YANKEV (-LEYB) LEVIN (JACOB LEON) (August 6, 1884-December 6, 1958)
He was born in Tolochin (Talachyn), Byelorussia. His father was an elementary schoolteacher. Until age fourteen he attended his father school and at the same time a Russian private school. In 1898 he came to Minsk and attended yeshiva there, but he was also concerned with secular subject matter. In 1900 he left for Warsaw, and as an external student he prepared for the entrance examinations into senior high school. In 1903 he joined the local Minsk Labor Zionist group and soon thereafter switched to the just formed Zionist Socialist Party. For organizing a self-defense group in Tolochin (after the pogrom in Homel [Gomel] in August 1903), he was arrested and spent four months in prison. In 1906 he published for the first time an article in the organ of Zionist socialism, Der nayer veg (The new way), in Vilna. He later departed for St. Petersburg, passed the exams for the eighth class of high school, received a teacher’s certificate, studied agronomy for three years, and at the same time attended the Institute for Oriental Languages (founded by Baron Günzburg) where the professors included Shimon Dubnov, Lawyer Sliozberg, and Mark Vishnitser. The police banished him from St. Petersburg in 1911. Levin then left for Israel and went on to publish in Fraynd (Friend) a series of articles entitled “Di lage fun di yidishe arbeter in palestine” (The condition of Jewish workers in Palestine) and a longer work entitled “Di yidishe kolonizatsye in palestine” (Jewish colonization in Palestine) which appeared later in the monthly journal Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world) in Vilna. On the eve of WWI, he was living in Warsaw where he was one of the pioneers of secular Jewish schools, participated in establishing the first program for the school with Yiddish as the language of instruction, and served as the first teacher of Yiddish in the private seven-class high school for girls of Mrs. Koletski. He also took part in compiling a Yiddish school reader. At the start of WWI, he was mobilized into the Russian army, fled from there because of the frightful anti-Semitism on the part of the officers, and in late 1915 reached the United States via Japan. In New York he was active in the Socialist Territorialist Labor Party and contributed to (and later served as editor of) the party organ Undzer vort (Our word), in which he incidentally published fragments of his utopia of a Jewish socialist land: “Nayland” (New land). In 1918, after the Zionist socialists in New York united with the Labor Zionists, he withdrew from political work and turned his attention thoroughly to building the secular Yiddish school in New York. He was the manager of the first Workmen’s Circle school in Harlem and director of the first Workmen’s Circle middle school and of the Workmen’s Circle’s courses for preparing teachers for its schools. He compiled a series of books for teachers and students. He edited: Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s magazine), Kinder-land (Children’s land), Ertsiung (Education) together with L. Lehrer and K. Marmor, Unzer kind (Our child) together with Dr. Merison and L. Lehrer, and Shul un lerer (School and teacher). In the 1920s, when a struggle between right and left flared up within the Workmen’s Circle, Levin strove to keep the Workmen’s Circles school neutral before the political fight. After the split, he succeeded in keeping seventeen of twenty-three Workmen’s Circle schools as impartial Yiddish schools. The left with its propaganda quickly seized the majority of the “impartial” schools. For a short time, he continued to administer a small number of “Jewish labor schools” which ultimately returned to the Workmen’s Circle, and Levin once again became a teacher in a Workmen’s Circle middle school. In 1928 he was among the founders and the first secretary of the Yiddish Culture Society. Over the course of thirty years, he was director of the children’s colonies: “Kinderland” (Children’s land), “Nayvelt,” and “Zumer-land” (Summerland). He published articles on pedagogical and general community issues in: Di tsukunft (The future), Fraynd (a publication of the Workmen’s Circle), Der tog (The day), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Naye velt (New world), and Sotsyalistishe shtime (Socialist voice), among others, in New York. In book form: with Y. Lukovski and Sh. Hurvits, Unzer naye shul, a khrestomatye far kinder fun 2tn un 3tn lernyor mit bilder in tekst (Our new school, a reader for children in the second and third school year with pictures in the text) (Warsaw, 1913), 230 pp.; Di naye idishe shul, a lern-bukh far yidishe onfangers (The new Yiddish school, a textbook for Yiddish beginners) (New York, 1916), 150 pp., with numerous reprints; Der emes vegn palestina (The truth about Palestine) (New York: American Jewish Socialist Federation, 1917), 157 pp.; Perets, a bisl zikhroynes (Perets, a few remembrances) (Warsaw, 1919), 64 pp.; Di naye yidishe shul, part 2 (New York, 1920), 194 pp.; Kultur-geshikhte (Cultural history), part 3 (Warsaw, 1920), 305 pp.; Di idishe arbayter-ring-shul, ir tsil un program (The Yiddish Workmen’s Circle school, its goal and program) (New York, 1920), 64 pp.; Blumen, ṭeksten fun lider tsu zingen in di idishe shulen (Flower, texts of songs to sing in the Yiddish schools) (New York, 1920), 127 pp.; Der onfanger, lernbukh tsu lernen kinder leyenen un shraybn idish (The beginner, textbook to teach children to read and write Yiddish), six parts (New York, 1922-1928); Mayses un legendes fun der yidisher geshikhte (Tales and legends from Jewish history), 3 parts (New York, 1928-1934), 407 pp.; Dos naye bukh, literarishe un historishe khrestomatye, leyenbukh far dem eltern klas fun der elementarer shul un dem ershtn klas fun mitlshul (The new book, literary and historical reader, textbook for the older class in elementary school and the first class in middle school) (New York, 1929), 400 pp.; Ken idish, lernbukh tsu helfn di kinder oyslernen zikh rikhtik shraybn un redn idish (Know Yiddish, a textbook to help children master proper writing and reading of Yiddish) (New York, 1933), 117 pp.; Der nayer onfanger, lernbukh tsu lernen kinder leyenen, shraybn un redn yidish (The new beginner, textbook to teach children to read, write, and speak Yiddish) (New York, 1945); Yidishe geshikhte far kinder (Jewish history for children) (New York, 1946). In his last few years, Levin edited and brought out a mimeographed publication, Afn veg (On the way), in which he tried to create a kind of “Shulḥan Arukh” [a complete guide] for secular Jews, with instructions for how to carry on Jewish traditions. He died in New York.
Sources: M. Golding, in Forverts (New York) (March 25, 1931); A. Kh. Heler, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1931); B. Fridman, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (December 28, 1931); Z. Yefroykin, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (May 1955); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), see index; B. Y. Byalostotski, in Forverts (December 17, 1958); Y. B. Beylin, in Morgn-frayhayt (December 21, 1958); M. Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (December 30, 1958); B. Shefner, in Forverts (January 17, 1959); Yudel Mark, in Yidishe bukh-almanakh (Yiddish book almanac) (New York, 1960), pp. 43-48; obituary notices and appreciations in the Yiddish newspapers of New York after Levin’s death; Leybush Lehrer, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 8, 1963).