MORTKHE ERENPRAYS (MARCUS EHRENPREIS) (June 27, 1869-February 28, 1951)
He was born in Lemberg, Galicia. His father was a printer and a publisher of Yiddish storybooks, women’s prayer books, and the like. Mortkhe studied in religious elementary school and in the synagogue study hall. At age thirteen or fourteen, he began to devote his attention to secular education, initially on his own, later in the Lemberg high school, from which he graduated in 1890. He studied philosophy at the University of Berlin. In 1895 he received his doctoral degree in Erlangen and attended the school for Jewish studies in Berlin. His writing began in Yiddish in his early childhood. From the mid-1880 until the early 1890s he wrote (or translated) for his father’s press and for that of his brother-in-law Yisroel-Dovid Zis (J. D. Süss), works such as: Napoleon (Napoleon), Moyshe montifyori (Moses Montefiore), Der tisa esler protses (The Tisa Esler trial), Maase hagdolim (Tales of great men), “with a dictionary of rabbis, 130 tales found in the Talmud and Midrash, and biographies of the Tannaim and Amoraim” (Lemberg, 1891), 125 pp., with Ehrenpreis’s preface denouncing trashy literature. Early on he was attracted to the Zionist ideal and wrote for such Galician publications as: Der karmel (The Carmel), Dos yudishe folksblat (The Jewish people’s newspaper), and other serials. During his years in Berlin, he published essays on philosophy and literature in the German-language Zukunft (Future), a monthly of new ideas in Europe. In 1895 he became editor of the Lemberg-based Yudishe folks-kalendar (Jewish people’s calendar), with contributions from Dovid Frishman, Ruvn Brainin, Gershom Bader, and others. He was defending Zionism even before Herzl. In his regular article “Vo mir vilin” (What we want), he wrote: “On the one hand, we want contributions from those who wish for the Jewish people to be freed from exile and who want our poor emigrants to build their own home in the land of Israel; and on the other hand, we want to work with all our strength to improve our condition in Galicia.” Aside from literary material, there was there a description by the most important (at that time) “Jewish colonist in the land of Israel.” Using the pen name Ester, Ehrenpreis himself translated Dovid Frishman’s “Shlosha sheakhlu” (The three who ate) and wrote his own one-act play “Nor nit yidish!” (Anything but Yiddish!) He contributed to a number of German Jewish and Hebrew periodicals, among them: Aḥiasaf and Aḥad-Haam’s Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah), among others. He was one of the founders of the “Hateḥiya” (The revival). He was the spokesperson for “Di yunge” (The young ones) who assembled around Micha Josef Berdyczewski. In Hashiloaḥ he published literary critical articles on Morris Rozenfeld, Avrom Reyzen, and others. Reyzen recounted in his Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life) that Ehrenpreis evinced great love for Yiddish, and frequently, in several languages over which he had control, he gave speeches and wrote about Yiddish literature. As a youngster in Lemberg, he was among the founders of “Ḥevrat Tsiyon” (Society of Zion). In 1893, as the president of the Berlin association “Young Israel,” he convened in Vienna a “Preconference concerning a World Zionist Congress.” He served as secretary of the “Preparatory Committee” to the first Zionist Congress. The invitation to the Congress was signed by Dr. Herzl and him. Ehrenpreis was at the time in a small Galician town. In 1896 he was rabbi in Đakovo, Croatia. Over the years 1900-1914, he was rabbi for all of Bulgaria. In a short period of time, he mastered Judeo-Espanyol and Bulgarian, and he was able to speak fluently and write in both languages. In the Judeo-Espanyol weekly newspapers El eko djudaiko (The Jewish echo) and La luz (The light) and in a Judeo-Espanyol literary journal, he published pieces on Perets, Sholem Aleichem, Frishman, and others and also his translations of Yiddish literature. In 1913 he negotiated with kings and high governmental personalities on behalf of the ethnic minorities in the Balkans, among them the Jews. He was a confidante of King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. In 1914 he became grand rabbi of Stockholm (Sweden), quickly mastered Swedish, and then gave lectures and wrote in the language. From 1927 he was the publisher of the Swedish Jewish monthly Judisk tidskrift (Jewish journal). With his essays in the Swedish journals, he helped readers get to know Hebrew and Yiddish literature. He established in Stockholm a “society for Jewish literature,” and under his editorship it published eight volumes of works from both literatures. Of particular interest is one volume, an anthology entitled Nyhebreisk lyrik, 1870-1920 (Modern Hebrew lyrical poetry, 1870-1920) (Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt, 1920), 193 pp. The translations were done by him and the Swedish Jewish poet Rognar Josephson. There is a section in the anthology containing Yiddish poetry: Y. L. Perets, Morris Rozenfeld, Avrom Reyzen, and Dovid Eynhorn. The anthology was a huge success, and people later began to speak about a Nobel Prize for a Yiddish poet. In 1934 he served as the principal witness in the trial that the Jewish community in Berne, Switzerland, was leading against the German Nazi-Party front for spreading the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ehrenpreis wrote in Swedish numerous books on Jewish issues and translated a large number of Hebrew works into Yiddish. The Swedes considered him a great Swedish writer. In both world wars he offered a great deal of aid to rescuing Jews and had a considerable impact, when Sweden assumed a positive position toward the state of Israel. He died in Stockholm.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; “Ben Gurion” (Micha Josef Berdyczewski), “Tsiyonim sifrutim” (Literary Zionists), Hatekufa (Warsaw) 6 (1919/1920), pp. 487-90; Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), part 2 (Vilna, 1929), p. 123; Tsvien, in Forverts (New York) (November 28, 1931); A. Shiplyakov, in Forverts (December 8, 1931); A. Koralnik, in Tog (New York) (late January 1932); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog (June 17, 1932); L. Krishtol, in Forverts (October 28, 1934); Yankev Leshtshinski, in Forverts (November 8, 1934; November 14, 1934); A. Hurvits, in Der veg (Mexico City) (July 1, 1939); obituary in Hadoar (New York) (March 9, 1951); “In der yidisher literatur” (In Yiddish literature), Tsukunft (New York) (April 1951); Aharon Ben-Or, Toldot hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature), vol. 3 (Tel Aviv, 1951), pp. 333-35; M. Ehrenpreis, in the anthology Pirke galitsya (Galician chapters) (Tel Aviv: Am oved, 1957), pp. 57, 69-80; Dr. N. M. Gelber, Toldot hatenua hatsiyonit begalitsiya (History of the Zionist movement in Galicia) (Jerusalem, 1958); Gelber, in the anthology Ḥakhmat yisrael bemaarav eropa (The wisdom of Israel in Western Europe) (Tel Aviv, 1958), pp. 384-90; letters in the collection Genazim (Records) (Tel Aviv, 1960/1961), pp. 164-65.