KHAYIM GRINBERG (HAYIM GREENBERG) (January 1, 1889-March 14, 1953)
He was born in the village of Todoreshti, northern Bessarabia. His father Yitskhok-Meyer, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and an early Zionist, supported himself as a wholesale dealer in grains, and from time to time he wrote for Hamelits (The advocate) and other Hebrew-language publications. At the age of three, he moved with his parents to Călărași (Kalarash), a small town near Kishinev. He studied with private teachers and tutors. He mastered Hebrew and Russian on his own, and at age ten he was assisting in court where he would sign various official documents for the illiterate. He read and studied a great deal, became well versed in ancient and modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and diligently studied Russian literature. In his early youth, he became captivated by Zionism and libertarian socialism. He was the initiator and founder of the Zionist part “Altnayland” (Old-new land) in Călărași and the neighboring towns and villages. He traveled around giving speeches on Hebrew literature and Jewish history. His talks attracted large audiences everywhere, were heard with bated breath, and created adherents for the ideas that he was popularizing. In 1902 he enrolled in the Kishinev commercial school. However, due to his presuming to improve his professor’s Russian, he had to leave the school after several months, and he then continued his auto-didacticism with even greater zeal. Over the years 1903-1904, he began to write poems in Russian, and he published them in the Russian newspapers in Kishinev. In 1903 he was sent as a correspondent for the daily newspaper Odesskaya novosti (Odessa news) to the sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and as such he was the youngest among the correspondents, a mere fourteen years of age. In 1906 he was a delegate from the “Tseire-Tsiyon” (Young Zionists) to the Helsinki Conference of Russian Zionists. Over the years 1910-1911, he was living in Odessa. There he worked as an official for the Zionist committee. The young Grinberg wrote a great deal, in Hebrew and in Russian, and he contributed to Rassvet (Dawn) and Yevreiskaya zhizn’ (Jewish life), of which he was a co-editor. In addition, he traveled widely through the Jewish communities in Russia, gave speeches, and assisted in the organization of Hebrew schools and kindergartens. His speeches attracted a great number of Russian-speaking students and semi-assimilated Russian Jewish intellectuals. He translated for them Bialik’s Halakha veagada (Jewish law and legend) and Aḥad Haam’s writings, read them aloud and interpreted them, and thus won from among them a large number of followers of the Zionist idea and for modern Hebrew literature. In 1912 he began publishing his own literary critical essays in Haolam (The world). Later in Heatid (The future) he carried on theoretical debates with David Naymark and Aharon Kaminka concerning problems of Jewish existence. He lived in Moscow over the years 1915-1918, served as a co-editor of Rassvet and published his own writings in it, traveled and gave lectures in the most important of Jewish communities, and before as well as during the revolution in Russia he took the lead in Zionist and Hebrew cultural activities. He was a co-editor and published works in Haam (The people) in Moscow, and he edited together with Leyb Yofe publications for Sifrut Publishers. At this time, he acquired several languages, became engrossed in various religious philosophies, and prepared a volume of essays on Greek tragedy. This book ought to have been published by the Kiev cooperative publishing house of “Hasefer haivri” (The Hebrew book), which was founded during the Russian Revolution, but due to political circumstances it did not appear in print, and he used some of the collected material in it for subsequent works.
