DOVID GRINBERG (1852-July 22, 1917)
The adopted name of Dovid Zahik, he was born in Slavita, Volhynia. He descended from a Hassidic family. He received a rigorous, traditional Jewish education. He was later captivated by the Jewish Enlightenment and studied in the Zhitomir rabbinical school. He worked as a teacher of Russian and Hebrew in Kishinev and in Alt-Kosntin (Kostyantyniv). He lived in Kishinev for about four years. One of his students there was later the Enlightenment figure Zef, who would play a role in New York as a religious, political, and community leader. Using his real name, Dovid Zahik, he wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian while in Russia, and he published an Enlightenment-inspired play entitled Di roze tsvishn derner (The rose amid thorns), “one theatrical piece in four acts, composed by Dovid Zahik.” This play was censured in Kiev in 1883, and it was published in Petrikov in 1884. According to Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, the play was never staged. Due to political concerns, in 1885 Grinberg-Zahik had to leave Russia and emigrate to the United States. He settled in Cincinnati, Ohio and there became a peddler of eyeglasses. Like a number of other writers from the immigrant generation, he stood firmly with the labor movement. Together with Dovid Edelshtat, Dr. Hillel Zolotorov, and others, he founded there the “Apikursisher krayz” (Heretical circle). He changed his name to Grinberg and under this name—as well as the pseudonym “David ben Yishai”—he published poems, stories, and articles in: Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world) and Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) in New York; Folks-fraynd (Friend of the people) in Pittsburgh; Yontef bleter (Holidays leaves) in Minsk; Der folks vekhter (The people’s watch) in Philadelphia, as well as others. In the spirit and style of that era, he portrayed in his poetry and prose in dark colors the “false, desolate world” and the “diabolical in human form.” While he was conducting a bitter struggle against Rav Hakolel, R. Yankev-Yoysef (Yaakov Yosef), he excelled in his venomous parodies and satires, in both Hebrew and Yiddish, against the rabbi and his followers. In the 1880s he was ideologically a socialist anarchist, though he was more inclined toward the “heresy” that the movement idealized vis-à-vis anarchism itself. He was a major adherent of Morris Rozenfeld and his social poetry. When Rozenfeld ceased writing about the condition of sweatshop laborers, Grinberg enjoined him to return to the theme of labor. Gradually, though, a change transpired in Grinberg’s political thinking. He became enamored of Ḥibat-tsiyon (Love of Zion, early Zionist movement). He published in Folk-fraynd (edited by Y. Z. Glik) a series of poems of Zion, and they were later published in a collection entitled Di yudishe harfe (The Jewish harp) (Pittsburgh, 1897). He later became a political Zionist and a founder of the Zionist Organization in Cincinnati. This exerted an influence on his literary work so broadly that in 1906 he sent his poems to Kalmen Marmor, and in the afterword he explained that, although he was a Zionist, he was completely in sympathy with socialism. Given the tone of these poems, however, Marmor recommended them to the Orthodox conservative Tageblat (Daily newspaper). According to a number of sources, he was also advised to publish his stories in book form, but no one has provided any bibliographic information to substantiate this claim. A controversy concerning his play Di roze tsvishn derner was carried on by Y. Dobrushin and Zalmen Reyzen. To Dobrushin’s assumption that “while writing his play, Dovid Zahik had never, it seems, actually seen a theatrical stage with his own eyes,” Reyzen replied: “It is implausible that a student from the Zhitomir rabbinical school, a teacher in Kishinev, and a contributor to Russian newspapers would never have actually seen a theater.” His play has been adjudged by all scholars to be a work belonging to an older Yiddish dramatical era, which described Jewish living conditions, contained ethnographic details, and seethed with the Yiddish language of the people. Grinberg suffered paralysis and died in Cincinnati.
Sources: Ben-Tsion Moshe Ayzenshtat, Ḥakhme yisrael beamerika (Wise Jewish men in the United States) (New York, 1903), p. 30; M. Basin, Antologye, 500 yor yidishe poezye (Anthology, 500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1917), p. 227 (under the name “D. Grinberg Ben-Yishai); Y. Dobrushin, in Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 2-3 (1928); Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (Vilna, 1928); Reyzen, in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive of the history of Yiddish theater and drama) (Vilna-New York) 1 (1930); D. B. Tirkel, in Pinkes, (1927-1928) (New York: YIVO, 1928); Y. Sh. (Dr. Y. Shatski) and Dr. Y. Davidzon, in (Pinkes, 1927-1928); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1 (1931), under “Dovid Zahik”; Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (August 1940); K. Marmor, Der onhoyb fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (The beginning of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1944), see index; Marmor, Dovid edelshtat (Dovid Edelshtat) (New York, 1950), see index.