YUDES (late 1869-1942)
The pen name of Rokhl Bernshteyn, a playwright and prose author, she was born in Minsk into a family of well-to-do shopkeepers and studied with private tutors. At age twelve she began to help her parents in their shop, but she continued to read voluminously. She was later influenced by the socialist movement and Russian culture. Under the influence of Yiddish writers who visited her home—her husband, Shmuel Bernshteyn, was among the most prominent Jewish intellectuals in Minsk—she became interested in modern Yiddish literature and began to write on her own. She published her first work, “A vinter-shabes” (A winter Sabbath), a chapter of memoirs from her youth, in Fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg in 1907; it was then edited by her childhood friend, the subsequently famed writer and historian Shoyel Ginzburg. This proved to be a successful debut in print. She later published lyrical poetry, fragments of a novel, a one-act play entitled Bay der arbayt (At work)—in Chaim Zhitlovsky’s Dos naye lebn (The new life) (New York) 4 (1909)—and a dramatic stage scene entitled “In unzere teg” (In our days) also in Dos naye lebn 7-8 (1911) in which she gave expression to the religious feelings at the time among certain circles of Jewish intellectuals. She published her writings also in the annual Dos naye land (The new land), edited by Avrom Reyzen (New York, 1911) and the anthology Fraye teg (Free days) (Warsaw, 1911). After the February Revolution in 1917, she published stories, poetry, and chapters of her memoirs in the Bundist newspaper Der veker (The alarm) in Minsk, and later in Soviet Yiddish publications. In 1918 that newspaper published several of her stories, poems, and memoirs. A poem of hers was included in a collection, Lebns-funken (Sparks of life), in Minsk (also in 1918). Later, her name disappeared from the press. Her daughter subsequently reported orally that she had died in Moscow in 1942, after having suffered terribly in the evacuation from the fires in Minsk in June 1941. Her immense personal archive was consumed in the destruction of her home. In book form: Der ershter mai (May 1st), a play in three acts about the Jewish labor movement, set on the eve of the first Russian Revolution in 1905 (Minsk, 1925), 44 pp., with a preface by Ber Orshanski and with musical notation from several folk and fighting songs. She also translated from Russian Sergei Semenov’s novella Hunger (Hunger [original: Golod]) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1923), 156 pp.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography); Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (with a bibliography); Y. Entin, Idishe poetn (Yiddish poets), part 1 (New York, 1927), p. 239.
Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 177-78.