During the persecutions of Zionism and Hebrew in 1919, Grinberg led a tough fight for the rights of the Hebrew language, and he strongly stood up for the Moscow Hebrew art theater Habima. He composed a memorandum on this issue, got the signatures of Maxim Gorky and Anatoly Lunacharsky, and strove to also get the signatures of Romain Rolland and Anatole France. After sharp decrees and the extinction of the Hebrew Center in Moscow, he and his colleagues departed for Kiev. He gave speeches in the Institute for Jewish Learning in Kiev. He also lectured in Kharkov and other important Ukrainian Jewish centers. On several occasions, he was investigated by the Cheka [Soviet secret police] concerning his Zionist and Hebrew activities, and he had to suffer persecution by the “Yevsektsye” (Soviet Jewish section) which demanded of him and his associates that they sign an obligation to cease engaging in Zionist or Hebrew activities in future. Then and there, he and his colleagues held a short consultation and indicated that, in the interest of saving lives, they had to sign, but that on principle one of the group should decline, and Grinberg volunteered to be that one. The group, though, would not consent to this. Meanwhile they reached out to the president of Ukraine to intervene in Moscow, and he and his group were narrowly saved. In 1921 he left Russia and settled in Kishinev, Bessarabia, which was at the time under Romanian control. He quickly became an eminent figure there with his speeches in Yiddish. Together with Yoysef Shprintsak, he accomplished a great deal in forming and theoretically grounding the Young Zionists’ movement. He was enticed from Kishinev by the movement to move to Berlin where the leading Jewish personalities who had escaped from Russia were concentrated. There he stood at the head of Zionist cultural activities, and he became editor of Haolam and of the monthly Atidenu (Our future), and in them he published his essays and gave rise to immense admiration for his speeches, which he gave in German. He spent the period from December 1921 until June 1922 in Warsaw, and there he became acquainted with Jewish life in the new Polish Republic. When he returned to Berlin, he and Khayim Odlozarov indefatigably worked to build a Hebrew center. They planned to build schools, to found teachers’ seminaries, to establish a publishing house, to publish textbooks, and to organize a Hebrew educational system in the countries of postwar Europe. In order to collect the necessary funds to establish this, Grinberg and Dr. Yehoshua Thon were selected to comprise a delegation to the United States, and on November 10, 1924 he arrived in New York with his wife and only son. Upon his arrival, Dr. Thon, who had come earlier, prepared a report on the slender prospect of success in carrying out their assignment. Grinberg became extremely depressed by this report. He and his family members settled down with his wife’s family on New York’s East Side and made a number of further attempts, but because of the lack of success in his mission, as well as the arrival of bad news from Germany about the ever-growing anti-Semitism, he became a resident of the United States. He joined the leadership of the Young Zionist party and in 1923 became editor of its organ, Farn folk (For the people) in New York. He also began contributing to Hadoar (The mail) in New York. The party organized for him a series of lectures on literature, philosophy, and Jewish history. They also organized annual “Hayim Greenberg Evenings” which on every occasion marked a major event for the New York Jewish cultural world. The Hayim Greenberg Evening in 1926 reached the height of success. The theme for that evening was “Jewish Culture in America.” Aside from Grinberg, Ḥ. N. Bialik, Shmaryahu Levin, and Henrietta Szold also participated in the symposium. In 1932 he became editor of the organ of the Labor Zionists—which had united with the Young Zionists—the weekly Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), of which he remained editor until the end of his life. He brought to this weekly newspaper much significance and prestige. Gradually emerging from the narrow party framework, he elevated it to an open, educational tribune, and to a literary weekly of high quality. As such, Grinberg evolved with American Jewish culture and journalism, and although he did continue writing in Hebrew, he was a rare guest in Hebrew publications. He became the spiritual leader of the American Zionists workers’ movement and took part in its conferences. In 1934 he took over editorship of the English-language Zionist socialist organ, Jewish Frontier, and he edited it until the end of his life. He made a significant contribution in both his editorial work and with the essays he published toward popularizing the Jewish idea among American Jews in the language of their country. His personality and prestige grew enormously in his final years both in the Zionist world and in American Jewish life. The Yiddish language became the instrument with which he created his masterly, artistic essays. He gave his lectures in Yiddish, his incomparable speeches, and he fought for it and defended it everywhere it was endangered. In 1933 he came out publicly and strongly against the decision of the Histadruth in Israel that those who had made aliya should, after two years in Israel, no longer use Yiddish openly in public. He pointed out the harm of this decision and energetically demanded that Yiddish be taught in schools in Israel. Later, on September 4, 1951, at the founding of the Yiddish chair at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Grinberg gave one of his wittiest of speeches. Among other things, he said: “Yiddish weeping for her children [like Rachel, Jeremiah 31:15]—Yiddish mourns the annihilation of millions of her sons and daughters, the destruction of her heirs and bearers. But not for long, as she will again become a virtuous heroine over an entire empire. Without a kingdom and the powers of a state, she ruled over millions of men, women, and children. Native-born Israelis (Yisroel-sabra) must absorb themselves in the spiritual values of the Jewish people (Yisroel-saba), and the Yiddish language is one of the jewels in the martyr’s crown of the Jewish people.”
