Sunday 27 November 2016


            He was born in Pinsk, Byelorussia, to a father who was a cantor and a ritual slaughterer.  He studied in religious primary school, later in a Talmud Torah, where one would at that time also study Russian and arithmetic.  Under the influence of his older brother, Yankev-Tsvi Yanovski, a Hebrew teacher and writer in the Jewish Enlightenment vein, he left the Talmud Torah at age thirteen and, as an external student, turned his attention to secular subject matter.  In 1880 he departed for Bialystok where he continued his self-education, entered circles of studying young people in the city, and established for himself a name for his proficiency in Russian language and literature, as well as in radical journalism of the time.  In Bialystok, he for the first time published a pair of articles in a local Russian newspaper.  In 1885 he left for the United States, worked in New York as a dishwasher, a bag stitcher, a hat maker, and the like, while at the same time he became active in the labor movement; he joined the Russian-speaking “Progressive Association” and soon became well known as a fine speaker and skillful polemist.  He soon thereafter switched from Russian to Yiddish, because he wanted to exert a greater influence on Jewish workers.  After the bloody events in Chicago, known as the Haymarket Tragedy in 1886, he became an anarchist, founded (with H. Zolotarov) the Jewish anarchist group “Pyonire der frayhayt” (Pioneers of freedom), and in 1889 became editor of the Jewish anarchist weekly newspaper Di varhayt (The truth) which ceased publication after its twentieth number.  In 1890 Yanovski moved to London, where he worked for the Jewish anarchist group “Der nayer dor” (The new generation) and edited Der arbayter fraynd (The worker’s friend), which earlier had been a joint organ of the anarchists and socialists and which in 1891 went over entirely to the anarchist camp.  In London he was also active as a lecturer and campaigner for the Jewish “Berner Street Club” [International Working Men’s Educational Club].  In early 1895 he returned to New York.  Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), founded by Jewish anarchists in New York in 1890, ceased publication, because of a lack of means and appropriate organization, but he successfully overcame all difficulties, even on the part of his own colleagues, and in 1899 renewed publication of the newspaper of which he was to remain its magnificent editor for two decades.  In 1906 he made an effort to start a daily newspaper as well, Di abend tsaytung (The evening newspaper), with the objective of “fighting against yellow journalism,” but this newspaper was unable to last for more than three months.  Over the period 1910-1911, he edited the revived monthly Di fraye gezelshaft (The free society).  In the first years after WWI, when pro-Soviet tendencies within the Jewish anarchist movement grew strong, Yanovski (1919) departed from Fraye arbeter-shtime.  He became the editor at this time of the weekly Gerekhtigkeyt (Justice), organ of the International Ladies’ Garments Workers’ Union.  In 1926 when the union was all ablaze with a fight between left and right, he resigned from Gerekhtigkeyt.  For a short time he worked for Forverts (Forward) and published articles in Tsukunft (Future) as well, but regularly throughout this time published articles in Fraye arbeter-shtime and remained one of the most popular speakers in the Jewish anarchist groups.  In 1929 he once again became editor of Fraye arbeter-shtime, in which aside from journalistic pieces and articles of a polemical character, he published theater reviews and translations from world literature.  His “Brivkastn” (Mailbox) in the newspaper became the specific genre for sharp polemics in literature and topics in general.  His books include: Vos viln di anarkhistn? (What do the anarchists want?) (London, 1890), 22 pp., translated into several European languages; Ershte yorn fun yidishn frayhaytlekhn sotsyalizm, oytobiografishe zikhroynes fun a pyoner un boyer fun der yidisher anarkhistisher bavegung in england un amerike (The first years of free Jewish socialism, autobiographical memoirs of a pioneer and builder of the Jewish anarchist movement in Europe and America) (New York, 1948), 279 pp.  