Wednesday 11 January 2017


YOYSEF-KHAYIM (JOSEPH CHAIM) COHEN-LASK (November 1868-October 1937)
            He was born in Rotshoynz, Plotsk (Płock) district, Poland, into a Hassidic family.  He studied in religious primary school, later in the Plotsk and Sobota synagogue study chambers.  In his youth he joined circles of the Jewish Enlightenment in Plotsk, and for this he was persecuted by the Hassidim and by the authorities who suspected him of revolutionary agitation.  In 1891 he was compelled to escape from Poland for London.  In his first years there, he worked in hard, physical labor, later becoming a elementary school teacher.  From 1906 until his death, he engaged in business, at the same time remaining active in Jewish community life, directing with success the struggle against the Anglicized Jews who belittled Yiddish as a language of instruction in the London religious primary schools and Talmud Torahs.  He cofounded a series of educational institutions which had an influence on on the way of life of the younger Jewish generation in those years.  As the chairman (1911-1912) of the league against Sunday restraints, he successfully carried out the fight for the decision by the London municipal administration not to force Jewish merchants, who closed their businesses on Saturday, to also close them on Sunday and Christian holidays.  During WWI he founded the London aid committee for Jewish war victims in Europe.  In 1923 he visited Poland and in 1934 Israel.  From 1927 until his death, he was an active leader in the Revisionist Zionist movement in England.  He contributed to the early Yiddish and Hebrew press in London, including: Hashulamis (The Shulamith) of M. Bril (1884); Hatsofe (The spectator) of V. Metshik; Hayisroeli (The Israelite) of Lipe Bril (1894); Der yudisher ekspres (The Jewish express) in Leeds (1896) and London (1899); Der yudisher rekord (The Jewish record) (1900); principal contributor to M. Bril’s daily newspapers Speshel (Special) and Yudisher telefon (Jewish telephone) (1901).  He published and edited from the fifteenth through the final (thirty-first) issue of the Labor Zionist weekly Der londoner yud (The London Jew) (1904).  For a time he was the London correspondent of Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) in New York.  He also placed work in: Hatsfira (The siren); Hamagid (The preacher) in Lik; Haivri (The Jew), Hapisga (The summit), and Hateḥiya (The revival) in New York.  Together with Yitskhok Suvalski, he founded the weekly Hayehudi (The Jew) in London (1904-1912).  For a period of time he took a critical position with respect to Zionism, the impression one gets from his correspondence pieces in an assortment of periodicals, as well as in his string of articles “Emes meerets-yisroel” (The truth from the land of Israel) and “Mekitve erets-yisrael” (From writings in Israel) which he published under the pen name “Yisroel Greyber” and at times joined the critics of Ben Yehuda who had come out publicly against Cohen’s intercession on behalf of Yiddish in Israel.  He wrote exclusively under pen names, such as: Maḥazik Hadaat, Eldad Hadani, Elyasaf Hakimḥi, Ale der Zelber, Der Londoner Yid, and the like.  He possessed a great collection of Jewish Enlightenment texts, principally periodical publications, as well as rarities in Yiddish, which after his death were transferred by his son to the city archives in Tel Aviv.  He died in London.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 4 (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 1743-44 (under the biography of his son, the writer and translator Yisroel Meyer).
Khayim Leyb Fuks

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