At the twenty-second Zionist Congress in 1946 in Basel, Grinberg was elected to the executive of the Jewish Agency. In 1947 he played an important diplomatic role on behalf of the creation of the Jewish state: he influenced representatives from the countries of Central America (within the United Nations) to support the establishment of a Jewish state. After the emergence of the state of Israel, he was an ardent proponent of national Jewish cultural work in the Diaspora. He was a consultant to Ben-Gurion in matters concerning relations between the state of Israel and Jews throughout the world. At the Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1951, Grinberg gave an important speech in Yiddish about the role of Zionism after the creation of the state of Israel. He headed the Culture Department in the Jewish Agency, and he ran the Hebrew teachers’ seminary in New York. He introduced Oneg-Shabbat events, which became the meeting point for New York Jewish intellectuals. He gave speeches before American Conservative and Reform rabbis, and he received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1950 he was invited to Mexico to consult on the establishment of a Jewish humanities faculty to be recognized by the central state university. Grinberg’s opinion was decisive, and during the solemn ceremony he laid the cornerstone. He was also a member of the director’s council of the Jewish Scientific Institute, or YIVO. In 1952 he returned a sick man from a series of Zionist action committees in Jerusalem, and he was unable to deliver a pre-announced lecture at a Labor Zionist conference; he was only able to take part in the concluding session. In order to bring him some well-deserved pleasure, his friends and admirers assembled his essays which were spread across many periodicals with the aim of publishing them in several volumes. Grinberg kept a vigil from his sickbed over this project, selecting and arranging the materials, and reading the proofs. He did not, though, live to see the works in print in book form. He died in New York.
Grinberg’s passing summoned enormous grief throughout the Jewish world. In his will he requested that no speeches be given during his funeral and that only a religious, musical ceremony be held. He stated precisely which verses of Psalms were to be read and what from secular literature was to be recited, either in the original or in Yiddish translation: his beloved poem by Lermontov, “Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu” (I go out on the road alone) (Yiddish, “Ikh gey aroys afn veg eyner aleyn”). Among his published books: Kultur-problemen fun der amerikaner idntum (Cultural issues for American Jewry) (New York, 1930), 48 pp.; Revizyonistn, linke poyle-tsien, mizrakhi: ṿos ṿiln zey? simpozyom gehaltn in nyu york (Revisionists, left Labor Zionists, Mizrachi: what do they want?—from a symposium held in New York) (New York, 1934), 20 pp.; Der reporṭ fun der anglo-amerikaner komisye, an analiz (The report of the Anglo-American Commission, an analysis) (New York, 1946), 36 pp. The essay volumes: Mentshn un vertn (People and values) (New York, 1953), 261 pp. (Buenos Aires: Kiem, 1961), 276 pp.; Id un velt (Jew and world) (New York, 1953), 363 pp.; Bletlekh fun a tog-bukh (Pages from a diary) (New York, 1954), 383 pp., (Buenos Aires: Kiem, 1962), 296 pp. Offprint publications: Komunizm un tsienizm (Communism and Zionism), 8 pp.; Dos land-problem in yisroel (The land issue in Israel) (New York, 1950), 7 pp. In Hebrew: Ḥinukh vetarbut bagola (Education and culture in the Diaspora) (Jerusalem, 195?). In English: Jewish Culture and Education in the Diaspora (New York, 1951), 19 pp.; The Inner Eye (New York, 1953), 393 pp. Together with Yoysef Shprintsak: Revisionists and Mizrachi (Milwaukee, 1934), 16 pp. In Spanish: Hombres e Ideas (Men and ideas) (Buenos Aires, 1954), 254 pp. Greenberg also wrote an introduction to Y. Y. Shvarts’s translation of Bialik’s Shriftn (Writings) (Detroit, 1946), 314 pp. And, prefaces to: L. Shpizman’s book, Di yidn in natsi-poyln (The Jews in Nazi Poland) (New York, 1942); A fertl-yorhundert histadrut (A quarter century of the Histadrut), ed. Shpizman (New York, 1946); and A. Revutski, Idn in erts-yisroel (Jews in the Land of Israel), translated from English with an added appendix by L. Shpizman (New York, 1946). Grinberg’s essays were published in the original and in translation in a great number of newspapers, journals, and serial publications. In honor of his memory, a special publication of Megilot (Scrolls) (Jerusalem-New York) appeared in print in March 1954, of Yidisher kemfer, and of Jewish Frontier. There is also Y. Yeshurin’s “A biblyografye, oprufn afn toyt fun khayim grinberg” (A bibliography, reactions to the passing of Hayim Greenberg) which appeared in Yidisher kemfer (New York) 2 (April 1954). In 1957-1958 his Hebrew writings were published in Israel.
