YANKEV LESHTSHINSKI (JAKOB LESTSCHINSKY) (August 26, 1876-March 20, 1966)
The brother of Yoysef Leshtshinski, he was born in Horodishche (Gorodishche), Kiev district, Ukraine, into a fervently religious home. He attended religious elementary school, was studying Talmud at age eight, was frightfully devout, and went every morning to the ritual bath. At age fourteen he began to help his parents in their dry goods and clothing shop, though not ceasing his studies. At age eighteen he was captured by the Jewish Enlightenment and began reading Hamelits (The spectator) and Hebrew Enlightenment books. In 1896 he fled from his pious home to Odessa, where he went hungry, was barely able to manage by giving Hebrew lessons, and prepared himself to sit for the eighth class in high school. Under the influence of Aḥad Haam’s Al parshat derakhim (At a crossroads), he turned away from general subject matter and focused on Hebrew grammar, began reading solely in Hebrew, and traveled through cities and towns, organizing Zionist circles on the basis of Aḥad Haam’s program. In 1901 he moved to Berne, Switzerland, studied for a short time at the university there, became acquainted with the literature of the Russian populists, and returned to Russia as a revolutionary. He founded the first revolutionary Zionist groups in Ekaterinoslav and Warsaw and wrote and distributed hectographically-produced letters in Hebrew on the pioneers, “the avant-garde of Jewish revolutionaries.” In this period he fell into the hands of the Tsarist police on several occasions and spent time in jails in Kremenchuk, Odessa, and Warsaw. He took part in the historic conference of Labor Zionists in Vilna (June 1903), at which he worked with the left minority which held that Labor Zionists must take an active part in the political struggle in their country. He was also a delegate from Warsaw to the sixth Zionist congress at which he joined the group of leftist territorialists. In July 1904, at the pre-conference of revolutionary proletarian Zionist organizations in Warsaw, he (together with Y. Novakovski, his brother Yoysef Leshtshinski, Alter Yofe, Shmuel Khsidov-Tsodokov, and B. Fridland, representative of “Vozrozhdenie” [Renaissance]) was coopted onto the organizing bureau which prepared for the conference in Odessa (December 1904) at which was established the Zionist Socialist Party. He became one of the party leaders, was involved in all party meetings, and worked on all party publications. His literary work began (using the pen name “Eḥad Kanaim” [one of the zealots]) in 1901, and he debuted in print in Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah), edited by Dr. Joseph Klausner, in Odessa (1903), with a piece entitled: “Statistika shel ayara aḥat” (Statistics from one town). His first writings in Yiddish, that same year, were proclamations connected to the pogrom in Kishinev and an illegal pamphlet about the pogrom in Homel (Gomel). In 1904 he published in Perets’s Yudishe biblyotek (Yiddish library) a piece entitled “Di yuden in London” (The Jews of London)—a description of the “shvits-sistem” (sweating system) in which Jewish immigrant laborers were at the time employed. A second, longer piece—“Der idishe arbeter” (The Jewish laborer), which announed Leshtshinski as one of the first economists in Yiddish—was first published in Tsukunft (Future) in New York (1906). It constituted one of the first efforts to apply the Marxist method in relation to the economic situation of the Jewish population in Russia at the time. After the first Russian Revolution (October 1905), he worked on the Zionist Socialist Party organs: Unzer veg (Our way), Der nayer veg (The new way), and Dos vort (The word), among others. With the founding of Haynt (Today) in Warsaw, he for a long period of time was in charge of a special rubric regarding Jewish economic interests. He also published his articles in all the major newspapers throughout the world. From 1906 he was effectively outside the Zionist Socialist Party, although in 1910 he still took part in the party conference in Vienna. Shortly before this conference, he was exiled from Russia, lived for a time in Zurich, and studied political science at the local university. Returning illegally to Russia before WWI, he was, after the February Revolution (1917), in Kiev one of the founders of the united Jewish socialist party—the Fareynikte—selected onto the central committee of the party, and served as a member of the editorial collective of the party organ Di naye tsayt (The new times), where he published articles daily on current political topics. When the Fareynikte in Ukraine merged with the Bund, Leshtshinski, too, went along, but he remained passive. He later left Soviet Russia and settled in Berlin, where he served a representative and correspondent for the Forverts (Forward) in New York. Aside from working for all the aforementioned newspapers, over the course of his long literary activities, he contributed to: Der fraynd (The friend) in St. Petersburg-Warsaw; Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Bikhervelt (Book world), Di naye gezelshaft The new society), and Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper)—in Warsaw; Di idishe shtime (The Jewish voice) in Kovno; Idishe shtime (Jewish voice), Dos folk (The