SIMON LEVINSON (“the little Jew from Missouri”) (January 12, 1870-November 8, 1928)
Pseudonym of Zorekh Shpitalni, he was born in the town of Trestine (Trzcianne), Grodno district, Russian Poland. He studied with his father in religious elementary school. He began reading books in Yiddish while quite young. At age fifteen he became a brush maker. In 1890 he came to the United States; he lived in New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago, and Philadelphia, as well as in Canada. He worked as a hat maker and a furrier. He was an active leader in trade unions, in Socialist Party organizations, and in the Workmen’s Circle, where until 1914 he was a member of the national executive. He was a well-known speaker. He began publishing articles on workers’ lives in the weekly newspaper Der sotsyal-demokrat (The social democrat) in New York (1899), later becoming a regular contributor to: the organ of the “Capmakers”: Der kapenmakher (The cap maker) in New York (1903-1906); Di idishe arbeter velt (The Jewish workers’ world) in New York (1904); Der kloukmakher (The cloak maker) in New York (1905); Der arbayter (The worker) in New York (1905-1911); Der veker (The alarm) in New York (1906); Di yudishe arbayter-velt (The Jewish workers’ world) in Chicago (1908); Der fraynd (The friend) in New York (1910); Der laydis garment vurker (The ladies’ garment worker) in New York (1911-1918) which later changed to Der gerekhtigkeyt (Justice) with which he worked until his death; Der idisher sotsyalist (The Jewish socialist) in New York (1913-1914); and Di naye velt (The new world) in New York (1915-1921), with which Levinson parted ways when this serial went over to the Communists. He also placed work in Der veg (The way) in Detroit (1915-1922) and the revived Der veker (1920), but mainly he published in New York’s Forverts (Forward), where aside from features, stories, and images of Jewish workers’ lives, he also wrote reportage pieces from his trips around America. He died in Omaha, Nebraska, in the middle of an assignment for the Forverts. His last reportage-feature, “Vos der idel fun mizuri hot gezen in mizuri” (What the little Jew from Missouri saw in Missouri), appeared on November 11, 1928. He was buried in New York. Among his pen names: Ben-Arye, A Klorer Filozof, and mainly “A Yidel fun Mizuri” (A little Jew from Missouri). “He was an honest man,” wrote B. Botvinik, “a socialist sage, and he assumed a special position in the Jewish labor movement and in Yiddish journalism in America…. He was a bright product of his people.” “His humorous talent emerged from his innate optimism,” noted A. Ivenski, “from his deep belief in human nature, and in the ultimate goal of justice, of socialism, of a better future.”
Sources: Editorial, in Forverts (New York) (November 10, 1928); B. Botvinik and A. Ivenski, in Forverts (November 11, 1928); editorial, in Der veker (New York) (November 17, 1928); editorial, in Der fraynd (New York) (November-December 1928); B. Botvinik, in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1929); Y. Sh. Herts, 50 yor arbeter-ring in yidishn lebn (Fifty years of the Workmen’s Circle in Jewish life) (New York, 1950), see index; Herts, Di yidishe sotsyalistishe bavegung in amerike, 70 yor sotsyalistishe tetikeyt, 30 yor yidishe sotsyalistishe farband (The Jewish socialist movement in America, seventy years of socialist activity, thirty years of the Jewish Socialist Union) (New York, 1954), see index.
Khayim Leyb Fuks