YOYEL ENTIN (Torah portion Khaya-Sara, November 1874 or 1875-February 26, 1959)
He was born in Pahost (Pohost), Minsk district, Byelorussia. His father Iser-Nosn was a descendant of the pedigreed family Heylperin. On his mother side as well, he descended from clergy, yeshiva headmasters, rabbis, and preachers. At age five he began attended religious elementary school, studying Tanakh and Talmud and later mainly Hebrew and grammar with his older brother Arn. While still young, he began reading novels, and soon he was reading the classic Hebrew writers and making his own first literary efforts (several poems, the start of a novel). After his bar mitzvah, he spent a summer of study in Yeshmen (?), later in the yeshivas in Blinits (Bialynichy) and Mir, as well as in the synagogue study hall in the city of his birth. He fell under the influence of “Ḥibat Tsiyon” (Love of Zion) and worked for its movement. In Tammuz 1890 he left for Moscow with the goal of earning enough money from giving Hebrew lessons to then make aliya to the land of Israel (his parents later made aliya). For a time in Moscow he worked as librarian for the association “Bnei Tsiyon” (Children of Zion) and perfected his knowledge of the Russian language, but because of the banishment of Jews from Moscow, he perforce returned home. In 1891 he came to the United States to join his brothers. Initially he worked stitching shirts and in shops selling cigarettes and Yiddish newspapers and novels. Influenced by the socialist trade union movement, he studied in night schools for immigrants (the teachers there were Philip Krants and L. E. Miller). He later attended lectures given by Avrom Kaspe (English literature and mathematics) and Yuda Yofe (Latin). Over the years 1896-1898, he was a free auditor at Columbia University, taking courses on English literature, psychology, and anthropology, especially studying English drama. In 1898 he became a teacher of English and English literature at the socialist labor education school. That same year he became a teacher of Yiddish literature at the “Educational League.” Yiddish theater and Yankev Gordin exerted a distinctive influence on him. Around 1895-1896, Entin began his own literary activities with a poem for May First in English in People, and with translations from popular scientific and socialist articles in Zuntog-blat (Sunday newspaper) and Abend-blat (Evening newspaper), edited by Philip Krants. He also began at this time to write about Yiddish theater. He became secretary of the “Fraye yidishe folksbine” (Free Yiddish people’s stage) (founded in 1896 with Yankev Gordin). He was one of the most important and proficient of the Folksbine, and he edited the anthology Fraye yidishe folksbine, in which he published his first article on the theater. After the establishment of Forverts (Forward), he began publishing in it sketches, translations, and literary essays. From that point in time, he contributed to virtually all of the radical Jewish periodicals in America—daily, weekly, and monthly. He leapt to luster as a Yiddish journalist, accomplished through many years of contributing to Di varhayt (The truth), edited by Louis Miller (he also placed work in other newspaper, such as Miller’s Der firer [The leader] in 1915, and Di naye varhayt [The new truth] in 1925), and later in Tog (Day) which in 1918 merged with Di varhayt. He composed literary and theater criticism and journalistic articles. He was one of the editors of the collections: Yugend (Youth) (II) of 1901 and Literatur (Literature) (1-2), with Yoyel Slonim and M. Y. Khayimovitsh, of 1910 (New York). Entin’s writings on the Yiddish theater were comprehensive, the most important being the prehistory of Yiddish theater. He was one of the spiritual leaders of the Labor Zionist movement in America, and from 1916 he edited the party organ Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), for a time together with Leon Khazanovitsh and B. Tsukerman, later with Dovid Pinski, and finally (1918-1920) by himself. He was one of the most intimate contributors to the daily organ of Labor Zionism, Di tsayt (The times); later, he co-edited the biweekly party organ, Der idisher arbeter (The Jewish worker). He translated fictional writings from Russian, English, and Hebrew as well. In partnership with Z. Levin, he wrote the play Di shule fun lebn (The school of life), staged in 1907; translated Oscar Wilde’s Salome, staged around 1911, Henryk Ibsen’s Di gayster (The ghosts [original: Gengangere]), which became part of