His translations include: Mikhail Bakunin, Got un der shtat (God and the state [original: Dieu et l’État]) (Leeds, 1901), 99 pp.; Henrik Ibsen, Der folks-faynd (Enemy of the people [original: En folkefiende]) (New York, 1906), 138 pp.; Jean Meslier, Gloybn un fernunft (Beliefs and reason [original: Le bon sens du curé (The good sense of the parish priest)]) (London, 1907), 173 pp., second edition (London, 1913); Victor Hugo, Di yam-arbayter (Toilers of the sea [original: Travailleurs de la mer] (London, 1913), 139 pp.; Felix Hollaender, Di zukher fun emes, a sotsyaler roman in fir bikher (Seekers of truth, a social novel in four books [original: Der Weg des Thomas Truck (Thomas Truck’s path]) (New York, 1910), 587 pp., second edition (New York, 1915), third edition (New York, 1917); Leo Tolstoy, Di sklaferay fun unzer tsayt un andere geklibene sotsyale shriftn (Slavery in our time and other selected social writings [original: Rabstvo nashego vremeni, etc.]) (New York, 1912), 238 pp.; Petr Kropotkin, Di groyse frantseyzishe revolutsye, 1789-1793 (The great French Revolution, 1789-1793 [original: La Grande Révolution 1789-1793]) (New York, 1912), two volumes, 458 pp. and 416 pp.; Bertha von Suttner, Martas kinder, anti-militarisher roman (Marta’s children, an anti-militarist novel [Marta’s Kinder]) (New York, 1913), 348 pp.; von Suttner, Nider mit di vofn (Ground arms [original: Die Waffen nieder!]) (New York, 1913), 496 pp.; and Grant Allen, Di froy velkhe hot es geton (The woman who did) (New York, 1918), 186 pp.; among others.  Many of his translations, published in Fraye arbeter-shtime, did not appear in book form.  His pen names included: Y. Z., Anonimus, Bas-kol, and Yoysef ben Gershon.  He died in New York.  “He was one of the most talented pioneers,” wrote A. Liessin, “in Yiddish journalism in England and the United States—of better journalism, of idea-based journalism—and he always had the courage of his convictions.”  “His ‘Af der vakh’ [On guard] became a byword in Yiddish journalism,” noted Michael Kohn, and “his ‘Brivkastn’ [Mailbox] an institution.  He was a remarkable tone-setter on the Jewish street.  People reckoned with his ideas and smiled at what he praised.  He had many wings clipped, and he gave wings to many writers and poets and encouraged them to create more work.  Many luminous stars rose on the horizon of Fraye arbeter-shtime.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol.1; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2; Y. Kopelyov, Amol un shpeter (Once and later) (Vilna, 1932), pp. 172, 236; E. Frumkin, In friling fun yidishn sotsyalizm (In the spring of Jewish socialism) (New York, 1940), see index; Y. Khaykin, Yidishe bleter in amerike (Yiddish newspapers in America) (New York, 1946), see index; Dr. H. Frank, biographical preface to Yanovski’s Ershte yorn fun yidishn frayhaytlekhn sotsyalizm (The first years of free Jewish socialism) (New York, 1948); Aba Gordin, ed., Sh. yanovski: zayn lebn, kemfn un shafn, 1864-1939, byografye in finf teyln (Sh. Yanovski: His life, fights, and works, 1864-1939, a biography in five parts) (Los Angeles: Committee of remembrance for Sh. Yanovski, 1957), 586 pp., including Yefim Yeshurin, “Sh. yanovski-biblyografye” (Sh. Yanovski bibliography), pp. 1-19; Rudolf Rocker, In shturem (In the storm) (Buenos Aires, 1952), see index.  From newspaper and journals: A. Liessin, in Tsukunft (New York) (May 1924); Avrom Reyzen, in Tsukunft (February 1930); Dr. M. Kohn, in Tsukunft (October 1934); “Yanovski jubilee issue” of Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) 36 (1934), including some thirty articles; Dr. Y. Shatski, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (March 18, 1949); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (February 3, 1950; February 12, 1954); Shtarkman, in Hadoar (New York) (Sivan 4 [May 23], 1947); Sh. Slutski, Avrom Reyzen-blbyografye (Avrom Reyzen bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 5060; Sh. Vays, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 5” (New York, 1957), p. 259; A. R., in Fraye arbeter-shtime (November 1, 1957); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (August 17-18, 1958); T. L. Mayls, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (November 1, 1958); E. Naks, in Tsukunft (April 1959); M. Perlmuter, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (May 1, 1959); A. Khrablovski, in Dos fraye vort (Buenos Aires) 42 (June 1959); A. Volf-Yasni, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (March 15, 1960); A. Gordin, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (January 15, 1961).
Borekh Tshubinski

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