Sources: K. Vaytman, Sefer hayovel shel hadoar (Jubilee volume of Hadoar) (New York, 1926); P. Vyernik, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 20, 1932); Yidisher natsyonaler arbeter-farband (Jewish National Workers Alliance), anthology (New York, 1946); Y. Yefroykin, in Shriftn (Buenos Aires) (November-December 1946); A. Gordin, Eseyen (Essays) (New York, 1951), pp. 49-56; Gordin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (August 14, 1953); Gordin, in Hadoar (New York) (November 20, 1953); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Tsukunft (New York) (May-June 1953); Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (June 12 and 19, 1953); Glatshteyn, in Tog (New York) (April 2, 1954); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1956), pp. 231-54; N. Sumer, Mentsh un vort (Man and word) (New York, 1950); Dr. Y. N. Shtaynberg, Af eyn fus in amerike (On one foot in America) (Mexico, 1951); S. Kahan, Khayim grinbergs gaystike farvandshaftn (Hayim Greenberg’s spiritual relationships) (Mexico, 1943), 31 pp.; Kahan, in Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York) 462 (1953); D. Rebelski, in Idisher kemfer (April 17 and May 22, 1953; April 2, 1954); Shmuel Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 11, 1953; July 25, 1954; June 12, 1955); A. Menes, in Idisher kemfer (April 17, 1953); Menes, in Forverts (New York) (May 30, 1953); L. Shpizman, in Idisher kemfer (April 17, 1953); A. Glants, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (March 22, 1953); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Idisher kemfer (March 20, 1953); Bikl, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 1956); M Shtrigler, Idisher kemfer (April 17, 1953; January 29, 1954); A. Oyerbakh, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (March 16, 1953); Oyerbakh, in Idisher kemfer (March 27, 1953; March 25, 1955); D. Pinski, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 4, 1953); A. Mukdoni, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (September 1953); Mukdoni, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 20 (1954); Dan Pins, in Sefer hashana shel haitonaim (The annual of newspapers) (Tel Aviv, 1951), p. 234; Moyshe Shtarkman, in Yorbukh fun semeteri-department fun arbeter-ring (Annual of the Cemetery Department of the Workmen’s Circle) (1954); H. Abramovitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 5, 1954); A. S. Lirik, in Di goldene keyt 20 (1954); P. Ḥurgin, in Bitsaron (New York) (March-May 1953); Noaḥ Tamir, in Bitsaron (March-April, 1954); V. Grosman, Amol un haynt (Then and now) (Paris, 1956), p. 182; Z. Shazar, in Davar (Tel Aviv) (April 10, 1953); Shazar, Or ishim (Light of personalities) (Tel Aviv, 1955); Avraham Granot, in Molad (Tel Aviv) (March-April 1955); Granot, Ishim beyisrael (People in Israel) (Tel Aviv, 1956); Y. Botoshanski, in Di goldene keyt 24 (1956); B. Tsukerman, in Ḥeshbon (Los Angeles) (October 1956); Mordechai M. Kaplan, in Idisher kemfer (March 1, 1957); Sh. M. Blumenfild, in Idisher kemfer (December 20, 1957); A. Y. Golani, “Mizikhronoto shel a. y. golani” (From the memoirs of A. Y. Golani), Hapoel hatsair (December 17, 1957); Dan Pins, in Sefer hashana shel haitonaim (Tel Aviv, 1956); Y. Fikhman, in Davar (February 22, 1957); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (March 16, 1958); Sh. Halevi, in Hapoel hatsair (December 30, 1957).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 179.]