Wednesday 23 March 2016


            He was born in Jassy (Iași), Romania.  He was raised by a strictly religious stepfather who wanted him to become a ritual slaughterer.  He later, though, became a cantor and a music teacher in Jewish schools.  In 1890 he became a Yiddish actor and (together with Arn Rozenblum) traveled about the Romanian hinterland.  A theatrical entrepreneur then brought him to the United States, where he played (under the name Helmanesko) in a number of Yiddish theaters in New York and other cities in America.  In 1891 he returned to Jassy and performed in plays there, plays that he had written himself.  He was the author of a large number of songs (with his own music), which were included in the repertoire of the old Yiddish theater, and a number of them—such as “Yismekhu” (Let us rejoice), “Tsiens tsavoe” (Zion’s testament), “Gedenk zhe, yankl” (So remember, Yankl), and “Ervakh, srolik” (Awake, Srolik)—were sung in their time in Romania as folksongs.  Occasionally using the pseudonym “Hazman,” he published as many as 200 songs, with and without melodies, such as: “Kinot aḥaronot” (Final lamentations) which was about the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, “Ata beḥartanu” (You have chosen us), “Akdamut,” “Shekalim” (Shekels), “Der flaskedrige” (The Hassidic dance), and “Mayn muter tsien” (My mother, Zion), among others.  He was also responsible for the songs included in Kornfeld’s Yiddish translation of Zikhroynes lebeys dovid (Memoirs from the house of David) and published in Folksblat (People’s newspaper) in Jassy (1895-1896).  In addition, he composed Hebrew poetry, such as: “Kol zimra” (Sound of song), “Shir tehila” (Poem of prayer), “Erev shabat” (Eve of the Sabbath), and “Fantazya” (Fantasy), among others.  He also contributed songs, features pieces, articles, and translations to the Romanian Jewish serials Hayoyets (The advisor), Folksblat, and Yudishe Tsukunft (Jewish future); published in 1903 in Jassy the magazine Hamevaser (The herald), “fiction monthly for Zionism, culture, interesting notices, art, and entertainment”; and served as the paid editor of the socialist weekly newspaper Der veker (The alarm), “organ of the social-democratic group Lumina” (1897).  In subsequent years, he published Kitve hazman (Writings of Hazman) (Jassy, 1924), two volumes (including his autobiography) and Yontef blat (Holiday paper) (Jassy, 1926), 16 pp.  He was also the author of the plays: Bal shem (Bal Shem [Tov]), five acts, staged by the author in Jassy in 1891-1892; Bal nes (Master of miracles), four acts, staged by the author in Jassy in 1893; Pantilemon; a five-act biblical opera Ruth; the revue Gog umogeg (Gog and Magog), staged in Jassy in 1920; the one-act Der yarid in himl (The fair in heaven); Dos litvakl (The little Lithuanian); and others.  In the last years of his life, Helman became blind.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Lekison fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1 (with a bibliography); Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Paris) 3 (1939), p. 464.
Khaim Leyb Fuks.

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