YOYSEF(-KHAYIM) HEFTMAN (July 16, 1888-January 17, 1955)
He was born in Brańsk, Grodno district. His father was a ritual slaughterer and religious judge in Brańsk. He studied in religious elementary school. At age ten he gained fame as a child prodigy. At age twelve he became interested in the Zionist movement in his town and published a correspondence piece on this for Hatsfira (The times). To protect him from the Jewish Enlightenment movement and heresy, his father sent him to stay with observant relatives in Brisk (Brest) where he initially studied in the local Talmud-Torah, later at the Green Synagogue with the renowned scholar and sage, R. Sholem-Menashe. In Brisk he became acquainted with Dr. Ksaveri Shteynberg—a popular doctor, community leader, and Russian-language writer—borrowed Russian and German books from his library to read, turned his attention to secular subject matter, and studied foreign languages. He also became familiar at this time with Yiddish literature, began writing in Yiddish, and translated several of Dr. Shteynberg’s plays from Russian into Yiddish. After his father’s death in 1905, he had to worry about making a living, and he became a teacher in the Jewish community. That year he published his first poem (in Hebrew) in Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah), and thereafter published many poems in Hashiloaḥ, edited then by H.-N. Bialik, the anthology Hatsair (The youth) in Bialystok (1905), Hatekufa (The epoch), and other Hebrew-language publications. In 1906 he returned to Brańsk. He was now widely known as a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, a writer, and a man knowledgeable of many languages. In 1909 he sat for the baccalaureate examinations as an external student at the Radom state senior high school. In 1910 when Hatsfira was restarted under the editorship of Nokhum Sokolov and Dovid Frishman, he became a regular contributor, and under the pen name “Yosippon,” he wrote a daily feature, also published stories, poems, and political articles, and served as the editor of foreign news and of the supplement Hatsfira leyeladim (The times for children). From late August 1912 until the summer of 1913, he edited the Jewish family magazine Di yudishe vokh (The Jewish week), where under the pseudonyms “Yoysef” and “R. Yuzfl” he wrote editorials and feature pieces, under the pseudonym “Ḥevroni” he translated from Russian A. I. Kuprin’s Shulamis (Shulamit), and under the pseudonym “Der zeyde” (Grandfather) he ran the children’s supplement “Farn kleynem oylem” (For the young audience). In 1912 he became a contributor to the Warsaw daily Moment (Moment), for which he wrote feature pieces and publicist articles until the outbreak of WWI—initially using the pen name “A mensh” (A man), later as “Emanuel”—and humorous poems (as “E-l”) for the supplement, “Der krumer shpigl” (The crooked mirror). He became one of the editors of the newspaper in 1915. During WWI he co-edited the weekly Hatsfira and contributed to the Zionist weekly Dos yudishe folk (The Jewish people), in which (1917-1918) he published a cycle of poems on biblical themes. He also placed pieces in Lebn un visnshaft (Life and science), Der shtral (The beam [of light]), Ilustrirte velt (Illustrated world), Tog-varhayt (Day-truth), and in the Israeli serials, Haarets (The land), Hator (The turtle-dove), and Hapoel hatsair (The young laborer) in which he later published his famed poem for pioneers, “Anu nihye harishonim” (We shall be the first). In 1917 he was one of the founders and later also the chairman of the Warsaw Jewish union of writers and journalists. With the rise of the independent Polish republic, Heftman developed broad, widespread Zionist activities; he was the founder of the pioneer movement in Poland, co-edited the weekly Heḥaluts (The pioneer) in Yiddish and Hebrew, founded a pioneer model-kibbutz in Grochów, near Warsaw, served as a delegate in 1920 from Heḥaluts to the Zionist conference in London, and from there traveled further on assignment to the founding of Histadrut (Israel’s trade union organization) in Haifa and to the unification of “Young Laborer” (Hapoel Hatsair) and Aḥdut haavoda (Union of labor) in the Land of Israel. He was also the Israel correspondent for Warsaw’s Moment and Hatsfira and New York’s Tog (Day). In 1921 he became the first secretary general of Vaad Haleumi (National Council [in Israel]), administered the mobilization of the Jewish gendarmerie, and authored the manifesto of Vaad Haleumi after the Jaffa pogrom. In late 1921 he returned to Warsaw, continued writing for Moment, as well as Radyo (Radio), founded with Shiye Gotlib and Leon Levite, the Zionist group “Et livnot” (A time to build), was a candidate for the Polish Sejm, and was elected councilman for the Warsaw Jewish community. In 1925 he became editor of the renewed Hebrew daily Hayom (Today), and later was editor of the renewed Hatsfira until its demise in 1930. Late in 1931 he became a co-editor of Moment.
