YISROEL (ISRAEL) OKUN (January 10, 1877-October 22, 1941)
Born in Bobruisk (Babruysk), Minsk district, Byelorussia, into a family of wealthy timber merchants. He received a secular education. As an early age he joined the socialist movement. He was active in the local Bundist organization in Bobruisk. In the autumn of 1906, he left for Germany to study. In August 1907 he was appointed to the foreign committee of the Bund as a member of the delegation to the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, where he appeared with the name Dag (shortened from his journalist-party pseudonym of Daginski). He completed his studies, received his diploma in engineering, and then returned to Russia where he settled in in St. Petersburg. There he linked up on one side with the Bund and on the other with legal, Russian-Jewish cultural institutions. After the 1917 Revolution, he remained active in the Bund—as earlier in St. Petersburg where he was a city councilman and a member of the first democratic committee in the Jewish community. By the end of 1917 he was back in Bobruisk where he was elected vice-mayor of the city. In 1918 he moved with his family to Vilna where he built the Jewish producers’ cooperatives, served as director of the ORT polytechnic, and wrote for local publications of the Bund—Dos fraye vort (The free word), Undzer tsayt (Our times), Undzer gedank (Our thoughts)—for the journal Undzer hilf (Our help) of Yekopo (Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”), as well as for the publications of the Vilna central education committee. In 1923 he emigrated to Argentina where he edited the Bundist biweekly Argentiner veker (Argentine alarm) (Buenos Aires, late 1924). Because of a severe illness, he left Argentina and returned to Vilna from which he would again emigrate. In 1930 he left for Toronto (Canada), and he worked initially as a teacher in Workmen’s Circle schools and later the representative of the Forverts in New York. He was a member of the editorial board of the monthly Dos sotsyalistishe vort (The socialist word). He died in Montreal where he had come on assignment for the Workmen’s Circle. He was buried in Toronto. His major works include: Produtsir-kooperativn oder produtsir-verkshtubn (Production cooperatives or production work sites), pamphlet (Vilna, 1920), 31 pp.; Materyaln vegn produtsir-kooperatsye (Materials concerning production cooperation) (Vilna, 1920), 40 pp.; a notice from the production cooperatives in Pinkes fun yekopo (Records of Yekopo) (Vilna, 1931); and a translation of Professor Leo Graetz’s book, Die Elektrizität und ihre Anwendungen (Electricity and its usages [Stuttgart, 1906]), as Elektre un ir praktishe oysnutsung (Vilna, 1920), 270 pp.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzin, Leksikon, vol. 1; Pinkes fun yekopo (Vilna, 1931), pp. 719-20; Dos sotsyalistishe vort (Toronto) (November 1941); Undzer tsayt (New York) (November 1941).