people), and Frimorgn (Morning)—in Riga; Parizer haynt (Paris today) in Paris; Vuhin (Whither) and Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world)—in Vilna; Haolam (The world) in Vilna-Berlin; Hashiloaḥ in Odessa-London; the Russian-Jewish Razsviet (Dawn), Voskhod (Arise), and Russkaia mysl’ (Russian thought); and Zeitschrift für Demographie un Statistik der Juden (Periodical for the demography and statistic on Jews) in Berlin. In Hebrew and German publications of: Enzyklopädie Judaica in Berlin; Entsiklopediya shel galuyot (Encyclopedia of the Diaspora), Warsaw volume; Entsiklopediya haivrit (Encyclopedia of the Hebrew language), Davar (Word), Hapoel hatsayir (Young laborer), Niv hakevutsa (Words of the collective), Beterem (Before), and Goldene keyt (Golden chain)—in the state of Israel; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia in New York; Sefer shimon dubnov (Volume for Shimon Dubnow) (New York, 1954); and more. He was co-editor (with B. Dinur and A. Tartakover) of the anthology Klal yisrael, perakim besotsialogiya shel haam hayehudi (The community of Israel, chapters in the sociology of the Jewish people) (Jerusalem, 1954). He was one of the initiators of YIVO, and over the course of many years he ran the economics and statistics section of YIVO; and he edited YIVO publications (together with Professor Ber Brutskus and Yankev Segal): Bleter far yidisher demografye, statistik un ekonomik (Papers on Jewish demography, statistics, and economics), 5 volumes, in Berlin; Ekonomishe shriftn (Writings in economics) in Berlin-Vilna; and Yidishe ekonomik (Jewish economics) in Warsaw. He also contributed to Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia) from the Dubnov Fund; and he co-edited the book Vitebsk amol (Vitebsk in the past) (New York, 1956), 644 pp.
His books include: Der idisher arbayter in rusland (The Jewish worker in Russia) (Vilna, 1906), 114 pp. + 20 pp., with tables; Der idisher arbayter in London (The Jewish worker in London) (Vilna, 1907), 35 pp.; Unzere natsyonale foderungen (Our national demands) (Kiev, 1914), 38 pp.; Di idishe avtonomye amol un haynt (Jewish autonomy then and now) (Kiev, 1918), 48 pp.; Dos ekonomishe lebn fun di yidn in rusland (The economic life of Jews in Russia) (Kiev, 1918), 44 pp.; Dos idishe ekonomishe lebn in der idisher literatur (Jewish economic life in Jewish literature) (Warsaw, 1921; Minsk: State Publ., 1921), 44 pp.; Dos idishe folk in tsifern (The Jewish people in numbers) (Berlin, 1922), 396 pp.; Der emes vegn idn in rusland (The truth about Jews in Russia) (Berlin, 1925), 64 pp.; Di idishe vanderung far di letste 25 yor (Jewish migration over the past twenty-five years) (Berlin, 1927), 84 pp.; Der bankrot fun tsienizm, draysik yerike bilans (The bankruptcy of Zionism, thirty-year balance) (Warsaw, 1927), 32 pp.; Di antviklung fun idishn folk far di letste 100 yor (The growth of the Jewish people over the past century) (Berlin, 1928), 325 pp.; Di onheyb fun der emigratsye un kolonizatsye bay idn in 19th yorhundert (The beginning of emigration and colonization of Jews in the nineteenth century) (Berlin, 1929), 71 pp.; Tsvishn lebn un toyt, tsen yor yidish lebn in sovet-rusland (Between life and death, ten years of Jewish life in Soviet Russia) (Vilna, 1930), 284 pp.; Di ekonomishe lage fun yidn in poyln (The economic condition of Jews in Poland) (Berlin, 1931), 152 pp.; Der yidisher ekonomisher khurbn, nokh der velt-milkhome in mizrekh un tsentral eyrope (The Jewish economic destruction, after the world war in Eastern and Central Europe) (Paris, 1934), 151 pp.; Di tsol yidn in der velt (The number of Jews in the world) (Vilna, 1936), 197 pp.; Di ekonomishe katastrofe fun yidn in daytshland un poyln (The economic catastrophe for Jews in Germany and Poland) (Paris, 1936), 44 pp.; Dos sovetishe yidntum (Soviet Jewry) (New York, 1941), 382 pp.; Yidn in der shtotisher bafelkerung in umophengikn poyln (Jews in the urban population of independent Poland) (New York, 1943), 55 pp.; Der oyfboy fun yidishn ekonomishn lebn in eyrope nokh der milkhome (The construction of Jewish economic life in Europe after the war) (New York, 1944), 44 pp.; Vuhin geyen mir? Yidishe vanderung amol un haynt (Where are we going?: Jewish migration then and now) (New York, 1944), 135 pp.; Di idishe katastrofe, di metodes fun ir forshung (The Jewish catastrophe, methods to research it) (New York, 1944), 239 pp.; Afn rand fun opgrunt fun yidishn lebn in poyln, 1927-1933 (At the edge of the abyss of Jewish life in Poland, 1927-1937) (Buenos Aires, 1947), 247 pp.; Di lage fun idn in di lateyn-amerikaner lender (The condition of Jews in Latin American countries) (New York, 1948), 74 pp.; Erev khurbn fun yidishn lebn in poyln, 1935-1937 (On the eve of the destruction of Jewish life in Poland, 1935-1937) (Buenos Aires, 1951), 255 p..; Di lage fun yidishn folk afn shvel fun 1952 (The condition of the Jewish people at the threshold of 1952) (New York, 1952), 26 pp.; Dos natsyonale ponem fun goles-yidentum (The national face of diaspora Jewry) (Buenos Aires, 1955), 442 pp. In various periods, he also brought out a large number of pamphlets in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German, Polish, and English. His most important work appeared in translations into Hebrew and other languages.