the Yiddish theater repertoire; Maurice Maeterlinck’s Peleas un melizande (Pelléas and Mélisande [original: Pelléas et Mélisande]); a free translation with M. Kats of Shapse tsvi (Shabbatai Tsvi [original: Koniec Mesjasza]) by Jerzy Żuławski, staged in 1923 by Maurice Schwartz in the Yiddish Art Theater; also translated for dramatic societies Arthur Schnitzler’s Libelay (Flirtation [original: Liebelei]), Literatur (Literature), and Lyalke-shpiler (Puppet show [original: Der tapfere Cassian, Puppenspiel in einem Akt (The brave Cassian, a puppet play in one act)]), with Sh. Lipe. He also wrote several party pamphlets in English. For many years he led a fight to improve Yiddish theater, initially through the “Fraye yidishe folksbine” and later through the “Progressive Dramatic Club” (1902-1912), of which he was leader, translator, and director, and which under his guidance groomed actors who later assumed important positions in the professional theater. He was the founder and director of the National Radical Jewish Schools, which laid the foundation for the secular Jewish school movement in America. He was the founder, teacher, and leader (and nominally also president) of the Jewish teachers’ seminary. He also served as chairman of the “Committee for Yiddish in State Schools.” Over the years 1914-1916 (in association with others), he served as editor of Yidisher kinder-zhurnal (Jewish children’s magazine), the first Yiddish magazine for children in America, published by the Federation of the National Radical Schools. He was also one of the initiators and for a time active leaders of the People’s Relief—the society which organized socialist and democratic elements for assistance on behalf of Jewish victims in WWI. He played a major role in speech and writing in the movement for a Jewish Congress in America and was a delegate to it. Together with B. Borokhov, A. Kritshmar-Izraeli, and others, he edited the organ Der idisher kongres (The Jewish congress) in 1916. He also edited Hillel Zolotarov’s Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (New York, 1924), 234 pp. From 1923 he was a member of the general executive of the Jewish National Labor Alliance. Over the years 1936-1940, he edited the quarterly periodical and school journal, published by the central committee of the Jewish public schools of the Jewish National Labor Alliance and the Labor Zionists. He was also a member of the central committee of the Labor Zionists. Among his many pen names: E. J., Ben-Petuel, B. P. L., An Alt-Yunger, Eyner dun di Asore Batlonim, A Nervezer Yungermantshik, Ignatus, Shloyme Urbanski, Yente Shelavskaya, M. Halperin (or Haylperin), L. Minski, L. Iserovitsh, A Gast af a Vayl, and A Rayznder, among others. In addition to the plays he translated, his publications in book form would include: Fun idishen kval, a yidish lehr-bukh un khrestomatye, tsveytes un drites yor far shul un hoyz (From Jewish springs, a Yiddish textbook and reader, second and third year for school and home), with Leyb Bassayn (Leon Bassein), including forty-three images and portraits (New York: M. N. Mayzel, 1916), 306 pp.; Fun folks moyl (From the mouth of the people), Yiddish stories for school and home, with explanations of difficult words and bibliographic notes for each story (New York: Hebrew Publ. Co., 1919), 201 pp.; Vos iz literatur (What is literature) (New York: Jewish National Labor Alliance, 1919), 63 pp.; Di zayln fun der nayer yidisher literatur, nayn lektsyes vegn mendele moykher-sforim, sholem-aleykhem un y. l. perets (The pillars of modern Yiddish literature, nine lectures on Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Y. L. Perets) (New York: Jewish National Labor Alliance, 1923), 99 pp.; Yidishe poetn, hantbukh fun yidisher dikhtung (Yiddish poets, a handbook of Yiddish poetry), two parts, compiled with an introduction, assessment, annotations, and biographical-critical notes (New York: Jewish National Labor Alliance and Labor Zionist Party, 1927), part 1, 303 pp., part 2, 318 pp.; Yitskhok leybush perets, der shentster templ-zayl fun der nayer idisher literatur (Yitskhok Leybush Perets, the most beautiful temple pillar of modern Yiddish literature) (New York: Jewish National Labor Alliance, 1952), 64 pp.; Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings), vol. 1: Idishe dertsiung (Jewish education), comp. Sh. Shapiro, preface by L. Rubinshteyn, bibliography by Y. Yeshurin (New York: Pinkhes Gingold Publ. with the National Committee for Jewish Public Schools, 1960), 378 pp.
