Thursday 19 January 2017


ALEF KATS (ALEPH KATZ) (May 15, 1898-January 22, 1969)
            Pseudonym of Moyshe-Avrom Kats (Katz), he was born in Mlinov, Dubno district, Volhynia.  His father, Khayim-Yerukhem Hacohen Kats, had received ordination into the rabbinate, but was a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment at the same time; he left behind a manuscript of some 1,000 pages of memoirs from his youth and his first years in America.  His mother, too, also wrote a memoir for the weekly newspaper Der amerikaner (The American) in New York.  Alef Kats studied in religious primary school and later graduated from a Russian elementary school in Mlinov.  In late 1913, he and his mother and a portion of his family arrived in the United States to join his father and older sister who had been living there since 1906.  He first started writing Hebrew poetry in New York and was cofounder and secretary of the Hebrew youth club “Bnei am ḥai” (Children of a living nation).  He worked in sweatshops, stores, a laundry, and offices, and in the evenings he studied in night schools and later at City College.  He published poems and had charge of a column in the English-language college magazine Owl.  One of his poems was included in The Poets of the Future: A College Anthology for 1922-24, compiled by Henry Schnittkind (Boston, 1924).  He debuted in print in Yiddish with a poem in Der groyser kundes (The great prankster) in New York (December 28, 1917), and from that point he published poetry in: Inzikh (Introspective), Oyfkum (Arise), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Di vokh (The week), Zangen (Ears of corn), Dos yudishe folk (The Jewish people), Tsukunft (Future), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Di feder (The pen), and Getseltn (Tents)—in New York; Idishe velt (Jewish world) in Philadelphia; Idisher kuryer (Jewish courier) in Chicago; Zid-amerike (South America) in Santiago de Chile; Havaner lebn (Havana life) in Cuba; Meksikaner shriftn (Mexican writings) in Mexico City; Der shpigl (The mirror), Di prese (The press), and Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper)—in Buenos Aires; Keneder odler (Canadian eagle) in Montreal; and Idisher zhurnal (Jewish journal) in Toronto; among others. In addition, he wrote for such children’s publications as: Kinder zhurnal (Children’s journal), Kinderland (Children’s land), Kinder-velt (Children’s world), and Kinder-tsaytung (Children’s newspaper)—in New York; Kinder-fraynd (Children’s friend) in Warsaw; Argentiner beymelekh (Little Argentinian trees) in Buenos Aires.
            His published books include: A mayse fun yam un andere lider (A story of the sea and other poems) (New York: Zangen, 1925), 59 pp.; Akertsayt, a zamlung lider (Plowing season, a poetry collection) (New York: Biderman, 1929), 80 pp.; Dos telerl fun himl (Pie in the sky), poems, with illustrations by Yosl Kotler (New York: Matones, 1934), 30 pp.; Fun alef biz tof (From A to Z), a poem following the alphabet, with illustration by Yoysef Shor (New York: Alef, 1939), 32 pp.; Amol iz geven a mayse (There was once a story), poetry (New York: Matones, 1944), 96 pp.; Gut morgn, alef? (Good morning, Alef!), initially published in Tsukunft (Future) in New York (March 1946) and later staged in Holocaust survivors’ camps in Germany and by various troops in other countries, later published in book form as Gut morgn, alef, purim-shpil un yosele, tsvey shpiln un a mayse (Good morning, Alef, a Purim play, and Yosele, two plays and a story) (New York, 1950), 64 pp., which was highly praised by Yiddish critics: “The tiny Jewish letters are living creatures for Alef Kats,” wrote Shmuel Niger.  “Alef, beys, giml, lamed and vov, nun and samekh are the heroes and play roles in this dramatic work….  The tragic drama of the Jewish letters becomes an allusion for Kats to the tragedy of the Jewish people, who are the people of writing, the people of the letter.”  He later published: Di emese hasene, a layter fun lider fun mayses un shpil (The true wedding, a ladder of poems, of stories, and a play) (New York, 1964), 164 pp.; and Der morgnshtern (The morning star), poetry (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1975), 152 pp., with a long preface by Yudel Mark.  On his sixtieth birthday, his Kholem aleykhem, shpil un lider (A dream upon you, play and poems)[1] (New York: Medines yidish, 1958), 160 pp.  On the same occasion were published numerous assessments of the poet in the Yiddish press, and a special celebration in honor of the jubilee event took place in New York.  From English into Yiddish, he translated Robert Louis Stevenson’s Oytser-indzl (Treasure Island) (New York: Grohart-Stodolski, 1927), 312 pp.; and he published serially a Yiddish translation of Stevenson’s Der zelbsmerder klub (The suicide club) in Idishe tsaytung in São Paolo, Brazil (1935).  Kats lived in New York, where from 1925 he served as editor of the Yiddish division of the Jewish Agency (ITA), for which he wrote the news and edited the ITA-syndicated column “Literarishe nayes” (Literary news).  He contributed as well to the philological journal Yidishe shprakh (Yiddish language) and to the preparation of the Groyser verterbukh fun der yidisher shprakh (Great dictionary of the Yiddish language) in New York.  Music was composed for a series of his poems and plays, and it was sung at concerts by Yiddish choirs and musical societies in New York and other cities.  His poetry appeared as well in: Joseph Leftwich’s English-language anthology of Yiddish poetry, The Golden Peacock (London, 1939); Y. Kisin’s anthology Lider fun der milkhome (Poems from the war) (New York, 1943); the Hemshekh-antologye (Hemshekh anthology) of Moyshe Shtarkman (New York, 1945); Leon Feinberg’s Russian anthology of Yiddish poetry Evreiskaia poezia (Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1947); Henech Kon’s Lider far gezang un piano (Songs for singing and piano) (New York, 1947); M. Basin’s Antologye fun yidisher poezye af amerikaner motivn (Anthology of Yiddish poetry on American motifs), mimeographed (New York: World Jewish Congress, 1955); and Shimshon Meltser’s Hebrew anthology of Yiddish poetry Al naharot (By the rivers) (Jerusalem, 1956).  His poems were also included in readers for Jewish schools.  In 1955 his book Gut morgn, alef! received the Abel Shaban prize of the World Jewish Culture Congress.  “One has the impression while reading Kats,” wrote Dr. Shloyme Bikl, “that the poet is standing at the front of a band of ‘Broder Singers’ who travel with him…to entertain the Jewish world and to help it forget its sad disposition with song and with story….  Alef Kats belongs to the category of sober creator.  He has his language always in hand, and in the most lyrical of moments he is the most conscious master with his poetic line and his poetic word.”  In Almanakh yidish (Almanac of Yiddish), published by the Jewish Culture Congress (New York, 1961), he published his great work “Reb alter fish” (Mr. Alter Fish), pp. 267-75.  He died in New York.

