GETSL ZELIKOVITSH (GEORGE SELIKOVITCH, ZELIKOWITCH) (May 23, 1863-November 28, 1926)
He was born in Riteve (Rietavas), Kovno district Lithuania. His father sat day and night studying, and his mother ran a leather goods shop. Until age sixteen he studied in religious primary school and yeshivas, was known as the Riteve prodigy, and was on the verge of receiving ordination into the rabbinate, but under the influence of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, he abandoned his studies and in 1879 moved to Paris where he became a teacher of Hebrew to the well-known philanthropist Michel Erlanger in the latter’s home; at the same time, he turned his attention to secular studies, principally of ancient languages: ancient Egyptian, Ethiopian, Arabic, and Sanskrit. In 1885 he accompanied as an Arabic-English interpreter the British military expedition that was sent to Egypt to free General Gordon from Khartoum, but due to the accusation of Lord Kitchener that he sympathized with the Africans, Zelikovitsh left the expedition and returned via Abyssinia to Paris where he continued his studies at the Sorbonne and received his degree as an Egyptologist. After a brief trip to Turkey, Greece, Italy, and North Africa with scholarly expeditions, in 1887 he moved to the United States where he initially was professor of Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but due to certain intrigues he had to relinquish his professorship, and from that point on he turned to journalism. He began writing as early as 1879 when he published correspondence pieces for: Hamagid (The preacher), Hamelits (The advocate), Kneset yisrael (Congregation of Israel), and the New York-based Yudishe folkstsaytung (Jewish people’s newspaper). In Paris he was a contributor to L’Intransigeant (The intransigent) and Univers israélite (Jewish universe), as well as for the Arabic newspaper Al Ahram in Cairo. In America, he began writing for Folks advokat (People’s advocate), for which he served as editor over the years 1888-1890, later becoming a regular contributor to Nyu yorker folkstsaytung (New York people’s newspaper) in which he published—aside from newspaper material and articles—sentimental poetry and hymns, among them: “Di heylike martirer fun shikago” (The holy martyr of Chicago), which was sung at that time as a folksong. From 1890 he was the main contributor to Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) and Yudishe gazetten (Jewish gazette) in New York, in which over the course of a decade—with only short breaks when he edited in Chicago Yidishes tageblat fun der vest (Jewish daily newspaper from the West), in Boston Idisher odler (Jewish eagle) and Teglikhe prese (Daily press), and in New York Abend-post (Evening mail)—he published a great number of current events and scholarly articles, sketches, and feature pieces. Using the pen name Sambatyon, he also ran the division “Literatur un lomdes” (Literature and scholarship) in Yidishes tageblat, and there he reviewed a variety of books and scholarly works, mainly in the field of Jewish studies, and thus demonstrated great erudition in various realms of knowledge. To help make a living, he also wrote under an assortment of pseudonyms trashy novels, some of which appeared in book form from the Hebrew Publishing Company. Over the course of his many years of newspaper work, he contributed as well to: Yudishe ilustrirte tsaytung (Jewish illustrated newspaper), Di varhayt (The truth), Der teglikher herald (The daily herald), Reform-advokat (Reform advocate), Der tog (The day), and Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal)—all in New York. In Hebrew he wrote for: Ruvn Brainin’s Mimizraḥ umimaariv (From the east and from the west); Haolam (The world); the children’s magazine Haperaḥim (The flowers) in Lugansk; Hashaḥar (The dawn); Ben shaḥar (Son of dawn) in Warsaw; Hadoar (The mail), Hatoran (The duty officer), Ner hamaarvi (The Western candle), Haaravi (The Arab), and Hadevora (The bee) in New York, in which (aside from poetry) he also published translations from ancient Oriental literature in which he excelled with his magnificent Hebrew style.
