ELKHONEN-LEYB LEVINSKI (March 10, 1858-October 27, 1910)
He was born in Podbrezye (Paberze), Vilna district, Lithuania. Until age nine he attended religious primary school, later studying with his father who was a distinguished scholar. It was already evident in his youth that his memory was such that at age ten he could repeat an entire page of Talmud after studying it a single time. At fourteen he astounded people with his proficiency. At this time he was already reading modern Hebrew literature and tried on his own to become a writer. At age fifteen he wrote correspondence pieces for Halevanon (The Lebanon). He later lived in Vilkomir (Ukmergė) and Kovno. He attended high school for three years. In 1880 he entered Kharkov University as an auditor. One year later, under the impact of the anti-Jewish pogroms, he departed with a Bilu group (Palestine pioneers, a movement to settle Jews in Israel) for Israel, but due to an eye ailment he returned to Russia and founded there numerous Zionist associations. His literary activities began in Hamelits (The spectator) in 1889, later in Hatsfira (The times), in which he made a name for himself with his articles “Ḥaye olam veḥaye shaa” (Eternal life and ephemeral life), “Ḥerut betokh avdut” (Freedom within bondage), and “Rishme masa” (Impressions of a journey). He especially excelled with his utopian “Masa leerets yisrael bishenat t”t leelef hashishi” (A trip to the land of Israel in the year 5800 in the sixth millennium), in the anthology Pardes (Orchard) (1892). The Yiddish translation of his utopia, A rayze keyn erets-yisroel in yor t”t, was published later in the Zionist one-kopek library in Odessa. At the time, he revealed himself as one of the best feuilletonists in Hebrew and Yiddish writing—in Hebrew, with his series of journalistic features in Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah), entitled “Maḥashavot vemaasim” (Thoughts and actions), under the pen name “Rabi Karov.” Levinski was much beloved for his sagacity, joy of life, wisdom about life, and his heartfelt intimacy. And, he was no different in Yiddish. He published his innovative features in: Yudisher folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper), Yud (Jew), and Fraynd (Friend), among others. He reacted to all Jewish phenomena, events, and issues with astuteness and with the greatest seriousness. He was initially an opponent of Yiddish, even coming out in Hamelits against Sholem-Aleykhem and his Yudishe folks biblyotek (Jewish people’s library), which aimed at raising the level of Yiddish literature, although Levinski later recognized the importance of the Yiddish language for the national life of the people, and he attested in his articles and feature pieces that, without Yiddish, there would have been no possibility of recovering the Hebrew language. He was the founder and principal writer of the daily Yiddish newspaper Gut morgn (Good morning) in Odessa. He was also one of the most popular and most active community leaders in Odessa, one of the cofounders of the association “Ivriya” (Hebrew) and the press “Moriya” ([Mount] Moriah), which until his death brought out his collected writings. A selection of his works in Yiddish was due to appear, but because of the war this did not come to pass. He also wrote under the pseudonym “Leyb Sores” (Leyb, son of Sarah).
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Reyzen, Psevdonimen in der yidisher literatur (Pseudonyms in Yiddish literature) (Vilna, 1939), p. 26; A. B. Goldberg, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings), vol. 1 (New York, 1913), pp. 129-34; Y. Yeri (Poleskin), in Di tsukunft (New York) (July 1916); R. Brainin, Kol kitve reuven ben mordekhai brainin (All the writings of Reuben, son of Mordecai, Brainin) (New York, 1922); Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (March 13, 1932; October 23, 1932); L. Ḥarif, in Hadoar (New York) (November 22, 1935); Sh. Z. Zetser, in Ohalim (New York) (April-September 1945); Rav Tsair, Masekhet zikhronot (Volume of memoirs) (New York, 1945), pp. 162-76; Getzel Kressel, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 20 (1964); Avraham Shaanan, Milon hasifrut haḥadasha (Dictionary of modern literature) (Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 404; Kitve yehoshua ḥana ravnitski (The writings of Yehoshua Ḥana Rawnitzki) (Tel Aviv, 1960/1961), pp. 66-75.