NOYEKH SHTEYNBERG (NOAH STEINBERG) (October 18, 1889-October 23, 1957)
He was a literary critic and poet, born in Shene (Sienna), Poland. He came from a poor family with twenty children. He attended religious elementary school until age nine but learned little. In 1904 he made his way to London and worked in the women’s clothing business. He was greatly influenced by anarchism and by Leo Tolstoy’s ethical ideas. In 1907 he departed for the United States, studied foreign languages, attended several schools, and studied with private tutors. He lived in Toronto, Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. He debuted in print in 1911 with poems in Toronto’s Idisher zhurnal (Jewish journal). He went on to publish several series of articles, entitled “Natsyonalizm un kultur” (Nationalism and culture), in Idishe velt (Jewish world) in Cleveland (1912), “Kultur un tsivilizatsye” (Culture and civilization) in Idishe zhurnal (1913), and “Natsyonalizm un kosmopolitizm” (Nationalism and cosmopolitanism) in the weekly newspaper Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people) (1913). His first piece of criticism appeared in Kalmen Marmor’s Idishe arbayter velt (Jewish workers’ world) (1915). Over the years 1917-1918, he wrote critiques of books and theater for Idisher kempfer (Jewish fighter). He contributed to a variety of American Yiddish periodicals, such as: Tsayt (Time), Fortshrit (Progress), Feder (Pen) which he edited for a certain period of time, Der fraynd (The friend), Di idishe arbayter shtime (The voice of Jewish laborers), Tsvaygen (Branches), Oyfgang (Arise), Der veg (The way), Naye velt (New world), Proletarishe shtime (Proletarian voice), Proletarisher gedank (Proletarian idea), Nay-yidish (New Yiddish), Ineynem (Altogether), Frayhayt (Freedom), Masn (Masses), Shikago (Chicago), and Oyfsnay (Afresh). He co-edited Der onheyb (The beginning) in 1920 and edited the monthly Vegen (Ways) in 1922 and the collection Idish amerike (Jewish America) (New York, 1929), 320 pp.
His own works include: Yung-amerike (Young America), concerning the ten most important young writers—Dovid Ignatov, Zishe Landau, A. Raboy, Mani Leyb, Yoysef Rolnik, Yoysef Opatoshu, Moyshe Nadir, Ruvn Ayzland, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, and H. Leivick (New York: Leben, 1917), 256 pp., later edition (1930); Af di vegen fun vint (On the pathways of the wind), poems (New York: Leben, 1920), 32 pp.; Fun a libe (Of a love), poetry (New York: Leben, 1920), 36 pp.; Kritik (Criticism), a book of dialogues on criticism, women, writers, and critics (New York: Leben, 1926), 176 pp.; A bukh fun moyshe nadir (A volume of Moyshe Nadir) (New York: Leben, 1926), 158 pp.; Tsu loyterkeyt, lirishe proze (To sheer purity, lyrical prose) (Chicago, 1931), 109 pp.; Farlangt a mentsh (“Man wanted, lyrical prose”) (New York: Lebn, 1952), 224 pp. Shteynberg also wrote the drama Likht (Light), which appeared in Dos idishe folk (New York) in 1913. Zalmen Reyzen also mentions a book by Shteynberg entitled Moyshe-leyb halpern (Moyshe-Leyb Halpern) (1923). Shteynberg himself does not cite this in his own bibliography of 1931, and it is also not to be found in any other source. His work does appear in Nakhmen Mayzil’s Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word) (New York, 1955). He died in Los Angeles.
Shteynberg believed that “the task of the critic,” in the words of Zalmen Reyzen, “is to help express the genuine human personality, that the fullest form in criticism is to give an entire portrait of an artist…. He sought to introduce pure human intimacy into Yiddish criticism.”
“With his first step,” noted Borekh Rivkin, “Shteynberg overtook all of our critics of that era, whose only virtue was a little labor…. You find with him his own twists and turns,…a sudden notion, a burst of lightning.”
“Shteynberg’s manner of composing portraits,” wrote Meylekh Ravitsh, “is in world literature, as old as it is itself, but in Yiddish literature it is essentially absolutely new in 1917.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Benyomen Grobard, A fertlyorhundert, esey vegn der yidisher literatur in amerike (A quarter century, essay on Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1935), p. 17; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (November 18, 1957); Alter Eselin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (November 29, 1957); Shimen-Dovid Zinger, Dikhter un prozaiker, eseyen vegn shrayber un bikher (Poets and prose writers, essays on writers and books) (New York: Educational Dept. of Workmen’s Circle, 1959); Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and poetry) (New York, 1965), pp. 473-78; Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).
Dr. Eugene Ornstein