Zelikovitsh was considered among the pioneers of the Yiddish press in America. He was a fighter for a pure Yiddish vernacular for which he offered as examples his short press pieces, and he condemned the crippled, Germanized Yiddish that at the time dominated the Yiddish press in America. In the early 1890s, when Shomer (Nokhum Meyer Shaykevitch) was leading a fight in New York against Sholem-Aleykhem (in connection with the latter’s book Shomers mishpet [Shomer’s trial]), Zelikovitsh was on the side of Sholem-Aleykhem. He also edited: Der idish-amerikaner redner (The Jewish American orator), a collection of over 500 speeches in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English (New York, 1908), second printing in 1909; Bar mitsve redes (Bar Mitzvah speeches) (New York, 1910), published in a number of editions. He was also co-editor of Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) from 1901 to 1915. He authored such books in Yiddish as: Literarishe brif (Literary letters), a collection of articles and feature pieces (New york, 1909), 96 pp.; Arabish idisher lerer, veg-vayzer far di idishe legyonern in tsien (Arabic-Yiddish teacher, guide for the Jewish legionnaires in Zion) (New York, 1918), 32 pp., in a variety of editions; Geklibene shriftn (Selected works), published on his fiftieth birthday (New York, 1913)—consisting of three parts: (1) sketches and stories; (2) features and recitations; and (3) reports and philosophical treatises (music, drama, poetry, literature, and art); Yokum bembe, humorous stories drawn from American Jewish life (New York, 1913), 160 pp.; and the pamphlet Di fereynikte shtatn afn sheydveg (The United States at the crossroads) (Warsaw, 1921), 29 pp. His light novels published between 1907 and 1912 include: Di bitere nekome (The bitter revenge); Der baroybter keyver (The robbed grave); Di nekome fun a barmenen (The revenge of a corpse); and Madam yeytser hore (Madame temptation). In Hebrew: Tsiure masa (Images from a journey) (Warsaw, 1910), 68 pp. He translated from Sanskrit into a biblical Hebrew style: Torat budha (The law of the Buddha), from the Tripitaka (New York, 1922), 143 pp.; Sefer hametim (Book of the dead) from ancient Egyptian, portions of the Babylonia Epus gilgamesh (Epic of Gilgamesh), and from the ancient literature of the Hittites. In French: a work on the immortality of the soul, Le School des Hébreux (The school of the Hebrews) (Paris, 1884); Drumont (Paris, 1886), his polemic against the famed anti-Semite; and Division mystique du temps (The mystical division of time) (Paris, 1886); among others. In English: Pawn of Egyptian Civilization (Philadelphia, 1887); Memorial Prayers and Meditations, a translation of Maane lashon (New York, 1910), 94 pp. He was also a contributor to the Jewish Encyclopedia (London-New York, 1901), and to Ayzenshteyn’s Otsar yisrael (Treasury of Israel) (London-New York). He also published under such pen names as: Der litvisher filozof, Veḥalaklakot, Baron Yekum Purkan, Di litvishe khakhmanyes, and Estetikus. He died in New York. His son William (born September 1898 in Chicago) published articles and letters in Yidishe tageblat in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography); Y. Entin, in Yidishe poetn (Yiddish poets), part 2 (New York, 1927), p. 19; Pinkes fun amopteyl fun yivo (Records of the American division of YIVO) (New York) (1927-1928), p. 261; E. R. Malachi, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1927); Malachi, in Gilyonot (Tel Aviv) (Ḥeshvan 27 [= November 5], 1953); Ben-Tsien Ayzenshtadt, Otsar zikhronot (Treasury of memories) (New York, 1927), pp. 44, 56, 57; Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (January 3, 1932); Y. Lifshits, in Tsukunft (New York) (May 1939); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (September 1940); Niger, in Algemeyne yidishe entsiklopedye (General Jewish encyclopedia), “Yidn 5” (New York, 1957); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Yorbukh fun amopteyl (Annual from the American branch [of YIVO]), vol. 1 (New York, 1938), p. 274; Shtarkman (using the pen name Moshe Khizkuni), in Metsuda 7 (1954); Elye Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1943), pp. 41, 43, 44, 61, 85, 90; E. Almi, Momentn fun a lebn (Moments in a life) (Buenos Aires, 1948), pp. 224-29; Y. Tsuzmer, Beikve hador (At the edge of the generation) (New York, 1957), p. 208; Y. B. Beylin, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (September 25, 1957); The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 9, p. 471.
Borekh Tshubinski and Khayim Leyb Fuks