posthumous Festschrift: Em nome da fé, estudos in memoriam de Elias Lipiner (In the name of faith, studies in memory of Elias Lipiner), eds. Nachman Falbel, Avraham Milgram, and Alberto Dines (São Paolo, 1999), 279 pp.  He was a recipient of the Manger Prize.  He died in Israel.

Sources: Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York, 1942); Dr. Shimen Bernshteyn, in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1950); M. Kutshinski, in Argentiner yivo-shriftn (Buenos Aires) 3 (1945); Kutshinski, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (November 1950); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (August 12, 1949); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence), vol. 1 (New York, 1960), pp. 158-64; Dr. Y. Shatski, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 35 (1951), pp. 252-59; Y. Rayzman, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (September 26, 1952); D. Segal and Y. Varshavski (Y. Bashevis), in Forverts (New York) (October 23, 1957; February 23, 1958); A. Oyerbakh, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 30, 1959); A. Glants, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (August 3, 1960).
Zaynvl Diamant

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 336-37.]

Monday, 24 April 2017


NOKHUM LIPOVSKI (1874-December 24, 1928)
            He was born in Nyesvizh (Niasviž), Byelorussia.  He attended Vilna Talmud-Torahs and yeshivas.  After acquiring secular subject matter, he left for Moscow, and he studied in the drama course of the Philharmonia and later became an extra at the “Little Theater” in Moscow.  In 1891 he became a member of a wandering Yiddish theater troupe, later becoming a Russian actor.  In 1904 he departed for Germany, initially an auditor at Darmstadt’s polytechnicum where through experimentation he developed his phenomenal memory and made stage appearances demonstrating his feats.  After returning to Russia, he organized the Vilna “Jewish People’s Theater” which continued in existence until WWI.  After the war he was a member of the diplomatic corps of independent Lithuania.  He worked out a plan for a perpetual calendar—his calendar for 200 years, 1826-2025, was published in the illustrated supplement to the Forverts (Forward) in New York (December 28, 1924).  He appeared with his phenomenal memory experiments in a string of European and American universities.  In 1924 he restarted the Vilna “Jewish People’s Theater.”  He often translated plays from other languages into Yiddish.  In separate publications, he brought out the one-act plays: Zi hot bazigt (She conquered), Di damen-shpilke (The ladies’ needle), Der damen-shnayder (The women’s tailor), An advokat af a halbe sho (A lawyer for half an hour), and Mit a gelegnheyt (With an opportunity)—all published in Vilna, no dates of publication given.  He died in Vilna.

Sources: Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), p. 228.
Yankev Kahan


SHAYE LIPOVSKI (1874-August 1942)
            He was born in Mohilev (Mogilev), Byelorussia.  In his youth he moved with his parents to a village near Warsaw.  He attended religious primary school, later turning his attention to self-study.  He served in the Tsarist army, became ill with tuberculosis, went to treat it at a foreign sanitarium, and at the same time continued his studies and received his doctoral degree in economic science from the University of Berne in Switzerland.  From late 1913 he was living in Warsaw, and he was active in the Bund, in the society to combat illiteracy, and later in Tsisho (Central Jewish School Organization).  In 1916 he began contributing work to the Bundist Lebens-fragen (Life issues) in Warsaw.  In the anthology Karl marks (Karl Marx) (Warsaw, 1918), he published two pieces entitled “Karl marks als ekonomist” (Karl Marx as economist) and “Di geshikhte-filosofye fun karl marks” (The philosophy of history of Karl Marx).  He also placed work in the collections of Unzer shtime (Our voice) (Warsaw, August-November 1918) and in the yearbooks Arbeter-luekh (Workers’ calendar) (Warsaw, 1920-1926).  Lipovski was the main statistician in carrying out the Joint Distribution Committee’s questionnaire about Jewish industry in Poland in 1921—the work resulting from the questionnaire was published in three volumes: Yidishe industryele unternemungen in poyln (Jewish industrial undertakings in Poland) (Warsaw, 1922-1924).  He also was a regular contributor to: Virtshaft un lebn (Economy and life) (1920-1931) and Bleter far yidisher demografye, statistik un ekonomye (Jewish demography, statistics, and economics) (1923-1925)—both in Berlin; Di kooperative bavegung (The cooperative movement) (1928-1939), Folks-hilf (People’s aid) (1931-1939), and Dos virtshaftlekhe lebn (The economic life) (1934-1935)—all in Warsaw; and Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) (1934-1939) and Di yidishe ekonomye (The Jewish economy) (1937-1939)—both in Vilna; among others.  In the Warsaw Ghetto he carried out various studies for the Joint concerning Jewish life in the ghetto, among them the refugees who wandered from villages to Warsaw during the German occupation.  He was also among the leadership of the Jewish underground cultural club known by the acronym “YIKOR” in the ghetto.  At the end of July 1942, he was taken to Treblinka and murdered there.  As Dr. E. Ringelblum wrote, Dr. Lipovski “left behind him in the ghetto an entire series of scholarly writings in the field of the Jewish economy in Poland.”  Unfortunately, these writings were not found.  He also wrote under such pen names as: A. Lindeman and A Zokn.

Sources: Yivo-bleter (New York) 26.1 (1945); A. Bloshteyn, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (January-February 1947); H. Vaser, in Dos naye lebn (Lodz) (August 4, 1947); Dr. E. Ringelblum, Notitsn fun varshever geto (Notices from the Warsaw Ghetto) (Warsaw, 1952), pp. 308, 313, 314; Y. Sh. Herts, ed., Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 2 (New York, 1956), pp. 70, 72; Khayim Leyb Fuks, biography of Leyzer Heler, in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 3: http://yleksikon.blogspot.ca/2016/03/leyzer-heler.html
Khayim Leyb Fuks


WILLIAM B. LIF (1872-December 14, 1938)
            He was born in a town near Vilna, Lithuania.  He came to the United States as a young boy.  He studied in a high school and was later active in the Jewish labor movement in New York.  He was a cofounder of the Forverts (Forward) in 1897 and of Louis Miller’s Di varheyt (The truth) in 1907, in which he began his journalistic activities.  In 1912 he settled in Philadelphia and was active in Jewish public schools of the Jewish National Labor Alliance.  During and after WWI, he worked in aid relief in Philadelphia and in the local division of the American Jewish Congress.  From 1914 he was an internal contributor and for a time also editor of Di idishe velt (The Jewish world) in Philadelphia.  He died in Philadelphia.

Sources: Di yidishe velt (Philadelphia) (December 14, 1938; December 15, 1938); Forverts (New York) (December 15, 1938); Y. Khaykin, Yidishe bleter in amerike (Yiddish newspapers in America) (New York, 1946), p. 125; American Jewish Yearbook (5700 [1939]), p. 426.
Khayim Leyb Fuks


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 (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.