BOREKH RIVKIN (February 24, 1883-June 9, 1945)
A literary critic and journalist, he was born Borekh-Avrom Vaynrib in Yakobshtadt (Ekabpils), Courland, into a poor family. He attended religious elementary school, later the crown Jewish school. He graduated from the “municipal school” around 1899. He joined the Bund in 1903, but he was more inclined philosophically to anarchism. He was active in illegal political work. He lived in Mitave (Mitava), Libave (Liepāja), Riga, and Odessa. In 1905 he made his way abroad—to Berlin, Hamburg, Geneva, Paris, and London. In late 1911 he settled in New York. He was active on behalf of Jewish schools in the United States and pioneer colonies in the land of Israel, being close to the Labor Zionists. His literary activities began with Russian anarchist organs in Geneva around 1908, using the pen name B. Sp-a (Baruch Spinoza). In Yiddish he debuted in print in 1911 in the London anarchist serials Zherminal (Germinal) and Arbayter fraynd (Workers’ friend), using the pen name B. R. In London he also edited anarchist publications in Yiddish. In America he initially contributed to Avrom Reyzen’s weekly newspaper Dos naye land (The new country). His articles there—such as “Dos problem fun idishen folks-shafen” (The issue of Jewish folk creations), “Ideal un ferbrekhen” (Ideal and criminal), and “Dos religyeze misfershtendenis” (The religious misunderstanding), among others—introduced a new tone into Yiddish journalism. With issue no. 7 (under the changed title, Di literarishe velt [The literary world]), Rivkin took over editorship. He also contributed literary criticism and journalistic articles to: Dos naye leben (The new life); Tsukunft (Future), for which for three years starting in 1915 he was secretary of the editorial board; Literatur un leben (Literature and life); Di idishe velt (The Jewish world) (1915-1916); Shriften (Writings), issues II and V; the weekly Naye post (new mail); Glaykhhayt (Equality); Idisher kempfer (Jewish fighter); Naye velt (New world); Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor); the daily Tog (Day), for which he was a regular contributor (1917-1919, 1940-1945); Herman Bernshteyn’s Haynt (Today) in 1920; Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper); Di idishe velt in Philadelphia (1922-1940); Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture); Studyo (Studio); Getseltn (Tents); Opatoshu and Leivick’s Zamlbikher (Collections); Yidishe shrftn (Yiddish writings); Epokhe (Epoch); Di feder (The pen); Brikn (Bridge) in Chicago; and Dos fraye vort (The free word) in London; among other serials. He edited the weekly Frayhayt (Freedom) in New York, Ershter “ikor”-almanakh fun filadelfyer komitet (The first IKOR almanac from the Philadelphia Committee) (Philadelphia, 1927, 87 pp.), and the weekly for psychic research and new Messianism Natur un vunder (Nature and wonder) in New York (1922). He published longer works in Di feder: “A karahod arum dray froyen” (A circle dance around three women); “A teritorye far idishe kinstler” (A territory for Jewish artists) about Volinski and Zangwill; “In an ekspeditsye nokh avrom reyzen” (In an expedition following Avrom Reyzen); “Finf doyres idishe poetn in eyn kafe” (Five generations of Yiddish poets in one café). In the publications of the Yiddish writers’ group with the Federal Writers’ Project, Di idishe landsmanshaften in nyu-york (Jewish native-place associations in New York) (New York, 1938): “Di sotsyale role fun di landsmanshaften” (The social role of the native-place associations); in Idishe familyes un familyenkrayzn fun nyu-york (Jewish families and family circles in New York) (New York, 1939): “Der fundament fun der idisher familye” (The foundation of the Jewish family); and in other periodicals and publications. He wrote journalism under the pen name R’, literary and theater criticism and feuilletons under the pen name Abe Lilyen, psychic research and spiritualism under the pen name Mark Toleroz, religious and philosophical matters under the pen name B. A. Vaynrib, and journalistic articles as B. Skutelski.
