Friday 20 November 2015


            He was born in Ponevezh (Panevezys), Lithuania.  He was a child prodigy.  He later learned languages, and he became known in various literatures.  He emigrated to South Africa and settled in Johannesburg where he was one of the first journalists to write in Yiddish.  He was initially a contributor to the weekly newspaper Der ekspres (The express), published by S. Fogelson, serially over the course of a year (1898), and later he published in Hakokhav (The star)—the “Jewish Star”—a weekly edited by Yisroel-Mikhl Troyb (1903-1908), and finally (until his death) for Fogelson’s weekly newspaper Der Afrikaner (The African) which began publication in Johannesburg in November 1911 (not to be confused with N. D. Hofman’s serial of the same name in Capetown).  He was one of the main contributors to Der Afrikaner.  He became known under the pen name “Ben Amots” (adopted child) and “Der Shtot-Kokhlefl” (the city busybody) with his “Briv fun rusland” (Letter from Russia) and other items, but he made himself especially popular for his long feature series “Tkhines” (Prayers [usually associated with women’s prayer]): a tkhine “for a groom,” a tkhine “for a bride,” a tkhine “for women,” a tkhine “for Jewish teachers,” “for the board of ritual slaughtering,” for a “Jewish merchant,” for young Jewish men who work in “concession stores,” a tkhine for “familiar wagon drivers, peddlers, bathhouse attendants, and urchins of all sorts.”  In this human interest series, which he wrote under the pseudonym of “the state busybody,” he ridiculed with biting humor the various and sundry weaknesses of South African Jewry, their chasing after material comforts and easy pleasures.  He laughed at “Jewish women who know full well that human propriety lies in clothing, hats, theater, balls, concerts, and visits,” for if not this, then what is proper for Africa?  At home they “live like princesses, and if they cannot change for the better, why lament this Africa?”  He often scoffed at cultural loss of South African Jews, their running away from Yiddish and parroting English which they didn’t know.  “The Jews from Dribishok [?] and Sapizishok” (Zapyškis), he wrote in a feature piece in 1912, “whose language of intercourse is Yiddish, their nose—Jewish, their little jokes—Yiddish….  But at a meeting, is it appropriate to speak Yiddish?  They turn right to English.  But they don’t know English, and they speak silliness which grinds at the ear, nonetheless English and not Yiddish they use” (L. Feldman).  We have no other biographical information about this writer.  According to Zalmen Reyzen, he died in 1912; according to L. Feldman, “in the first half of 1914.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; , vol. 1; . Sh. Yudelovitsh, in Dorem-afrika (Johannesburg) (July 1950); L. Feldman, Yidn in yohanesburg (Jews in Johannesburg) (Johannesburg, 1956), pp. 219-22, 228, 232-35.

Yitskhok Kharlash

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