Sunday 14 August 2016


MOYSHE ZAYFERT (ZEIFERT, ZEYFERT) (May 2, 1851[1]-February 7, 1922)
            He was born in Vilkomir (Ukmergė), Kovno district, Lithuania.  He was the son of a Vilna barber-surgeon, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment.  He studied in religious elementary school and with private tutors, and with his father’s library he acquainted himself with Enlightenment books.  At age ten he moved with his parents to Shverzne, a town near the uppermost reaches of the Nieman River; there he continued his studies of Talmud and read the Hebrew newspapers to which his father would subscribe.  At age thirteen he published his first correspondence piece in Hakarmel (The garden-land), and later he published popular scientific articles in Y. M. Vohlman’s Hakokhavim (The stars), in Hamelits (The advocate) and Hakarmel, while preparing to study at university, but following his father’s wish, he went instead to the Volozhin Yeshiva, and from there he was expelled for reading heretical writings.  In 1873 he passed the barber-surgeon examination in Kovno, and after his father’s death he became a barber-surgeon in Shverzne and later in Stoybts (Stolbtsy), Minsk district, while at the same time publishing articles, feature pieces, and stories in Rodkinson’s Hakol (The voice) and Asefat ḥakhamim (Assembly of wise men), in Haor (The light) and Hamagid (The preacher); he also wrote for the Russian Jewish Nedel׳naia khronika voskhoda (Weekly chronicle of the east), Russkii evrei (Russian Jewry), and Razsviet (Dawn).  In 1886 he made his way to the United States and soon began to write in Yiddish, became a contributor to New York Yiddish weeklies, and served as a correspondent for the weekly publication Voskhod (Sunrise), in which, among other items, he published a long article on the Yiddish theater in New York, but inasmuch as earnings for this sort of writing were meager, he took to writing plays for the Yiddish stage.  His first theatrical piece, Di tsvey grinhorns, oder der shloser (The two greenhorns, or the locksmith)—a realistic drama drawn from working class life—failed, and Zayfert then proceeded to write historical operettas, such as: Miryam hakhashmenis (Miriam the Hasmonean), Ger tsedek (The righteous convert), Shoymer yisroel (Guardian of Israel), and Malkes shabes (The Sabbath queen), among others.  He wrote forty-seven plays over the course of the fifteen years that he was connected with the Yiddish theater (he wrote the first text of the popular operetta Dos pintele yid [The quintessence of Jewish identity] which Boris Tomashevsky later adapted; it appeared under Tomashevsky’s name).  As he did not hold playwriting in especially high esteem, he ultimately abandoned it and became a novelist.  While he was still in Russia, he had vied to create a more realistic Jewish novel than those written by Shomer (Nokhum Meyer Shaykevitch) and Ozer Bloshteyn.  His first novels were published in Vilna in the 1880s.  His first novel in America, Der turem fun bovl (The tower of Babel), was published in Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper), to which he was a regular contributor over the course of two decades and in which he published the great majority of his sixty-four novels; among the most popular of them: Zushe poulanker (Zushe Poulanker), Barg arop (Decline), and Vi nyu-york veynt un lakht (How New York cries and laughs).  He also composed a great number of sketches, stories, feature pieces, humorous sketches, and articles, mostly on social themes, published in a variety of Yiddish-language publications, among them: Nyu-yokrer yidishe folks-tsaytung (New York Jewish people’s newspaper), edited by A. Braslavski and M. Mints, and Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor)—both in New York; Varshever yudisher familyen-kalendar (Warsaw Jewish family calendar); Der yud (The Jew); and Frishman’s Hador (The generation).  In the anthology Di idishe bine (The Yiddish stage) in New York (1897), he wrote a long essay (47 pp.) entitled “Di geshikhte fun dem yudishn teater” (The history of the Yiddish theater), which was also published as a separate pamphlet.  In addition he published memoirs about the Vilna Enlightenment figures and Avraham Mapu in Hatoran (The duty officer) and in the annual Luaḥ aḥiever.  In book form he published: Aave bataynugim oder blumen un derner (Love of pleasures or flowers and thorns), a novel; Itele un gitele, roman oys dem idishn lebn in lite (Itele and Gitele, a novel drawn from Jewish life in Lithuania) (Vilna, 1891), 219 pp.; Tsvishn libe un ere, roman oys dem idishn lebn in rusland (Between love and honor, a novel drawn from Jewish life in Russia) (Vilna, 1888), 140 pp.—all published by the house of Rom in Vilna.  In New York he published with the Hebrew Publishing Company: Vikhne dvoshe di shadkhnte (Vikhne Dvoshe, the matchmaker), 64 pp.; Megiles drayfus (The scroll of Dreyfus), 85 pp.; A shpatsir durkh dem gehenem (A walk through hell), 84 pp.; Nyu-york vi es lakht un veynt, a roman fun idishn lebn (New York, how it laughs and cries, a novel of Jewish life), 206 pp.; Der prints als detektiv (The prince as detective), 416 pp.; Der litvisher kenig fun di shnorers (The Lithuanian king of the beggars), 197 pp.; Tkhies-hameysim (Resurrection of the dead), 27 pp.; Baym tir fun gan-eydn (By the gates of the Garden of Eden), 64 pp.; Der blutiker tseylem, original roman oys dem idishn lebn (The bloody cross, original novel drawn from Jewish life), 84 pp.; A gast fun yener velt, a humoristishe ertseylung (A guest from the other world, a humorous story), 48 pp.; Kuba oder di shpanishe inkvizitsyon fun den 19th yorhundert, a historisher roman (Cuba or the Spanish inquisitions of the nineteenth century, a historical novel), 3 vols., 1085 pp.; and Graf pototski, oder der ger tsedek, a historisher roman (Graf Potocki or the righteous convert, a historical novel), 48 pp.; among others.  He also translated Paolo Mantegazza’s Froyen fun mayn tsayt (Women of my time [original: Le donne del mi tempo]) and Di kunst a man oystsuklaybn (The art of selecting a husband [original: L’arte di prender marioto]), as well as other European writers.  He died in New York.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, with a bibliography; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1, with a bibliography; Hadoar (New York) (February 8, 1922); E. Shulman, in Yorbukh fun amopteyl (Annual from the American branch [of YIVO]), vol. 1 (New York, 1938); Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1943); N. Zalovits, in Forverts (New York) (August 13, 1939); Kalmen Marmor, Der onhoyb fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (The beginning of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1944); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (August 1940); Moyshe Shtarkman (M. Khizkuni), in Hadoar (Sivan 4 [= May 23], 1947); Shtarkman, in Metsuda 7 (London, 1954); Sh. Perlmuter, Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-kompozitorn (Yiddish playwrights and theatrical composers) (New York, 1952); Y. Mestl, 70 yor teater-repertuar (Seventy years of theater repertoire) (New York, 1954); Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word), an anthology (New York, 1955).
Zaynvl Diamant

[1] According to Ben-Tsien Ayzenshtadt, akhme yisrael beamerika (Wise Jewish men in the United States) (New York, 1903), he was born on April 12, 1850; according to Kalmen Marmor, in Almanakh, it was 1845.

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