Sunday 5 April 2015


     He was born in Slutsk (Sluck), Byelorussia—his father’s name was Ezriel.  He received a traditional education.  At age fifteen he became a teacher in the same “cheder metukan” (improved religious elementary school) in Slutsk where he had been a student.  He was the founder of the local association “Dovre ivrit” (Speakers of Hebrew), which with the help of Avrom Epshteyn and Meyer Vaksman enabled him to publish by hectography a periodical in Hebrew, entitled Hatsair (The pioneer).  In it he published his first stories.  At age seventeen he moved to Lodz, where he became acquainted with Yitskhok Katsenelson; and thanks to the latter, he began to publish in the Warsaw daily newspaper Hatsofe (The spectator).  In 1903 he received a prize for his story “Moshkele ḥazir” (Little Moshe the pig)—among the judges were Y. L. Peretz and Yosef Klausner).  From Lodz he moved to Yekaterinoslav and became a teacher in the home of Menachem Ussishkin’s father-in-law.  He later returned to Slutsk and from there moved on to Warsaw, where he got to know Kh. N. Bialik.  In 1905 he was invited to Vilna to become assistant editor of Hazman (The times), and there, in addition to stories, he published feature pieces under the pen name “Barak.”  In Vilna he became acquainted with Sholem-Aleykhem, married his daughter Esther, and together with his father-in-law and the entire family departed for Galicia.  He lived for a certain period of time in Geneva, Switzerland, and from there to Nervi, Italy, and later still to the Black Forest in Germany.
     In 1910 he returned with his family to Imperial Russia, settled in Warsaw, and became the literary editor of Mortkhe Spektor’s Di naye velt (The new world).  That very year he began to translate into Hebrew Sholem-Alekhem’s writings.  The first two volumes were: Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the dairyman) and Menakhem-mendl.  He published these translations initially in Har hazman (The mountain of time) and in Haolam (The world) in Warsaw.  A short time later he was called to Vilna to edit the literary section of Haolam (editor, A. Druyanov).  In the spring of 1912 he moved with Haolam to Odessa.  There two new volumes of Sholem-Alekhem translations appeared: Adam vebehema (Man and animal) and Yamim tovim (Holidays).  At the end of 1913 he left Russia for the final time and settled with his family in Berlin.  When war broke out in 1914, he departed with Sholem-Alekhem’s family for Copenhagen and from there for the United States.  In New York he became editor of the humorous weekly newspaper Der groyser kundes (The great prankster), in which he published a number of stories and feature pieces under the pen name “Be-be.”  In 1916 he became editor of Hatoren (The mast), in which he published his own writings as well as translations of Sholem-Alekhem.  After the death of Sholem-Alekhem in 1916, Berkovitsh prepared for publication an edition of the humorist’s collected writings.  He also adapted for the stage Sholem-Alekhem’s theatrical work, and with his Hebrew version of Sholem-Alekhem, he made this into a classic for Hebrew literature as well.  In 1920 he became editor of Shtibl Publishers and of the journal Miklat (Refuge), and he also published a short Hebrew “library” for youth entitled Mikraot ketanot (Small reader).  In 1926 he edited the Sholem-aleykhem bukh (Sholem-Aleykhem book) (New York), 381 pp.  Included in this volume, together with Sholem-Alekhem’s letters and other materials, were Berkovitsh’s reminiscences and various other biographical information concerning Sholem-Alekhem, his family, and the Yiddish literary family overall.  He made aliya to Israel in the winter of 1928, and there he lived for the rest of his life.  In Israel he published, together with Fishl Lakhover, the literary weekly Moznaim (Scales).
