AVNER TANENBOYM (March 1, 1848-August 13, 1913)
He was born in Shirvint (Širvintos), Vilna district, Lithuania. He spent his early childhood years in Kamenets-Podolsk, where his parents had moved. He studied in the Kamenets state school for Jews, where A. B. Gotlober was supervisor, and Sh. Y. Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim) was his teacher. In 1858 he moved with his parents to Kishinev, Bessarabia, and attended the local high school. He studied Jewish subject matter privately. He did not graduate from the high school, later becoming a merchant, and later still a representative of a large pharmaceutical company in Odessa. In 1887 he moved to the United States, settled in New York, at first suffering terribly materially, and he then turned his attention entirely to journalism. In 1889 he debuted in print with an article in the anarchist weekly Der morgnshtern (The morning star), edited by A. Braslavski and Y. Yaffa, and thereafter over the course of more than thirty years he was one of the most productive writers in the Yiddish book market and in the Yiddish press in America. He contributed to: Sarasohn’s Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) and to Yudishe gazetten (Jewish gazette), later to Maslyanski and Bukanski’s Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world)—all in New York—Filadelfyer shtats-tsaytung (Philadelphia city newspaper), Di yudishe prese (The Jewish press), and Di gegnvart (The present)—in Philadelphia; and he edited the Zionist Mevaseret tsiyon (Herald of Zion) in 1898; he also wrote for the Hebrew-language journal Haleom (The people). He contributed as well to the anti-religious Tefila zaka (Confessional prayer), put out every year during the High Holidays over the period 1889-1893 by the anarchist group “Pyonire der frayhayt” (Pioneer of freedom) in New York. He published articles on various topics and was one of the first to popularize for a mass readership in America natural science, geography, and history. He gained his greatest popularity, though, from his novels which he initially, around 1890, wrote for various publishers which they published sequentially in weekly or semi-weekly publications. The newspapers later picked them up and continued to publish them. His novels on the whole were translations from various languages or “free adaptations” into Yiddish—as well as his own work. His “freely adapted” novels were taken from such authors as Jules Verne, Goethe, Anatole France, and Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, among others. The main publisher of his novels in New York was the Hebrew Publishing Co., which brought out eight volumes of “selected works” by Jules Verne in his adaptations, among them novel adaptations not by Verne. Several of Tanenboym’s novels were also published in Vilna by the publisher Mordkhe Katsenelnboygn, primarily in the years 1895-1902. His scientific works also appeared in book form—the title of these works of his can be found in his biography in volume 1 of Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon (Handbook). In the final years of his life, he was a regular contributor to Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) in New York, in which he was in charge of columns entitled “Natur un kultur” (Nature and culture) and “Handl un industrye” (Business and industry). In the weekly Der amerikaner (The American), in this same period he published a series of biographies and characterizations of major Jewish figures in various eras. He died in New York.
Among his writings, particularly great success was had by the following works: Kalt un varm (Cold and warm), four parts (London, 1896); Di frantsoyzishe revolutsye (The French Revolution); Di farlorene shif, oder a rayze arum der velt (The lost ship or a voyage around the world [original: Jules Verne, Les enfants du Capitaine Grant, voyage autour du monde]) (New York, 1896), 486 pp.; Doktor un tsoyberer (Doctor and magician) (New York, 1899); Di heldn fun der nakht (Heroes of the nights) (Chicago, 1896), 472 pp.; Di roze fun shikago (The rose of Chicago) (New York?, 1890s), 398 pp.; Di fershverung in indyen (The conspiracy in India); Toyz hertsen (Ace of hearts); Di geheymnise fun rusishen kayzerlikhen hoyf (The secret of the Russian Tsarist court) (New York, 1911), 4 vols.; Plevna, a historisher roman fun dem rusish-tirkishn krig in 1877-1878 (Plevna, a historical novel of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878) (New York), 256 pp.; Izabella, oder di geheymnise dem shpanishn hoyf (Isabella, or the secret of the Spanish court [original: George Fullborn, Isabella, Spaniens verjagte Konigin oder die Geheimnisse des Hofes von Madrid (Isabella, Spain’s banished queen or the secret of the court in Madrid)]) (Vilna, 1895), 4 vols.; Der letster yidisher korbn (The last Jewish victim) (Vilna, 1898), 50 pp.; Der getoyfter id, a roman fun virklikhn yudishn lebn in daytshland (The baptized Jew, a novel from actual Jewish life in Germany) (Vilna, 1912), 4 vols.; Idn in paras umadai (Jews in Persia and Media) (New York, 1909); Dshuzepi garibaldi (Giuseppe Garibaldi) (New York, 1909), 624 pp.; Di geshikhte fun di idn in amerike (The history of Jews in America); and many more. “The demand of his books was unimaginable,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen. “….In Yiddish literature Tanenboym was like the passage from earlier barren pulp of a kind of ‘highly interesting fiction’ to more serious reading material, although one can find among his writings as well a bit of the former sort.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography); D.-B. Tirkel, in Pinkes fun amopteyl (Records of the American division of YIVO) (New York, 1927-1928), p. 260; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (July 10, 1932); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4.4-5 (December 1932), pp. 354-87; Yorbukh fun amopteyl (Annual from the American branch [of YIVO]), vol. 1 (New York, 1938), p. 274; Elye Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1943), pp. 61, 70, 89, 91-95; Roze Shomer-Batshelis, in Unzer foter shomer (Our father Shomer) (New York, 1950), pp. 44-55; Shomer-Batshelis, Vi ikh hob zey gekent (How I knew them) (Los Angeles, 1955), pp. 59-60; L. Kobrin, Mayne fuftsik yor in amerike (My fifty years in America) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 244.