“He was a contemporary,” wrote A. Oyerbakh, “of those who pursued the Jewish Enlightenment tradition whose essence was education, to open for Jews the doors to the wide world. In America the doors to the world were wide, but the world itself was narrow. Entin sought in this world, the immigrant’s, his own path. He was tied up and bound with his generation and he did not sever the ties to Enlightenment radicalism, but he turned his path to the people. The difference between him and others lay in his ideals. The most radical followers of the Enlightenment wanted to educate the common people so they could enhance themselves. Entin wanted to education the people so they could return to themselves. This small ideological difference still placed a wall between him and the majority of the immigrant intellectuals. For a time Entin was effectively one among them, but he was unable to persevere for long with them, and he turned away from them and they from him. When he founded the secular Jewish school, he gave it the name National Radical School. The name…expressed Entin’s thinking, in that it possessed the same essence as Entin’s reasoning. ‘Radical’ like all of his immigrant generation but with a distinctive twist, with an addition: ‘National.’”
Entin “was part of every corner of [American] Jewish life,” noted Yankev Glatshteyn, “and did pioneering work everywhere. To the [secular] Jewish school, he came, as they say, as a leader, a teacher, a director, and a textbook author. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the first true ‘Lover of Zion’ in America, for whom Yiddish was not a means to a party’s goal, but a great matter in and of itself. To Yiddish theater, he came as a teacher, a critic, educator of young Yiddish actors, and fighter for improving Yiddish theater. Even before Bal-Makhshoves, he emerged as a literary critic without adducing any justifications for Yiddish literature. He wanted pie in the sky. Thus, when young Yiddish writers arrived, he became their mentor and guide. Let’s also not forget that the Entin from the Yankev Gordin period in drama and Morris Winchevsky in poetry, as he was the support for the ‘young ones,” as they were then known. The journal Di yugend (The youth) which appeared in 1907 published numerous critical and derisive pieces, but Yoyel Entin came to help the youngsters and blaze a path for them.
“The golden epoch of Yiddish theater is linked to Entin. Yankev Gordin and Leon Kobrin had in him their greatest and most convincing supporter. He wrote about Yiddish theater with such seriousness that his reader began to look upon theater with a different pair of eyes. He taught the Yiddish theater his festiveness, which was always a part of his enthusiasm. For everyone, his busyness as a teacher and an educator, as a translator, a popularizer, and a critic, and as a person, he held that a Jewish intellectual ought not deceive himself that he must know everything, so that he can create around himself a more beautiful and greater Jewish intelligentsia and leadership. He was permeated with the Zionist socialist idea, and he drafted every rigorous party publication and also every people-oriented deed.”
“For almost his entire life,” observed Al. Shulman, “Yoyel Entin was a Labor Zionist. His main interest, though, was Jewish education. Entin believed that Yiddish and Yiddish literature must lie at the foundations of our education. He naturally esteemed the role of Hebrew, and he believed that Yiddish and Hebrew should be taught in our secular school. Although not religious, Entin wrote that one should familiarize Jewish children with the essence and character of the Jewish religion. Entin believed that Yiddish should be taught because of Yiddish literature ‘which is the most intimate, the most magical mirror of Jewish life, which is the fullest, most speakable-singable well-spring of treasures, both in the past and even more the contemporary Jewish life-destiny.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, comp., Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur un prese (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish literature and the press), vol. 2 (Warsaw: Tsentral, 1914); Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Zilbertsvayg, Di velt fun yankev gordin (The world of Yankev Gordin) (Tel Aviv, 1964); Y. Yeshurin, Yoyel entin biblyografye (Yoyel Entin bibliography), offprint from the volume Yoyel-entin gezamlte shriftn (Yoyel Entin, collected works) (New York, 1960); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (October 1, 1961); Glatshteyn, Mit mayne fartog-bikher (With my daybreak books) (Tel Aviv, 1963); L. Shpizman, Geshtaltn (Images) (Buenos Aires, 1962); N. Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962); L. Lehrer, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (January 31, 1963); D. Shub, in Forverts (New York) (May 17, 1964).