YOSL LERNER (November 24, 1903-1987)
He was 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 was a Hebrew teacher in Briceni, with the Shtefanesht Hassidic dynasty. He spent the years 1945-1972 in Czernowitz, where he was for several years a Yiddish teacher and later a bookseller. He debuted in print in 1929 with a poem, and he went on later to publish poetry in Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz pages). He wrote poems, articles on folklore, and essasy on the theatrical arts in: Unzer tsayt (Our time) in Kishinev; Shoybn (Glass panes, edited by Y. Shternberg and Sh. Bikl) (1935-1936) and Di vokh (The week, edited by M. Altman, Y. Shternberg, and Sh. Bikl) (1934-1935) in Bucharest; Oyfgang (Arise, edited by Yisroel-Dovid Izrael) in Sighet-Marmației; 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 book form: Dos gezang fun hintergasn, lid un folksmotiv (Song of the backstreets, poem and folk motif) (Bucharest: Sholem-Aleykhem, 1936), 94 pp., with 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 evacuated to Soviet Russia. At the end of the war, he returned to Czernowitz. When in 1945 the section on Jewish folklore in the Czernowitz regional house of folk creation was organized, Lerner was appointed secretary. From 1947, he published his poetry in: Yidishe shriftn (Yiddish writings) in Warsaw; Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture) in New York; and Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) in Moscow. In the April 1958 and July 1960 issues of Folks-shtime (Voice of the people), he published poems. 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 hashaḥar, shirim (On tiptoe comes the dawn, poems) (Tel Aviv, 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).
[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.]