MIKHAIL RASHKES (1880-1937)
He was a journalist and community leader. From his early youth he was drawn to the revolutionary movement. He was a member of the Zionist socialist party and later the United (Fareynikte) socialist party. In 1921 he joined the Communist Party. Over the years 1920-1924, he was active in “Yidgezkom” (Jewish Social Committee [for the Relief of Victims of War, Pogroms, and Natural Disasters]) and for a time was the plenipotentiary for this Committee in the United States. He wrote articles for the press. In 1927 when the Russian periodical Tribuna evreiskoi obshchestvennosti (Tribune of the Jewish public) was founded in Moscow as the organ of the central administration of Gezerd (All-Union Association for the Agricultural Settlement of Jewish Workers in the USSR), Rashkes joined the editorial board. He was one of the pioneers to visit Birobidzhan even before mass migration there began. People said of his enthusiasm for Birobidzhan that, when he strode with his high rubber boots over the bogs, he would enthusiastically call out: “What delightful mud! Really deep, but our own!” In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he led Jewish immigration with “our own mud” for the organization of the first new construction. He was later chair of the first city council in Birobidzhan. The young poet Emanuel Kazakevitsh dedicated a fervent poem to him—in his collection Birobidzhanboy (Construction of Birobidzhan) (Birobidzhan: Gezerd, 1932). Rashkes organized the first visits by such writers as Dovid Bergelson, Shmuel Halkin, and Shmuel Godiner to Birobidzhan. As Gezerd plenipotentiary, he visited Lithuania in 1931 to organize the migration of Lithuanian Jews to the Far East. He was arrested during the purges of 1936-1937. No detailed information about his subsequent fate is known.
Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), p. 357.