YOYSEF MARGOSHES (LEYZER-YOYSEF, JOSEPH) (November 16, 1866-April 10, 1955)
He was born in Lemberg, eastern Galicia, into a family of scholars. His father, Shmuel, drew his genealogy from the great Shlomo Luria (Maharshal [1510-1573]). According to legend, the Margoshes family descended from Spanish exiles who, in the late fifteenth century, were sent away to Poland. He studied in religious elementary school, later with the Lemberg religious judge, R. Uri-Zev Salat, and in Tarnov (Tarnów) with R. Naftole Goldberg, author of the religious text Bet levi (The house of Levi). In the 1880s he married the daughter of one of the richest Jewish financiers in western Galicia, and for a number of years he was occupied with agriculture. Due to a severe economic crisis, especially in the agricultural realm, in 1898 he immigrated to the United States, though he was unable to adapt to the then-current immigrant conditions of life, and around 1900 he returned home. In 1903 he arrived in America for the second time and remained a resident of New York. In his initial years there, he was employed as an agent and traveling businessman for the New York Yiddish newspapers. When Dr. Judah (Yude-Leyb) Magnes and Dr. Benderly in 1911-1912 made an unsuccessful attempt to establish in New York a Jewish community council, Margoshes contributed to the office of Jewish education and took part in preparing the yearbook for the council. In 1914 a number of leaders of the community founded the newspaper Der tog (The day), and Margoshes found an auspicious opportunity to devote himself completely to writing. He became a regular contributor to Tog, as well as later to Haynt (Today) and Di tsayt (The times) in New York, and until 1921 until his death he placed work in Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) and Tog-morgn-zhurnal (Day-morning journal), when the two newspapers united. His articles were also published in virtually all the provincial Yiddish newspapers that existed in the 1920s and 1930s; he wrote for Di tsukunft (The future) and for Pinkes (Records) which the American division of YIVO published in New York (1927-1929), and in a number of other publications. Over the course of his writing career, he published a large number of series of articles on historical and folkloric topics; he became quite popular with the wider Yiddish-reading public for such monographs as: “Di aseres hashvotim” (The ten [lost] tribes), “Yidn in vayte lender” (Jews in distant lands), and “Groyse figurn in der velt fun khsides” (Great figures in the world of Hassidism). He invigorated and brought to life old Jewish folktales, and he explained the origin and reason for the most widespread of Jewish customs and practices, as well as the history and development of the ban of excommunication and the like. He also made a major contribution to Yiddish journalism in America, as he compiled the first full bibliography of the Yiddish press in New York and with a number of opportunities published essays that remain an important contribution to the history of journalism among Jews. In book form: Derinerungen fun mayn lebn (Experiences from my life) (New York, 1936), 335 pp. During WWI he was one of the leading initiators at the founding in New York of the Jewish writers’ union—the Y. L. Perets Writers’ Association. As the first secretary of the Association, at his initiative a writers’ relief fund was created which, after WWI, achieved a great deal, particularly in alleviating the hardships attending creative Jewish strengths in the old country. Margoshes owned one of the richest private libraries in America and was among the first to join the American division of the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO). He died in New York. “Yoysef Margoshes,” wrote Moyshe Shtarkman, “also researched things that were not recounted in regular history books. He led his readers on spiritual adventures along the ways and byways of Jewish history…. He was among the very few who approached Hassidism with historical criteria. His descriptions of the Belz dynasty and its court belong to the most significant accomplishments in Hassidic literature…. All the characteristics of Yoysef Margoshes, the writer and researcher, are expressed in his memoir Derinerungen fun mayn lebn. This is not simply the autobiography of an individual, but a genial and straightforward description of Jewish life, Jewish sorrows and joys, on spiritual struggles and economic conditions, with additional interesting excursions into people and events of earlier generations of Jews.” Yoysef Margoshes was the father of Dr. Shmuel Margoshes.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; “Vegn margosheses goldener khasene” (On Marshoshes’s golden anniversary), Tog (New York) (June 15, 1932); Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (June 17, 1932); Mortkhe Dantsis, in Tog (June 2, 1933); obituary notices in Forverts and Tog-morgn-zhurnal (both, New York) (April 11, 1955); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 17, 1955); A-R, in Hadoar (New York) (April 22, 1955); A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 30, 1955).