Alef Kats and his book Kholem aleykhem

Sources: Moyshe Shtarkman, ed., Hemshekh-antologye (Hemshekh anthology) (New York, 1945), pp. 62-64, which includes a rich bibliography of Alef Kats’s works published in Yiddish periodicals from 1925 to 1939.  In addition, the following works concern the poet: Z. Vaynper, in Idishe shriftshteler (New York) 1 (1933), pp. 93-97; A. Shvarts, in Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz) (November 24, 1934); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (July 2, 1944); Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (February 14, 1947; November 13, 1959); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence), vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1960), 335-39; Sh. Rozhanski, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (September 17, 1944); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (December 30, 1945; October 20, 1950; March 11, 1951); Mukdoni, in Tsukunft (New York) (September 1958); Y. Glants, in Der veg (Mexico City) (February 24, 1945; July 28, 1958); B. Rivkin, in Getseltn (New York) (January-February 1945); Rivkin, Yidishe dikhter in amerike (Yiddish poets in America), vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1959), pp. 295-302; Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York) (1930, 1939, 1942, 1945); B. Y. Byalostotski, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (February 1946); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (March 31, 1946); Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 17, 1953); Y. Kisin, in Forverts (New York) (October 15, 1944); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (July 18, 1950); Y. Berliner, in Der veg (Mexico City) (July 29, 1950); N. Ziprin, in American Hebrew (New York) (July 21, 1950); Ziprin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 18, 1958); A, Leyeles, in Tog (July 19, 1950); Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (June 4, 1955); M. Kutshinski, in Nayer moment (São Paolo) (November 17, 1950); M. Yofe, in Morgn-zhurnal (January 21, 1951); E. Almi, in Idisher kemfer (September 9, 1955); Almi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (new York) (December 1, 1960); Dr. Sh. Margoshes, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (May 13, 1955); B. Shefner, in Forverts (New York) (May 14, 1955); Y. Varshavski, in Forverts (June 15, 1958); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (October 26, 1958); D. Ignatov, in Jewish Bookland (New York) (January 1959); Sh. D. Zinger, in Undzer veg (New York) (January 1959); Divon, in Omer (Tel Aviv) (March 13, 1959); Y. Kohn, Baym rand fun onhoyb (At the edge of the beginning) (New York, 1960), pp. 14-16; A. Kh. Heler, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (December 15, 1960); Y. Bronshteyn, Ineynem un bazunder, eseyen (Altogether and separate, essays) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 83-87.

[Addition information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 310.]

[1] Translator’s note. The title is a pun, of course, on “Sholem aleykhem” (How do you do?), and impossible to translate directly. (JAF)

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