In 1933 Heftman settled in Israel, where in 1936 he became editor of the daily newspaper Haboker (This morning) in Tel Aviv, founder and chairman of the Hebrew journalists’ association, director and editor of the “living newspaper” Iton haitonaim (Newspaper of journalists), and one of the most important leaders of community and cultural life in Israel. In book form: an illustrated poem for children in Yiddish, Khurbn yerusholaim (The destruction of Jerusalem) (Warsaw: Frenkel, 1918); on the anniversary of Hatsfira he wrote (under the pen name “Aḥikam”) a one-act play entitled Hayoyvl (The anniversary), staged in 1912 in the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall. Following to the mandate of the secretary general of the League of Nations in Geneva, he published a handbook entitled Agudat haamim (League of Nations). In Warsaw in 1923 a collection of his articles and memoirs was published in Warsaw, entitled Lenaḥum sokolov (To Nokhum Sokolov) (Warsaw, 1923), 20 pp. He translated B. Kellerman’s Der nar (The fool) into Hebrew as Haevil (Warsaw, 1920). He also published A vort tsu di yidishe eltern (A word to Jewish parents) (Warsaw, 1936), 16 pp. He visited the United States and South America in 1952. He died in Tel Aviv. His volume Am veadam (Nation and man) was published posthumously (Tel Aviv, 1956), 415 pp. In August 1957 “Ḥavatselet Street” in Tel Aviv was given the name “Yosef Heftman Street,” and in the journalists’ home “Bet Sokolov” the sitting room was named for him.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Dr. R. Feldshuh, Yidisher gezelshaftlekher leksikon (Jewish communal handbook), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1939), pp. 861-68; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1947), pp. 965-67; M. Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Sefer hashana shel haitonaim (Journalists’ annual) (Tel Aviv, 1949/1950), p. 256; M. Turkov, Di letste fun a groysn dor (The last of a great generation) (Buenos Aires, 1954), pp. 104-11; Y. Mastboym, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 14, 1954); B. Kroy, “Dʺr e. karlebakh un A. Rembo” (Dr. E. Carlebach and A. Rembo), in Sefer hashana shel haitonaim (Tel Aviv, 1954/1955), pp. 11-22; M. Tsanin, in Letste nayes (January 19, 1955); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (January 23, 1955); B. Larshi, in Forverts (New York) (January 24, 1955); M. Ginzburg, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (January 24, 1955); Dr. H. Zaydman, in Tog morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 25, 1955); P. Shteynvaks, in Keneder odler (February 3, 1955); Shteynvaks, Siluetn fun a dor (Silhouettes of a generation) (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 41-44; A. Nirenberg, in Keneder odler (February 16, 1955); A. Rembo, in Tsukunft (New York) (May-June 1955); Berl Kuczer, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), see index; A. Lis, in Di prese (February 2, 1956); M. Mozes, in Fun noentn over (New York) 2 (1956); Sefer haishim (Biographical dictionary) (Tel Aviv, 1956), p. 182; A. Yisraeli, in Hadoar (New York) (September-October 1958).