BER (BERL) LAPIN (June 17, 1889-November 23, 1952)
He was born in a village not far from Volkovisk (Wołkowysk), Grodno district, Russian Poland, to a father who was a miller. When he was six years old, his family moved to Argentina. Because of the premature death of one of the children and because of the negative effect this had on his mother, four years later they returned to Europe. On the route home, his family traveled around Galicia, Polesia, and Lithuania. Because of all this familial movement, Lapin had no more than an elementary religious school education. From age thirteen he was already no longer living with his parents. He spent much of his time with relatives in various cities and towns in Russia. At age fifteen or sixteen, he moved to Vilna; he lived there and in Lide (Lida) until his departure for the United States in 1909. He married in 1911, and in 1913 he and his wife moved to Argentina. They returned to America in 1917 and there they remained. When he was in Argentina, he published correspondence pieces in Fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg under the name Dovid Frumin. He began writing poetry for Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky’s Dos naye leben (The new life), and for a certain period of time he was Zhitlovsky’s secretary. He went on to write poems for a number of issues of Shriftn (Writings). Over the years 1925-1928, he served as co-editor of the journal Oyfkum (Arise) together with B. Y. Byalostotski and Z. Vaynper. He published poetry also in: Tog (Day), Tsukunft (Future), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), and Zamlbikher (Collections), among others. In book form he published: Umetige vegn (Lonesome pathways), poetry (Vilna, 1910), 45 pp.; Tseykhns, lider un poemen (Marking, poetry) (New York, 1934), 237 pp.; Naye lider (New poems) (New York, 1940), 158 pp.; Der fuler krug, lider-zamlung, 1908-1950 (The full pitcher, poetry collection, 1908-1950) (New York, 1950), 264 pp.
From his early years of creativity, Lapin was interested in enriching Yiddish literature by translating from world literature. Already in the years 1909-1911, he and M. Varshe translated Knut Hamsun’s Viktorya, geshikhte fun a liebe (Victoria, a love story [original: Victoria, en kjærlighedshistorie]) and Leonid Andreev’s Dos lebn fun a mentshn (The life of man [original: Zhizn’ cheloveka]). In 1919 he published Rusishe lirik (Russian lyrics), a book of translated Russian poetry, with a preface by Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky (New York: Nay tsayt, 1919), 218 pp. The volume includes work by twenty-two poets. Tseykhns, Naye lider, and Der fuler krug contain a great number of translations from Russian, British, and American poetry. In 1953, after his death, his translation of Shakespeare’s Sonetn (Sonnets) which he worked on for eight years appeared in print (New York: Bloch, 1953), 192 pp. This volume carries an interesting preface by his son, Shmuel Lapin. In 1951 his book Der fuler krug was awarded a prize by the Jewish Book Council. Translations of Lapin’s own poetry can be found in: Samuel J. Imber, ed., Modern Yiddish Poetry (New York, 1927); and Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock: An Anthology of Yiddish Poetry (London, 1939).
“Lapin was always experimenting,” wrote Shmuel Lapin, “with new words and new rhymes. He was one of the pioneers of assonance in Yiddish poetry. He loved translating from foreign languages. He considered Shakespeare’s sonnets in Yiddish to be a necessity, if not for the reader as an individual, then it was a necessity for Yiddish literature generally…. He believed that the poet, as a person, must move forward with the burden on his shoulders, which he inflicts on himself. Only then would the progress have value.” “In a large portion of his poetry,” noted Shmuel Niger, “he looked ahead to us from behind the scenes, from the other side of something like a curtain…. He had a premonition of another world, of a fate that is not the fate of our open and regular daily lives…. He believed in a light that is unavoidable.” “Lapin’s poems,” wrote Yankev Glatshteyn, “occupy a special place for us….for the poem can kick the life out of much intoxicated speech; intoxicated verses and themes. He had the capacity to turn an utterly ordinary topic extraordinary by singing out his amazement…. Lapin’s poetry has a profoundly ethical grounding…. His ethic is…metaphorical, just as his religious poetry is not God-poetry, from the ordinary position of searching for God,…the poet comes to Yiddish poetry with his occult method…. Even if his word is obscure, it appears to us that for his alchemical, mystical ends his words are the best.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Sh. Epshteyn, in Tsukunft (New York) (August 1910; May 1911); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (January 1920; January 1927; April 1934; January 1939); Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959), pp. 375-76; A. Leyeles, in In zikh (New York) (1928), p. 3; Leyeles, in Tog (New York) (December 6, 1952); Z. Vaynper, Yidishe shriftshteler (Yiddish writers), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Tsukunft (January 1937); Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 15, 1940; October 14, 1957); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tog (June 17, 1939); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentine (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), p. 192; Rozhanski, in Di idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (November 25, 1952); obituary notice in Forverts (New York) (November 24, 1952); D. Ignatov, in Tsukunft (December 1944); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen, eseyen (In essence, essays) (New York, 1947), pp. 395-403; Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (New York, 1956), pp. 157-63; Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen, vol. 2 (New York, 1960), pp. 352-56; B. Y. Byalostotski, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (July 8, 1949); Byalostotski, Kholem un vor, eseyen (Dream and reality, essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 123, 341-49; L. Khanukov, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (October 1950); Khanukov, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays) (New York, 1960), p. 75; Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, Vizye un gedank (Vision and thought) (New York, 1951), see index; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 29, 1954); B. Grobard, in Tsukunft (December 1955); a letter from Y. L. Perets to Ber Lapin, in Yivo-yedies (New York) (April 1960), p. 7; written information from Shmuel Lapin.