YOHAN PALEY (February 1871-December 23, 1897)
His Yiddish first name was Yoyne. His birth and death dates are given according to Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon. In a footnote Reyzen gives a birth year of 1860 with a question mark. The American Jewish Year Book states that Paley died in 1907 at the age of thirty-seven. It would seem that the best we can guess would be: 1871-1907. He was born in Pleshchenitse (Plescanicy)—according to the Jewish Encyclopedia (New York), vol. 9, reprinted in Evreiskaia Entsiklopedia (St. Petersburg), vol. 12, it was Radoshkovitsh (Radashkovichy), which must be an error; one incidental piece of evidence is that a friend of his from youth was Mendl Rozenboym who was also from Plescanicy—Minsk district, Byelorussia. His father Khayim Zev was a scholar and gave him a traditional Jewish education. At age thirteen he entered the Volozhin Yeshiva. He later spent two years in Libave (Liepāja), Latvia, where he turned his attention to secular education. He then left for Kovno and studied in Rabbi Yitskhok Elkhonen’s yeshiva. He went on to live in Moscow, where he worked as manager of a commercial house. It appears that he there converted to Christianity, but in 1888 he made his way to New York and there returned to Judaism. On the ship en route to the United States, he composed his first novel, entitled Di rusishe heldn (The Russian heroes), which he handed over to the weekly newspaper Der folks advokat (The people’s advocate) for an honorarium of $50. From that point, he became a contributor to the newspaper and later its editor-publisher. He added to the newspaper a nationalist-conservative bent. At the same time, he also began to write for the theater. His first play for the Pulse Theater was said to have been in competition with M. Hurvits’s work Der mabl fun dzhanston (The Johnstown flood)—according to B. Gorin, Paley’s first play was Di rusishe nihilistn un di ermordung fun rusishn tsar (The Russian nihilists and the murder of the Russian tsar) of 1889 and Der mabl fun dzhanston (1890) was not Hurvits’s work, but Paley’s; Gorin also notes a Paley play entitled Kronprints rudolf (Crown prince Rudolf) and the Jewish Encyclopedia mentions a drama entitled Dos lebn in nyu-york (Life in New York). It was staged at the Thalia Theater and failed. Later, also at the Thalia, his play Di rusishe nihilistn was staged. In 1892 he edited the Idishe prese (Jewish press) in Philadelphia, published by Morris Fridman. Around 1894 he founded in New York, together with the lawyer Bernard Harris, his own newspaper Der folksvekhter (The people’s sentry), which enjoyed limited success, but afforded him a name as one of the best Jewish journalists. The newspaper was then purchased by Yekhezkl Sorezon, and Paley became a writer for Di yidishe gazeten (The Jewish gazette) and Dos yidishe tageblat (The Jewish daily newspaper). He later became editor of the latter in place of Getsl Zelikovitsh, and the newspaper changed into a sensationalist organ. He was the first to introduce into the Yiddish press the methods of American yellow journalism of Pulitzer and Hearst, with screaming, exaggerated stories of various and sundry family scandals, adventures, and the like. For a time Der teglekher herald (The daily herald) successfully drew Paley away from Yidishe tageblat, but he soon returned and held onto his position until his tragic death—he took his own life with poisonous gas fumes. Paley also contributed to Minikes’s papers. Aside from journalistic articles in various realms—the majority of them written under the pen names Ben-Amitai—Paley published a great number of novels (originals and adaptations). His books include: Dos leben in amerika, oder di geheymnise fun nyu york, a roman mit kharakteristishe bilder un ertsehlungen (Life in America, or the mysteries of New York, a novel with characteristic images and stories) (New York: R. Oyerbakh and Y. Hershenshteyn, 1891-1892), 208 pp.; Di shvartse khevre, oder nyu york bay ṭog un bay nakht (The black gang, or New York by day and by night), “a novel from the New York ghetto” (Brooklyn, 1900), 171 pp.; Uriel akosta, a historisher roman fun yohan paley (Uriel Acosta, a historical novel by Yohan Paley) (New York: B. Rabinovits, 1900), 78 pp.; Der vaybersher gan-eydn, a realistishe shilderung iber di arbayter meydlekh (Women’s Garden of Eden, a realistic depiction of working girls [original: Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies’ Delight)]) by Émile Zola (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1921), 186 pp.; Di giftmisherin oder gelebt tsvishen toyte (The poisoner or life among the dead), “a true, important, and interesting novel, a depiction of the upper and lower classes” (New York: A. Ferneburg), 2 volumes; Der geheymer shlos, oder hass und liebe, a belehrender un interesanter roman (The secret castle, or hate and love, an edifying and interesting novel), 680 pp.; Sapho (Sappho) by Alphonse Daudet (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1899 or 1900), 137 pp.; Geheymnise fun pariz (Mysteries of Paris [original: Mystères de Paris]) by Eugène Sue (New York, 1918?), 709 pp.; Kleopatra (Cleopatra) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co.), 1014 pp. In his biographical entry for Paley, Zalmen Reyzen states (Leksikon, vol. 2) as other works by him: Drayfus, oder di geheymnise fun der frantsoyzisher republik (Dreyfus, or the mysteries of the French Republic) (New York, 1898), 1856 pp.; Di zilberne hokhtsayt, a hekhst shponender roman (The silver wedding, a highly thrilling novel [original: Die silberne Hochzeit: Roman]) by Salomon Kohn (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1913), 77 pp.; and Di blutike grefin (The bloody countess) (New York: A. Ferneburg, 1897-1898), 1468 pp.; among others.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 3 (New York, 1959); Y. Milkh, in Tsukunft (New York) (November 1904); Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (December 27, 1931; February 7, 1932); Y. Kopilov, Amol un shpeter (Once and later) (Vilna: Altnay, 1932), 72 pp.; M. Dantsis, in Tog (New York) (June 25, 1933; May 30, 1945); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Yorbukh fun amopteyl fun yivo (Yearbook of the American division of YIVO), vol. 1 (New York, 1938), p. 274; N. Zalovits, in Forverts (July 1932); Kalmen Marmor, Der onhoyb fun der yidisher literatur in amerike, 1870-1890 (The start of Yiddish literature in America, 1870-1890) (New York: Writers’ Section of IKUF, 1944), pp. 61, 90, 98; Y. Khaykin, Yidishe bleter in amerike, a tsushteyer tsu der 75-yoriker geshikhte fun der yidisher prese in di fareynikte shtatn un kanade (Yiddish letters in America, a contribution to the seventy-five year history of the Yiddish press in the United States and Canada) (New York, 1946); Miriam Shamer-Tsunzer, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 33 (1949), pp. 168-82; L. Kobrin, Mayne fuftsik yor in amerike (My fifty years in America) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 339, 402-3.