Sunday 15 February 2015


He was born in Izabelin, Grodno region, to religiously observant parents.  He studied at the Volozhin yeshiva and then abruptly left for the rabbinical seminary in Breslau, Germany, but his religious father brought him back home.  Blis then left for the United States.  He initially worked in a shirt factory and soon abandoned this job and entered the reform seminary in Cincinnati, but here too his father reached him and took him along to the Jewish colony of “Moisesville” in Argentina.  Blis didn’t stay there long, and he set out traveling through the countries of Latin America and became a businessman: in Chile he was one of the pioneers in the furniture industry; in Mexico he was a banker; in Cuba he was one of the pioneers of inter-American trade.  In Cuba he was also one of the founders of an assortment of Jewish communal organizations.  Blis already demonstrated an inclination to write while in the Volozhin yeshiva.  He began with correspondence pieces and current events articles in Hebrew-language newspapers and journals; he then tried his hand at poetry (in Hamelits [The advocate]).  His final poems—in Spanish—remain in manuscript.  He was also the first to deal with Jewish issues in the Cuban (Spanish-language) press.  He contributed as well to Yiddish publications in Cuba, in which he published a series entitled “Fartsaykhenungen fun yidishn lebn in kuba” (Records of Jewish life in Cuba) which he began in Spanish for the Havana magazine Bohemia and continued in Yiddish in Havaner lebn (Havana life) (1935: nos. 158-164; 1936: nos. 174-187; 1938: nos. 351, 353, 362).  He was the editor of almost every annual volume that the Zionist association of Cuba put out, as well as the Ondenkungs-bukh (Memory book) of the Jewish National Fund (together with Kh. Shayniuk and Dovid Kurland) (July 1936), 86 pp.; Bar-mitsve (Bar Mitzvah), in Yiddish and Spanish (December 1937), 42 pp.; Di bloy-vayse fon (The blue and white flag), in Yiddish and Spanish (January 1940), 52 pp.; Di tsienistishe shtime (The Zionist voice) (1941), 54 pp.
His final years ended tragically: separated from his wife, deserted by his children, having lost his wealth and dignity, he lived all alone in a poor hotel room in Havana.

Sources: Y. Hokhsteyn, in Havaner lebn almanakh 5708 (Havana life almanac, 1947-1948), pp. 78-92; B. Sapir, “Tsu der geshikhte fun yidn in kuba” (Toward a history of Jews in Cuba), Yivo-bleter 25.3 (May-June 1945), 335-66; Hemshekh oyf kubaner erd, zamlbukh tsum 25 yorikn yoyvl fun yidishn tsenter in kuba 1925-1950 (Continuation on Cuban soil, an anthology at 25 years of the Jewish center in Cuba, 1925-1950), ed. Leyzer Ran (Havana, 1951)

Leyzer Ran

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