BENEDIKT BEN-ZION (1839-ca. 1915)
He was born in Hornostapol (Gornostapol), Kiev region, Ukraine. All that we know of his youth is that he spent several years in Romania, that he subsequently moved to Germany, and that he converted to Christianity in Berlin in 1863. He later studied medicine and received his medical degree (1867) from Würtzburg University. He then left for England where he linked up with the British “Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews.” In 1874 the Society sent him as a missionary to Romania and from there in 1876 to Odessa where he spent ten years. He left Odessa in 1886, lived for a year in Constantinople, and in 1887 emigrated to the United States where he lived out the remaining years of his life. From 1888, one hears no more of his missionary activities. He was the author of Oraḥ tsedaka (Path of justice) (Odessa, 1876), 88 pp., which he wrote under the pen name “Ben-Tsvi”: a Hebrew-language work in the style of Ben Sira. He translated from English into Hebrew Kol kore el bet yisrael beerets tsefuna (Call to the house of Israel in the land to the north) (London, 1868), and from English to Yiddish he translated Joseph Holt Ingraham’s work, The Prince of the House of David, under the title Tiferes yisroel (The splendor of Israel), 3 vols. (Odessa, 1883-1886). He also translated into Yiddish the drama by Silvio Pellico entitled Ester d’Engaddi (Esther of En Gedi), which was staged in the Yiddish theater in New York under the title Ester fun en gedi oder der falsher koyen godl (Esther from Ed Gedi or the false High Priest), according to B. Gorin in 1881.
Gorin also lists subsequent theatrical pieces by Ben-Zion that were performed on the New York stage. In 1882: A familyen drama oder di falshe kdushn (A drama of families or the fake betrothal); Der groyser sod (The great secret); Der tsvek (The end cause), an adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe (in the published edition, it falsely attributes authorship to Moyshe Zilberman); Dos eyferzikhtike porfolk (The jealous couple), translated from German (again with authorship attributed to M. Zilberman); Di umtsufridene gliklekhe un di khalitse (The disgruntled happy one and the khalitse [woman released from levirate marriage]). In 1889, Der griner shuster oder der sailor in gefar (The new immigrant shoemaker or the sailer in danger). In 1884 his translation of Zhidovke was staged (according to Leon Blank). Aside from the aforementioned theatrical pieces, there is in the New York Public Library subsequently published works by Ben-Zion: Shoel hamelekh (King Saul), a drama in five acts, 60 pp. (Alexandria, Egypt, 1898); A farumgliktes auto-da-fé oder rivke di 18-yorike makhsheyfe (A ruined auto-da-fe or Rebecca the eighteen-year-old witch), a drama in five acts and twelves scenes (an adaptation of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe) (Odessa, 1882), 88 pp.; Flote burshen (Flotte Bursche [by Franz von Suppé]), an operetta in two acts , translated by Ben-Zion (incorrectly attributed to Zilberman) (Odessa, 1883); Lumpatsius vagabundus (Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus [The evil spirit of Lumpazivagabundus, by Johann Nestroy], a comedy in three acts, translated by Ben-Zion [misattributed to Mozes Zilberman] (Odessa, 1883), 65 pp.; Di umgliklikhe ehe (The unhappy husband [Die unglückliche Heurath, by Friedrich Ludwig Schöder] (New York), 98 pp.; Tsen madkhen und keyn man (Ten women and no men [Zehn Mädchen und kein Mann, by Franz von Suppé]), an operetta in two acts (Odessa [St. Petersburg?], 1883), 36 pp. In the library of YIVO in New York, one may find his Ester hamalke oder homens mapole (Queen Esther or Haman’s defeat) which was “a biblical historical drama in four acts and ten scenes, with songs and dancing,” adapted by Ben-Zion “in Odessa.” According to Zalmen Reyzen, Ben-Zion’s translation of Annie Webb-Peploe’s Naomi oder di letste deg fun yerusholaim (Naomi, or the Last Days of Jerusalem) was published in Berlin in 1905. He died in the United States (according to the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia) around 1915.
In connection with Ben-Zion’s theatrical activities, in his Odessa period it is worth mentioning the suspicion that it was he who betrayed Goldfaden’s theater to the Tsarist authorities in Russia. For details on this matter, see the letter from N. Pruzhanski in the weekly Voskhod (Sunrise) 8 (1905); and L. O. Tretsen, in Voskhod 12 (1905).
Sources: Jewish Encyclopedia (New York), vol. 3 (including a bibliography); B. Gorin, Di geshikhte fun yidishn teater (History of the Yiddish theater) (New York, 1918), vol. 2, p. 233; Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, pp. 326-27 (with bibliography); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Teater-leksikon (New York, 1931), vol. 1, p. 187 (with bibliography); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1940), p. 190 (with bibliography); Arkhiv fun der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archives from the history of the Yiddish theater and drama) (Vilna, 1930), vol. 1, p. 503; Johann F. A. de le Roi, Geschichte der evangelischen Judenmission (History of the evangelic mission to the Jews) (Leipzig, 1899), vol. 3, pp. 270-71; A. S. Freydus, Liste fun drames mit a shaykhes tsu yidn in der n”y poblic laibreri (List of dramas with a connection to Jews in the New York Public Library), in the YIVO library.