     He also wrote in Yiddish for: Tsukunft (Future), Dos yidishe folk (The Jewish people), Lemberger tageblat (Lemberg daily newspaper), Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper), Der amerikaner (The American), Dos folk (The folk), Der fraynd (The friend), Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Di naye velt, Dos lebn (Life), Der groyser kundes, Der tog (Day), Forverts (Forward), and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain), among others.  Using the pseudonym “Be-be,” he edited Hagode shel prese (The Haggadah of the press), a satirical anthology concerning the Warsaw Yiddish press (Warsaw, 1910), 16 pp.  In Hebrew he published in: Hatsofe, Hashiloa (The shiloah), Luaḥ aḥiasef (Calendar of Aḥiasef), Hazman, Haam (The people), Haolam, Hatsfira (The siren), Moledet (Homeland), Hatoren, Miklat, Hadoar (The mail), Haarets (The land), Davar (Word), Moznaim, and Atidot (Future events), among others.  He edited a literary collection Grins (Greens) for Shavuot (Warsaw, 1920).  Among his books: Ugerkes (Cucumbers) (New York, 1909), 53 pp.; Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (Warsaw, 1909-1910), 210 pp.; Undzere rishoynem, zikhroynes-dertseylungen vegn sholem-aleykhem un zayn dor (Our founding fathers, memoirs and stories of Sholem-Aleichem and his generation) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1966), five vols.; Baginen, roman (Dawn, a novel) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1968), 439 pp.; Kinder-yorn (Childhood years) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1970), 257 pp.; Menakhem-mendl in erets-yisroel (Menakhem-Mendl in the Land of Israel) (Tel Aviv, 1973), 244 pp.  In Hebrew: Aḥaronim (The last ones) (Tel Aviv, 1929), 162 pp.; Maḥazot (Vistas) (Tel Aviv, 1929), 171 pp.; Menaḥem-mendel beerets yisrael (Menakhem-Mendl in Palestine) (Tel Aviv, 1936), 217 pp.; Yemot hamashia (Messianic times) (Tel Aviv, 1937), 339 pp.; and Harishonim ki-vene-adam (The first ones as human beings)—five volumes.  Berkovitsh’s dramatic works include: Landslayt (Countrymen) (in Hebrew: Baaratsot hareḥokot [On distant terrain]) (New York, 1921), 100 pp., which was also translated and published in Belorussian; a three-act play entitled Untern tseylem (Under the cross), an adaptation of his story “Moshkele ḥazir” which was, under the same title, staged in Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater (called in Hebrew: Oto veet beno [Him and his son]); and he also published in Tsukunft (1930) a three-act play entitled Fun yener velt (From the other world).  In Hebrew there also appeared his play Misḥak purim (The game of Purim), a comedy in one act.  Aside from Sholem-Aleykhem’s works, Berkovitsh also translated a portion of the writings of Tolstoy and Chekhov.  His own stories were translated into Russian, Polish, German, English, French, and Spanish.  Among his pen names (in addition to those mentioned above): Y. D. Zelikson, Litvak, Y. D., B. Ernst, Y. Avitamar, Y. D. B., and Yitskhok Even Ezriel, among others.
     He was a member of the Hebrew Language Council of the State of Israel.  With his realistic style, polished language, and restrained humor, he occupies an honored place in our literature in both languages.  He died in Tel Aviv.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah lealutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the founders and builders of Israel) (Tel Aviv, 1947-1971); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Teater-leksikon, vol. 1; Shmuel Niger, Vegn yidishe shrayber (On Yiddish writers), vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1927), pp. 109-23; Niger, in Tog (September 1924, February 5, 1928, August 10, 1930); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Yorbukh fun amopteyl (Yearbook from the American Branch of YIVO), vol. 1, pp. 251-72; Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vols. 2-3 (Vilna, 1929-1935); Y. Mestl, 70 yor teater-repertuar (Seventy years of theater repertoire) (New York, 1954), see index; D. Pinski, in Morgn-zhurnal (June 8, 1954); Abraham Epshteyn, Mikarov umeraḥok (From near and from far) (New York, 1943), pp. 126-35; Dr. A. Mukdoni, In varshe un lodzh (In Warsaw and Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955); M. Ribalov, Sofrim veishim (Writers and men) (New York, 1936), pp. 104-14; Mivḥar maamarim al yetsirato (The best of his writings) (Tel Aviv, 1976).
Yekhezkil Keytelman

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 113.]

1 comment:

  1. Has the Story "Cucumbers" by I.D. Berkowitz been translated into the English"
    Harry D.Boonin