In March 1933 he was arrested in Berlin by Hitler’s police. Thanks to the efforts of Forverts, he was freed after an invention by Washington and exiled from Hitler’s Germany. He stayed for a short time in Prague and from there left for Riga, but because of his disclosures in Forverts concerning the semi-fascist Latvian government, he was kicked out (summer 1934) of Riga; he went from there to Poland, where he was close to the Bund and carried out a questionnaire (handled by the central committee of the Youth Bund in Poland) among Jewish laboring youth in Poland. Leshtshinski remained in Poland until the summer of 1938, and then went on vacation to Marienbad, but the Polish government would not allow him back into Poland because of his description in Forverts of the pogroms against Jews in Poland. As he was then delayed for several months in Switzerland and France, he (late November 1938) came to New York, which for many years would be his place of residence and where he actively took part in Jewish cultural and community life. In 1956 and 1961, the Yiddish press throughout the world marked (with articles and essays) his eightieth birthday and his eighty-fifth birthday. He lived for several years in Miami Beach, Florida. From January 1959 he was a permanent resident in the state of Israel. His last books—Hatefutsa hayehudit (The Jewish diaspora) (Jerusalem, 1960), 371 pp., and Hapezura hayehudit (The Jewish dispersion) (Jerusalem, 1961), 332 pp.—were translated from Yiddish originals into Hebrew and published by Mosad Bialik. He used as pen names: Tulin and B. D. At his eighty-fifth birthday, Alexander Manor published: Yaakov leshchinski, hahoge vehaḥoker (Yankev Leshtshinski, the thinker and the researcher), with a preface by A. Tartakover (Jerusalem, 1961), 234 pp., which gives a multifaceted picture of Leshtshinski’s path as a scholar and of the economic and social struggle of the Jewish people from the nineteenth century until our own time. He died in Jerusalem.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; G. Aronson, in Tsukunft (New York) (July 1932); Professor Ber Brutskus, in Tsukunft (August 1932); H. Erlikh, in Folkstsaytung (Warsaw) (May 7, 1937); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1947), pp. 332-39; P. Almuni (M. V. Bernshteyn), in Unzer gedank (Buenos Aires) (September 2, 1952); Y. Trunk, in Tsukunft (April 1955); Dr. F. Fridman, in Tsukunft (November 1956); A. Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 20, 1956); A. Tartakover, in Gesher (Tel Aviv) 4 (1956); B. Sherman, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (June 1, 1956); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (July 15, 1956); Mukdoni, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (February 1957); Mukdoni, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 27 (1957); A. Menes, in Forverts (New York) (September 8, 1957); Y. Grinboym, Pene hador (The face of the generation) (Tel Aviv, 1959), pp. 223-37; A. Golomb, in Der veg (Mexico City) (September 9, 1961); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Folk un velt (New York) (December 1961); A. Oyerbakh, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (December 17, 1961); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Alexander Manor, in Di goldene keyt 39 (1961), pp. 229-32; Dr. M. Handel, in Davar (Tel Aviv) (Tevat 11 [= December 30], 1960); G. Kressel, in Moznaim (Tel Aviv) (Adar [=February-March] 1961), pp. 309-11; Y. Gilboa, in Maariv (Tel Aviv) (Elul 13 [= August 25], 1961); E. Naks, in Tsukunft (February 1962); Y. Gothelf, in Davar (Adar א 5 [= February 9], 1962); Biblyografye fun yidishe bikher vegn khurbn un gvure (Bibliography of Yiddish books concerning the Holocaust and heroism) (New York: YIVO and Yad Vashem, 1962), see index.