Thursday 22 June 2017


YOSL LERNER (November 24, 1903-1987)

            He was a poet, born in Britshan (Briceni), Chotin (Hotin) district, Bessarabia. He studied in religious elementary school and with Talmud teachers, in Hebrew schools and in a Romanian high school. He worked as a Hebrew and Yiddish teacher in various schools. He settled in Czernowitz in 1935, where he worked for several years as a Yiddish teacher and later a bookseller. He debuted in print in 1929 with a poem, and he went on later to publish poetry, articles on Jewish folklore, and essays on the theatrical arts in: Unzer tsayt (Our time) in Kishinev; Shoybn (Glass panes, edited by Yankev Shternberg and Shloyme Bikl) (1935-1936) and Di vokh (The week, edited by Moyshe Altman, Y. Shternberg, and Sh. Bikl) (1934-1935) in Bucharest; Oyfgang (Arise, edited by Yisroel-Dovid Izrael) in Sighet-Marmației; Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz pages); Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; Naye prese (New Press) and Unzer vort (Our word) in Paris; Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires; and in Israel in Bay zikh (On one’s own), Yerusholaymer almanakh (Jerusalem almanac), Yisroel shtime (Voice of Israel), and Letste nayes (Latest news). His work was represented in Horizontn (Horizons) in Moscow in 1965.

            His first poetry collection was published in 1936 in Bucharest: Dos gezang fun hintergasn, lid un folksmotiv (Song of the backstreets, poem and folk motif) (Sholem-Aleykhem Publishers, 94 pp.), with a cover drawing by S. Ferakhim. “In most of his poems, although mainly in the poems in which Yosl Lerner drew close to a folk motif,” wrote Shloyme Bikl, “his verse has a genuine musicality and charm of playfulness.” Together with Y. Trakhtenberg, he composed a series of sketches for variety theater, mostly drawing on sources from Jewish folklore. During WWII he was in Transnistria (Moldova). At the end of the war, he returned to Czernowitz. When in 1945 the section on Jewish folklore was established within the Czernowitz regional house of folk creation, Lerner was appointed its secretary. From 1947, he published his poetry in: Yidishe shriftn (Yiddish writings) in Warsaw; Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture) in New York. In the April 1958 and July 1960 issues of Folks-shtime (Voice of the people), he published poems primarily of folklore motifs. In the very first issue of Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) (July-August 1961) in Moscow, he published a poem entitled “Her shoyn oyf tsu veynen” (Stop crying already). In 1972 he made aliya to Israel. Later books included: Fun khelemer pinkes (From the records of Chełm), poetry and stories (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1975), 213 pp.; Biz s’heybt on togn (Until the dawn), poetry (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1977), 160 pp.; Baym ofenem fenster (By an open window), poetry and translations of Japanese and Chinese poetry (Tel Aviv: Nay lebn, 1979), 154 pp.; Lider un mayselekh mit a gutn meyn (Poems and stories with a good intention) (Tel Aviv: Leyvik farlag, 1983), 126 pp. Lerner’s Al behonot ole hashaar, shirim (On tiptoe comes the dawn, poems) (Tel Aviv: Kodkod, 1981), 80 pp., is a selection of his Yiddish poems [in Hebrew translation]. In 1976 he received the literary prize from the Yiddish writers’ association in Israel; in 1980 the Fikhman Prize, and in 1984 the Manger Prize. He died in Tel Aviv.

Sources: Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York, 1937); T. Fuks, in Naye prese (Paris) (August 14, 1945); Sh. Meltser, in Al naharot (Jerusalem, 1956), anthology, pp. 434-35; Sh. Bikl, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1956); Bikl, Rumenye (Romania) (Buenos Aires, 1961), p. 397; Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 1 (July-August 1961), p. 94; Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (January 3, 1962), from the questionnaire “Vos shafn di sovetish-yidishe shrayber?” (What do Soviet Yiddish writers create?); M. V. Bernshteyn, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (September 1, 1962).

Zaynvl Diamant

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 352-53; 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. 220-21.]

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