YANKEV MORGENSHTERN (1820-1890)
The pseudonym of Y. Katshko, he was born in Pyetrikov, Poland. He later studied in Lodz, where he worked as an itinerant school teacher, a “writer” (for others), who taught cooks and serving girls Hebrew and how to write in it, and he was thus dubbed “Yankl Lerer” (Yankl the teacher). He also engaged in matchmaking and appeared as an entertainer at weddings. He wrote an entire series of storybooks—originals and translations—published in the main by the Warsaw book dealers Y. G. Munk, L. Morgenshtern, and others. These storybooks were extremely popular. The greatest popularity was achieved by Mayse mishloyshe akhim (Story of three brothers), one of the most celebrated of Yiddish stories over all. The first edition—“Story of three brothers / a very beautiful, magnificent tale of three brothers, great men, a tale of wondrous events, / published by Reb Yisroel of Lodz” (Warsaw: Shmuel Orgelbrand, 1870), 3 parts—was apparently already in 1872 reprinted with the title Mayse mishloyshe akhin (Story of three brothers), “a beautiful, magnificent tale of three great brothers, published and owned by Y. G. Munk, Warsaw”—and from that time was issued in numerous printings, primarily by the publishing house of L. Morgenshtern in Warsaw. This story, written in the style of Oriental tales, is in a popular Yiddish through and through. The central morale of the story is the reward for good deeds. The plot of the story: Each of the three brothers takes on the observance of a distinctive mitzvah which people ordinarily do not assiduously heed; one takes on the mitzvah of washing the hands before meals, the second the afternoon meal on the Sabbath, and the third the mitzvah of the evening meal at the end of the Sabbath. The author takes them with his wonderful fantasy as they roam through the Orient, over deserts full of deadly dangers; they put up with enormous difficulties, face up against mighty temptations, perform acts of devotion, and each of them must execute the mitzvah that he has taken on, and in recompense they are rewarded in bizarre ways: they marry princesses, become rulers of kingdoms, and live in extraordinary palaces. An immense impact on Hassidic circles in Poland and Galicia was exerted in its time by his anti-Hassidic folk-satire R’ simkhe plakhte oder der velt-shvindler (Reb Simkhe Plakhte or the world swindler), which appeared in the 1870s and 1880s and was later republished in a variety of places and printings, such as: Vilna in 1892 and 1896 (54 pp.); Warsaw in 1900 (54 pp.) and in 1909 (58 pp.); and Biłgoraj in 1911 (by Amkroyt & Fraynd of Przemyśl, 64 pp.). (Many years later, Yankev Preger wrote a play entitled Simkhe plakhte, as did Y. Y. Trunk compose a long story under the same title.) The popularity of his satirical work moved him to write another satire: Der gliklekher nar oder der khaver fun simkhe plakhte (The happy fool or the pal of Simkhe Plakhte) (1882). Of his other work, he was well-known for his popular tales: Shabes koydesh in gan-eydn, mikdesh meylekh (The holy Sabbath in the Garden of Eden, Temple of the king), “a story that transpired in the time of the saintly rabbi and brilliant M., author of Mikdesh meylekh” (Vilna: Yitskhok Funk, 1897), 23 pp., in which he described the diabolical splendidness of Ashmodai’s palaces somewhere in the desolate forests of Poland and the desirable bedrooms of the wicked shrew of the night. The story was also reprinted many times. Also very popular were his works: R’ khatskele oder di getraye libe (Reb Khatskele or the devoted love) (Warsaw, 1882), 72 pp.; and Di mayse mishney shutfim un shney katsovim (The tale of two partners and two butchers) (Vilna, 1899), 45 pp. His translations include: Magelona, di kroyn-printsesin fon neapol (Magelona, the crown princess of Naples), “in two parts, translated from German” (Warsaw, 1881), written in a Germanized Yiddish current at that time; Di sheyne helena (The beautiful Helena), one of his last publications (Warsaw, 1911), 24 pp.; Di sheyne blimkhe genofefe (The lovely Blimkhe Genofefe) (Warsaw, 1881). Morgenshtern was also said to have written a collection of his wedding entertainment poems. “Yankl Lerer had a juicy, folkish language,” wrote Y. Y. Trunk, “a great deal of wonderful compositional influences, and his poetic epic, although primitive and naïve, had in it the great style of a storyteller.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Dr. Ts. Cohen, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1930); N. Mayzil, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (January 29, 1937); I. Manger, Noente geshtaltn (Close images) (Warsaw, 1938; New York, 1961), pp. 129-37; Y. Y. Trunk, in Der poylisher id, yearbook (New York, 1942); Shmuel Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists) (New York, 1946), pp. 27-28; Entsiklopediya shel galuyot (Encyclopedia of the Diaspora), section on Brisk (Brest), Lithuania (Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, 1954); Entsiklopedye fun di goles-lender (Encyclopedia from the countries of the diaspora) (Tel Aviv, 1955), col. 347; Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), pp. 192-94.