YANKEV DINEZON (JACOB DINESON) (1850s-August 29, 1919)
He was born in Nay-Zager (Žagarė), Kovno district, Lithuania. He studied in religious elementary school, yeshiva, and read widely. He was strongly influenced by two major figures in Žagarė of that time: R. Khayim Zak and the poet Mikhl Gordon (1823-1890). When he was twelve years of age, his father died. He was raised by an uncle, Ayzik Elyashev, in Mohilev (Mogilev), near the Dnieper River. The wife of the wealthy Mohilev merchant Hurvits had an influence on Dinezon’s spiritual development, as he worked as a Hebrew teacher in her home. Sent from the Hurvits household to Vilna, Dinezon got to know Ayzik Meyer Dik at the Romm Publishing House. By that time he had already published articles in Hamagid (The preacher) and Hamelits (The advocate), as well as in Smolenskin’s Hashaḥar (The dawn); and he published the pamphlet Duner un blits (Thunder and lightning) (Vilna, 1874). He sent the manuscripts of his first two novels to Vilna: Beoven avos (For the sins of the fathers), “or a play for Jewish girls, shopgirls, and female innkeepers”; and Haneehavim vehaneimim, oder der shvartser yunger-mantshik (The beloved and the pleasant, or the dark young man) (Vilna, 1877). He sold the first of these two novels for a high price, but it was never published because a wealthy party in Mohilev, a relative of the Vilna censor, was portrayed negatively in the novel. The second novel was, according to Shmuel Niger, “the first long Yiddish novel and also the first sentimental novel in Yiddish”—a book with a moral; after it appeared in 1877 it enjoyed great success, selling some 10,000 copies in a short period of time. The novel was subsequently republished many times and was even dramatized and performed on stage. For a long time thereafter Dinezon did not write. This was allegedly due to his love for a Hurvits daughter, his tutee. Another version has it that it was due to a public stance taken against Yiddish by Perets Smolenskin. Like all of his contemporaries, Dinezon looked upon Yiddish as a means of enlightening and teaching the masses, and it seems he remained undecided about writing further in Yiddish. He afterward spent a brief time in Kiev, and in late 1885 he came to Warsaw and met with Y. L. Peretz.
This was a crucial moment in his life and an important date in the history of Yiddish literature. This acquaintance gradually developed into an intimate friendship for his entire life. Dinezon’s apartment became the gathering site for Yiddish writers in Warsaw. Dinezon then returned to his literary activities. His article in Yudishes folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper)—entitled “An entfer profesor grets, ver mit vemen darf zikh shemen” (A response to Professor Heinrich Graetz, who should be ashamed of whom?)—a reply to Graetz’s attack on Yiddish, undoubtedly had to do with his new approach to the language issues among Jews. He published images and stories, such as: “Kreplekh zolstu esn” (You’ve got to eat dumplings), in Sholem-Aleykhem’s Di yudishe folks-biblyotek (The Jewish people’s library), as well as in Yon-kiper (Yom Kippur) and in Hoyz-fraynd (House friend), and in 1890 he brought out his major novel: Even negef, oder a shteyn in veg (A stumbling block in the path) (Vilna, 1890), 380 pp.; (Warsaw, 1902, 1926), 492 pp.; (Moscow, 1938), 275 pp. He also published a children’s story, entitled “Avigdorl” (Little Avigdor). Soon thereafter appeared his third novel: Hershele (Warsaw, 1891, 1895, 1903), 200 pp.; (New York, 1905); Hebrew translation by Sh. Herberg (Tel Aviv: Mitspe, 1937). He also published his children’s tale: Yosele (Little Joe) (Warsaw, 1899, 1903), 188 pp.; (New York, 1923, 1926); (Buenos Aires, 1949); (Warsaw, 1951); Hebrew translation by H. D. Shaḥar (Tel Aviv, 1950?). Yosele was also reprinted in the work Finf niftorim: sholem-aleykhem, y. l. perets, mendele moykher-sforim, sh. sh. frug, y. dinezon (Five deceased persons: Sholem-Aleykhem, Y. L. Peretz, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sh. Sh. Frug, Y. Dinezon) (Vienna: Der kval, 1920). His novel Alter, a roman in eyn teyl (The old man, a novel in one part) appeared in a supplement to Der fraynd (The friend) (1904; Warsaw, 1928, 201 pp.); as did Kindershe neshomes (Children’s souls) in 1904. Other writings include: Tevyele, a shvues mayse (Little Tevye, a Shavuot story) (Warsaw, 1905?), 16 pp.; Der krizis, ertseylung fun soykherishn lebn (The crisis, a story of merchant life) (Warsaw, 1905), 133 pp.; Shimshen shloyme mit zayne ferd (Samson Solomon with his horses) (Warsaw, 1905), 14 pp.; Giteles yon-kiper (Gitele’s Yom Kippur) (Warsaw, 1909), 30 pp.; Indyen, dos land (India, the country) (New York, 1909), 64 pp.; Bovl, dos land (Babylonia, the country) (New York, 1909), pp. 167-201; and Egipten, dos land (Egypt, the country) (New York, 1909), pp. 105-66. Dinezon also published his experiences in Pinkes (Records) in Vilna (1911); he translated Graetz’s Volkstümliche Geschichte der Juden (Popular history of the Jewish people), except for vol. 1 [translated by someone