YITSKHOK-ELKHONEN RONTSH (September 5, 1899-June 20, 1985)
The author of poetry, stories, novels, and essays, he was born in Konin, Poland. He descended from a business family. From 1906 he lived for seven years in Lodz. In 1913 he came to the United States. He engaged in the most difficult of jobs, while at the same time completing an English-language, evening middle school. From 1918 he was living in Chicago, and from 1924 he was in New York. There he worked as a teacher in Workmen’s Circle schools and later in those of the International Labor Order. He grew close to the leftist camp and was a member of “Proletpen” (Proletarian pen). He debuted in print in 1915 with poems in Kundes (Prankster). He wrote poems, stories, and articles on literary and political topics in: the daily newspaper Idishe velt (Jewish world), the Chicago edition of Forverts (Forward), Ineynem (Altogether), Yung-shikago (Young Chicago), Shigako (Chicago), New York’s Tsayt (Time), Fraynd (Friend), Di feder (The pen), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Oyfgang (Arise), Oyfkum (Arise), Kinder-land (Children’s land), Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s magazine), Frayhayt (Freedom), Signal (Signal) which he also co-edited, Hamer (Hammer), Nayland (New land), Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), and Zamlungen (Collections) which he also co-edited, among other serials. His edited works include: Proletarishe dertsiung (Proletarian education) (New York: International Labor Order, 1935); Idishe landsmanshaftn fun nyu-york (Jewish native-place associations in New York) (New York: Y. L. Perets Assn., 1938); Idishe families un familye krayzn fun nyu-york (Jewish families and family circles in New York) (New York: Y. L. Perets Assn., 1939), 206 pp.; Nay lebn (New life) (New York, 1941); Amerike in der yidishe literatur (America in Yiddish literature) (New York, 1945), 255 pp.; Lomir ale zinger, zamlung fun idishe, hebreishe un englishe lider (Let’s all sing, anthology of Yiddish, Hebrew, and English songs) (New York, 1952), 120 pp. His work appeared in Rokhkind and Kurland, eds., Di haynttsaytike proletarishe yidishe dikhtung in amerike (Contemporary proletarian Yiddish poetry in America) (Minsk: State Publ., 1932); Midvest-mayrev (Midwest-West) (Chicago, 1933); Nakhmen Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort antologye (America in Yiddish, an anthology) (New York: Ikuf, 1955); In shotn fun tlies, almanakh fun der yidisher proletarisher literatur in di kapitalistishe lender (In the shadow of the gallows, an almanac of Yiddish proletarian literature in the capitalist countries) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932); Charles Dobzynski, Anthologie de la poésie Yiddish, le miroir d’un people (Anthology of Yiddish poetry, the mirror of a people) (Paris: Gallimard, 1971). Music was composed to accompany many of Rontsh’s poems.
His own writings include: Vintn (Winds), poems (Chicago: Yung shikago, 1923), 135 pp.; Shotns fun nyu-york (Shadows of New York), essays (New York, 1928), 128 pp.; Indyaner zumer, geklibene lider, 1924-1929 (Indian summer, selected poems, 1924-1929) (New York: A. Biderman, 1930), 78 pp.; Hungerike hent, lider un poemes (Hungry hands, poetry) (New York: Signal, 1936), 128 pp.; Eygene mentshn, dertseylungen (One’s own people, stories) (New York, 1939), 239 pp., two printings; Lider (Poetry) (New York, 1947), 111 pp.; Di pyonern fun yidishn arbeter-lid (The pioneers of the Yiddish labor poem) (New York, 1950), 21 pp.; Dos lid fun sholem un andere lider (Peace poetry and other poems) (New York, 1952), 32 pp.; Motek un saltshe, trilogye (Motek and Saltshe, a trilogy) (New York, 1952), 3 vols.; Geklibene shriftn, 1920-1960 (Selected writings, 1920-1960) (New York, 1960), 447 pp.; Di velt fun mark shagal (The world of Marc Chagall) (Los Angeles, 1967), 291 pp.; In midber, poeme (In the desert, a poem) (New York, 1969), 47 pp.; Es vert shoyn shpet (It’s getting late), poetry (Los Angeles, 1970), 128 pp.; A loyb un a dank, poemes un lider (Praise and thanks, poetry), with drawings by Marc Chagall and twenty-four translations from Poems in English (Los Angeles: Bukh-komitet, 1981), 144 pp. His children’s works include: Vili der zinger, a mayse fun shul-lebn (Willy the singer, a story from school life) (Vilna, 1928), 15 pp.; Briv fun di ketskil berg (Letters from the Catskill Mountains) (Vilna, 1928); Elye un elke (Elye and Elke) (Vilna, 1938), 61 pp.; Ver iz geven stiv katoves (Who was Stephen Katovis) (New York, 1935), 15 pp.; Klara tsetkin (Klara Zetkin) (New York, 1935), 15 pp.; and Ver is gezen tsharls rutenberg, der grinder fun der amerikaner komunistisher partey (Who was Charles Rutenberg, the founder of the American Communist Party) (New York, 1936), 14 pp. In the words of Ber Grin, Y. E. Rontsh is “an original storyteller and wordsmith…. All of [his] prose writings are tightly linked to the times in which they were written…. There is in Rontsh’s fiction a wealth of important themes, issues, and ideals—numerous types, characters, images, figures, situations, events in Jewish and general life in Europe and America.” He died in Los Angeles.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (July 23, 1922); Alexander Pomerants, in Proletpen (Kiev) (1935), p. 243; Kalmen Marmor, in Morgn frayhayt (new York) (September 29, 1939); M. Olgin, Kultur un folk, ophandlungen un eseyen vegn kultur and shrayber (Culture and people, treatises and essays about culture and writers) (New York, 1949), pp. 265-69; Ber Grin, Fun dor tsu dor (From generation to generation) (New York, 1971), pp. 347-55; Grin, in Morgn frayhayt (September 16, 1979); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 501.]