He suffered considerable poverty in America, and from his hundreds of published essays it appears that only one book emerged in print in his lifetime: Der mitlveg tsvishn ideal un praktik in kultur-arbet (The middle way between ideal and practice in cultural work) (Chicago: L. M. Shteyn, 1935), 64 pp. Rivkin’s second wife, Mina Bordo-Rivkin, later compiled and published the following books by her husband: A gloybn far umgloybike (A belief for unbelievers) (New York: Dovid Ignatov Literary Fund, 1947), 256 pp.; Yidishe dikhter in amerike (Yiddish poets in America), vol. 1 (New York: Tsiko, 1947), 308 pp., vol. 2 (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1959), 314 pp.; Grunt-tendentsn fun der yidisher literatur in ameriḳe (Basic tendencies in Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1948), 339 pp.; Yoysef opatoshus gang (Joseph Opatoshu’s course) (Toronto: G. Pomerants, 1948), 72 pp.; Yidishe yontoyvim (Jewish holidays) (New York: M. Sh. Shklarski, 1950), 255 pp.; Unzere prozaiker (Our prose writers) (New York: IKUF, 1951), 320 pp.; H. leyvik, zayne lider un dramatishe verk (H. Leivick, his poems and dramatic works) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1955), 249 pp.. Rivkin also composed two dramas: Arum a nes (Surrounding a miracle) and Der prints fun sekond avenyu (The prince of Second Avenue)—neither were published. He also translated a number of works: Georg Brandes, Di hoypt shtremungen in der literatur fun nayntsenten yorhundert (The main trends in nineteenth-century literature) (New York: N. M. Mayzel, 1920); Mikhail Artsybashev, Milyonen (Millions [original: Milliony]) and A glik (A good fortune) (New York: Yankovski, n.d.), 159 pp.; N. I. Kokhanovskii, Dos leben un der toyt fun a gasen froy, dramatishe ertsehlung (The life and death of a woman of the streets, dramatic story) (London: Progres, 1911), 60 pp.; P. Rutenberg (Pinḥas Ben-Ami), Di natsyonale viderbalebung fun dem idishen folk (The national revival of the Jewish people) (New York: N. M. Mayzel, 1915), 31 pp.; Leonid Andreev, Yekaterina andreyevna (Catherine Andreyevna) (New York: Yiddish Art Theater, 1927); and writings by Arthur Schnitzler. There were as well the misplaced galleys of a pamphlet: Di zelbst-gekroynte forshteyershaft (The self-appointed representative).
“Rivkin is one of the most original and most profound Yiddish journalists and critics,” noted Zalmen Reyzen, “temperamentally and spiritually aspiring to popularize the new Messianism.” “As a critic,” wrote Arn Glants-Leyeles, “he was a master interpreter. As such he exercised a formidable influence on the writers themselves. He was able to take a person with utterly limited talent, and in his slender or sparse lines of text he would see in it something extraordinary such that the person would begin to believe that he is second only to Homer. Even greater and utterly extraordinary talents were affected by B. Rivkin’s exaggerations.” “B. Rivkin was…an encyclopedia of assorted ideologies,” commented A. Mukdoni, “…a spiritualist, a religious mystic, a literary critic, a theatrical showman, a worldly Jew…. He considered himself a literary Messiah whose mission it was to make Yiddish literature great, to be revealed in its great ideas or to interpret in them with his own great ideas.” “Everything that Rivkin wrote,” noted Yankev Glatshteyn, “was hot, and his coolest thoughts and analyses were also heated to glowing…. He believed that a writer’s work resembled an arena for which he first had to create a show…. When Rivkin turned to take up the ideas of Yiddish writers, he set out on a route that rescued him, that afforded him broad possibilities for expression, but that was not a blessing for literature.” “He is no quiet, contemplative critic,” wrote Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik. “He is…an interested party. There is insufficient value for him just to judge, for he has to ‘tear open,’ to liberate the charge from its artistic form…so as to arouse and ‘creatively transform the reader.’… He is by nature a maximalist…. Maximalism…is his strength and his weakness…. Rivkin’s literary historical conceptions are themselves too intuitive, too objective, too a priori to be able to give a methodical justification and consistent description of the literary historical process…that dwells upon Rivkin’s great work is not the principal idea, but…the brilliant and sensible observations of literary events, his genuinely magnificent characterizations of a number of significant Jewish writers” is. He died in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; H. Leivixk, in Tog (New York) (May 15, 1943); Abba Gordin, Denker un dikhter (Thinker and writer) (New York, 1949), pp. 58-68; Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1947), pp. 150-56; Glatshteyn, Mit mayne fartogbikher (With my journals) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1963), pp. 452-59; Mina Bordo-Rivkin, B. rivkin, lebn un shafn (B. Rivkin, life and work) (New York, 1953); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (January 25, 1953); Niger, Habikoret uveayoteha (Inquiry and its problems) (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1957), pp. 181-88; Zishe Vaynper, Shrayber un kinstler (Writer and artist) (New York, 1958), pp. 240-51; Yeshurin, B. rivkin biblyografye (B. Rivkin bibliography) (New York, 1953); A. Mukdoni, in Tsukunft (New York) 8 (1954); Shmuel Leshtsinski, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays), vol. 2 (New York: Gershuni, 1955), pp. 225-47; Nakhmen Mayzil, Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, from Yankev Dinezon to Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957), pp. 169-82; Arn Glants, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 13, 1960); Y. Ḥ. Biltski, Masot (Essays), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 99-105; Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and poetry) (New York, 1965), pp. 455-73; Uri-Tsvi Grinberg, in Tsukunft 3 (1973); Lili Berger, In gang fun tsayt, eseyen (In the course of time, essays) (Paris, 1976), pp. 239-46.