else]; and Velt-geshikhte, fun di elteste tsaytn biz oyf di gegenvart (World history, from ancient times until the present), in a supplement to Yud (Jew) in 1900, later frequently republished (Warsaw, 1901, 1909). After Dinezon’s death, the following works of his appeared: Falik un zayn hoyz, dertseylung (Falik and his house, a story) (Warsaw, 1926), 106 pp.; Zikhroynes un bilder, shtetl, kinderyorn, shrayber (Memoirs and images, town, childhood, writer) (Warsaw, 1928), 244 pp.; Ale verk fun yankev dinezon (Collected works of Yankev Dinezon) (Warsaw, 1928-1929). Dinezon stopped writing in 1910. He left behind a number of unpublished works: Em habanim, oder di sheyne rokhele (Mother of children, or the beautiful Rokhele), a novel in four volumes (750 pp.); Maysim bekol yom (Stories for everyday), a novel in two parts (508 pp.); Khelme teyve khazey, a kritishe ertseylung fom lebn gegrif forgeshtelt in a kholem (A critical story of life drawn a concept in a dream) (200 pp.); Far likht bentsn (Before blessing the candles); Reb berl der groyser, a kheyder mayse (Reb Berl the great, an elementary school story); Kheyder yunglekh, an emese mayse (Elementary school boys, a true story); Vegn robinzon kruze—eykh mayn ersht verk (About Robinson Crusoe—also, my first work); Tsushnayder, dertseylung (Cutter, a story); Yonkiper motiven (Yom Kippur themes); Der zeyger (The clock); Di milkhome (The war); and Seyfer hazikorn (The book of memories). Another work in Yiddish is mentioned in his memoirs, Miryam hakhshmonit (Miriam, the Hasmonean). His story “A brif tsu a mekhaber” (A letter to an author) was never published in book form either. Dinezon also translated into Yiddish sixty-five short works for the series “Pitgamim umivtaim” (Proverbs and pronunciations), from the writings of Kh. N. Bialik and Ravnitsky’s Sefer haagada (The book of tales), and he contributed them to Fraynd, Tsukunft (Future) which also carried his story “Yosele algebranik” (Little Joe Algebranik), and virtually all Yiddish publications of his time. Dinezon’s letters constitute a major cultural historical work—a small portion of them were published by Yankev Shatski in Pinkes (a quarterly journal of Jewish literary history, linguistic research, folklore, and bibliography) in New York: 1.4 (1928), pp. 377-80; 2.1 (1929), pp. 61-69. In Warsaw he made a living as an advertising agent for Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers. In the years in which he was no longer writing, particularly after Y. L. Peretz’s death, he turned all of his attention to work on behalf of nursery schools and children’s schools (during WWI). “Yankev Dinezon did not represent a great step forward in history of fiction writing,” wrote Shmuel Niger. “The novel was important for the reader of Yiddish, and he remains of interest for those who study the history and psychology of the Jewish public. Before anything else, pure literature was a return to the morality-style of A. M. Dik without a doubt.” He died in Warsaw and was buried near Y. L. Peretz.
Dinezon with Sholem-Aleykhem
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1; D. Frishman, in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1928); Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vol. 1 (Vilna, 1929); Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (Collected writings) (Warsaw, 1929); Sh. Dubnov, Fun “zhargon” biz yidish (From “jargon” to Yiddish) (Vilna, 1929); N. Mayzil, in Tsukunft (May 1934); N. B. Minkov, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 25 (May-June 1945), pp. 441-65; Shmuel Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists), vol. 1 (New York, 1946); Dr. A. Mukdoni, Y. l. perets un dos yidishe teater (Y. L. Peretz and the Yiddish theater) (New York, 1949); Y. Y. Trunk, in Poyln (New York) 5 (1949); B. Yong, Mayn lebn in teater (My life in the theater) (New York, 1950); M. Natish, in Yivo-bleter 6 and a treatise on the same topic in the YIVO archives in New York; Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen’s bibliography) (New York, 1956), nos. 4511, 4623, 4625; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico, 1956), see index; Sh. Rozhanski, Yankev dinezon, di mame tsvishn undzere klasikers, 1856-1919 (Yankev Dinezon, the mother among our classical writers, 1856-1919) (Buenos Aires, 1956), 131 pp.; Rozhanski, in Afrikaner yidishe tsaytung (Johannesburg) (December 28, 1956); N. Mayzil, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (September 5, 1956); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (August 31, 1956); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (January 27, 1957; February 24, 1957); Y. Levin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (July 12, 1957); D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (March 3, 1957); Kh. L. Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), p. 200; N. Mayzil, Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, from Yankev Dinezon to Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957); Dr. A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), pp. 161-63.