DOVID GOLDBLAT (DAVID GOLDBLATT) (1866-December 10, 1945)
He was born in Radom, Poland. His father Ruvn died when he was only a few months old. His mother Khane-Nekhame descended from a Hassidic line (the name Dovid came from the rebbe of Shidlovits [Szydłowiec], R. Dovidl). He was raised under the supervision of R. Shmuel Mohilever, who was then the rabbi of Radom. As he grew up, he worked in various trades and devoted his evenings to studying. He lived for a time in Warsaw, later in Berlin and in London where, while studying at the British Museum, he came to know Pyotr Kropotkin, William Morris, Sergey Stepnyak-Kravchinsky, Eleanor Marx (Aveling), and other well-known revolutionaries. He would come to the Berner Street Club [International Working Men’s Educational Club] where he was inspired by Morris Wintchevsky. His first publication appeared in Arbayter fraynd (Worker’s friend) in London. In 1898 he left English for South Africa where he arrived in Cape Town just after General Jameson’s ambush at Johannesburg (early in the Boer War). In Cape Town he happened to meet the first pioneer of Yiddish printing and newspapers in South Africa, Nehemia Dov Hoffmann, who was publishing the Yiddish weekly Haor (The light) there and who also lured him to the newspaper. Goldblat did not work with Hoffmann for long, and in 1899—between October 16 and December 13—he himself brought out forty issues of Dos krigs shtafet (The war’s herald), the first Yiddish-language daily newspaper in South Africa. It was a small paper which only handled news of the war. He later worked with Hoffmann in jointly publishing the weekly Der telegraf (The telegraph). Between 1903 and 1906, together with the well-known Cape Town community leader and member of Parliament, the lawyer Morris Alexander, he led a courageous and stubborn campaign for public recognition of Yiddish as a European language. According to the South African immigration law of 1902, each immigrant when coming to the country (in the provinces of Cape Colony and Natal) had to sit for an examination in a European language; Goldblat fought so that Yiddish might be considered one such language, and thus Jewish immigrants would be able to enter the country. To this end, he (having already by this point written in English as well) published in 1905 the English pamphlet Yiddish, Is It a European Language?, with seven short but clear chapters (Cape Town, 23 pp., with a preface by Morris Alexander), and he succeeded in influencing the deputies in parliament who in 1906 decided that: (1) Yiddish was a European language; (2) Yiddish was an intellectual language; and (3) Yiddish was the language of the Jewish people. He described this battle and victory in the weekly Der yidisher advokat (The Jewish lawyer), which he had been publishing in Cape Town from 1904 and which he devotedly maintained until 1914. For his newspaper he brought the first linotype to South Africa from afar and taught a Gentile typesetter to operate the machine. Goldblat explained in his autobiography that he had affiliated his newspaper with the Bund in Geneva, and that through the newspaper he ran propaganda and collected money for the Bund. For a long period of time, he also worked with the Cape Town English-language newspaper Cape Argus and took an active role in the political life of the country.
In 1914 Goldblat left South Africa with the aim of coming to the United States to realize his lifelong interest of thirty years: publishing an encyclopedia in Yiddish. After having lived in Cape Town, he had already published the first twelve sections of the projected encyclopedia, and on the way to America he stopped off in England and in other Western European countries, where he carried out public relations for the encyclopedia and received the assent of the head British rabbi, Dr. Hertz, Dr. Moses Gaster, Dr. Ludwig Geiger, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Israel Zangwill, and others. Arriving in New York in 1916, he and Dr. K. Forenberg founded the Advanced Encyclopedia Corporation, and there published the Algemeyne ilustrirte enstiklopedye (General illustrated encyclopedia), “embracing all wings of Jewish and Gentile philosophy, art, science, literature, history, biography, geography, and popular knowledge of the entire world, at all times” (vol. 1, א-או: 1920, 1000 pp.; vol. 2, או-אי: 1923, 880 pp.). Not only did Goldblat compile these two volumes alone, but he also set the type by himself in the linotype. Despite the enormous amount of work invested in the encyclopedia, the two volumes emerged thinner in value (dilettantish approach, inaccuracies, poor use of language). The first volume had only just appeared in print when a sharp critique of it was articulated in the Jewish press—Goldblat answered with an unbridled pamphlet, entitled Eyn entfer tsu ale mayne kritiker (An answer to all of my critics) (New York, 1920, 15 pp.). Ultimately, Goldblat could do no more than attempt to publish subsequent volumes of the planned twenty-volume encyclopedia. At the time he was engaged in a heated polemic on behalf of Yiddish in the Yiddish- and English-language Jewish press in New York: a series of articles, “Tsu der farteydikung fun der idisher shprakh” (In defense of the Yiddish language), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter) in 1918; articles on behalf of Yiddish in The Jewish Tribune (July 1921 and late 1923), where he engaged in a polemic with Louis Marshall on Yiddish as a foundation of Jewish education; and an article in The Jewish Forum (April 1924), in which he, incidentally, depicted the struggle for Yiddish in South Africa. His book In kamf far der yidisher shprakh (In battle for the Yiddish language), “collected writings by Dovid Goldblat,” appeared (9 + 244 pp.) in New York in 1942. This volume included a collection of articles that he wrote between 1910 and 1925 in Yiddish and in English, and a short autobiography in which the author corrected many inaccuracies that had been published about him. In these same years he wrote two longer treatises in English: Is the Jewish Race Pure? (New York, 1933), 352 pp.; and The Jew and His Language Problem (New York, 1943), 202 pp. The latter volume consisted of nine chapters—such as: “Is Yiddish a Language?”; “Protecting the Yiddish Language”; “Why I Stick up for Yiddish”—with a preface by the writer Albert Eydlin-Tromer, Goldblat’s close friend, concerning Goldblat and his book.
In his last years, Goldblat became deeply interested in medicine. He even tried to practice it. His entire family remained in South Africa, where his son was a well-known lawyer, and his daughter a writer in English and in Afrikaans. He died in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (Vilna, 1926), columns 472-74 and 776 (see the biography for N. Hoffmann); Shiye-Leyb Radun, Zikhroynes, yohanesburg (Memoirs, Johannesburg) (South Africa, 1936); L. Feldman, Yidn in dorem-afrike (Jews in South Africa) (Johannesburg-Vilna, 1937), p. 67; M. Sh. Shklyarski, in Yorbukh (New York, 1942); obituary notice in Hadoar (New York) (December 14, 1945); “In der yidisher un hebreyisher literatur” (In Yiddish and Hebrew literature), Tsukunft (New York) (January 1946); Professor L. Y. Rabinovitsh, Rosh-hashone-yorbukh (Rosh Hashanah yearbook, 1949-1950) (Johannesburg) (September 1949).