VULF DER LAMED-VOVNIK (September 11, 1854-November 25, 1916)
His first name was Shmuel-Volf. He was born in Tismenits (Tyśmienica), near Stanislav, Galicia, into a Hassidic home. He studied in religious elementary schools and yeshivas. Through his acquaintance with the town teacher, a hidden follower of the Jewish Enlightenment who later converted to Christianity, he began to study secular subjects; he later left for Berlin, graduated from high school, and studied in Hildesheimer’s rabbinical seminary. He subsequently departed for Czernowitz where, through acquaintanceship with an Italian anarchist leader Petia Atti, he joined the anarchist movement. From there he left for London, and using the pen name “Lunik” he wrote articles for Liberman’s Haemet (The truth) and simultaneously became entangled in society of missionaries. One and one-half years later, he made his way to the United States, initially living in Chicago where he converted, joined the evangelical sect of the Subbotniks and published a weekly missionary newspaper in Hebrew entitled Kol kore (A voice is calling)—he signed his articles “Yedidya Lutski.” In this written work, though, he took to agitating for another belief system close to Judaism. The missionaries thus persecuted him, and the Chicago Jews accepted him as a penitent. He then discontinued his weekly writing and began publishing a Hebrew monthly Edut leyisrael (Testimony to Israel)—which he signed “Luki.” For a time thereafter he left Chicago and moved to New York where he changed his name to “Vulf Polyak.” He became involved in the anarchist group “Pyonere der frayhayt” (Pioneers of Freedom). In 1889 he wrote articles on anarchism for Di varhayt (The truth) in New York. He would often appear at meetings of spirited anarchist speeches. The Chicago rabbi, Dr. Felzental, got wind of Vulf’s double life in New York and came there to unmask him. Vulf then disappeared from New York and then reemerged in Germany where he succeeded in getting money from the esteemed Professor Franz Delitzsch to publish his writings in English, in which he explained in detail the essence of “New Judaism” which he was preaching. Vulf later translated this work into Hebrew under the title Hayehudi hamashiḥi (The messianic Jew). For a time thereafter he returned to Galicia, lived in Lemberg, and published an explanation that his teaching did not call for conversion to Christianity, but just the contrary: that a Jew should honor the Sabbath, circumcision, study Hebrew, and believe in the Messiah. Before the outbreak of WWI, he set out on a trip back to America and through the war he remained stuck in Holland where, in 1916, he became severely ill. His Dutch friends sent him to Berlin, and from there, at his request, he was transported to an old friend, the priest Wigand, in the town of Flu, near Mecklenburg. Prior to his death, he expressed his last wish that he be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The ten Jewish families from this small settlement carried out his wish, when he died in Steglitz-Berlin.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Sh. L. Tsitron, Avek fun folk (Left the people), part four of Meshumodim, tipn un siluetn funem noentn over (Converts to Christianity, types and silhouettes from the recent past) (Warsaw, 1927?), pp. 109-27; Getzel Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit (Handbook of Hebrew literature) (Merḥavya, 1967), vol. 2; Sh. Blond, Tismenits, a matseyve af di khurves fun a farnikhteter yidisher kehile (Tismenits, a tombstone on the ruins of a destroyed Jewish community) (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 32-33.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 226.]