A. MUKDONI (MUKDOYNI) (1878-September 7, 1958)
The pen name of Aleksander Kapel, he was born in Lekhevitsh (Lyakhavichy), Minsk region, Byelorussia, into a pious, anti-Hassidic family. Until age thirteen, he attended religious elementary schools, thereafter spending three years in the yeshivas of Slonim and Kletsk (Klieck). In 1894 he moved to Pinsk, where he was attracted to the Zionist socialist labor movement, while at the same time he studied secular subject matter and as an external student graduated from a Russian high school. For a time he was active as a party agitator for the Zionist Socialists, later returning to Pinsk where he supported himself by giving private lessons. In 1899 he went abroad for the first time, was a free auditor in Königsberg University, and then lived for a time in Berlin where he studied philosophy and ancient languages. In 1902 he returned to Lyakhavichy and spent a year as a private tutor. In early 1903 he left for Warsaw and from there went further abroad, this time to Berne, Switzerland, and there studied philosophy. In 1904 he lived in Dijon, where he was a free auditor in courses on ancient languages, literary history, and drama. Thereafter, until early 1907, with some interruptions, he lived in Lausanne, Geneva, Paris, and Berne. He studied philosophy, theater arts, and law. He was active in those years in the Jewish student colonies, dramatizing and staging works in Yiddish. From January 1907 until late May 1909, he studied labor legislation at Berne University and received his doctoral degree for a dissertation on factory inspection (published in German at the university). In late June 1909 he came once again to Warsaw, became a frequent visitor to the home of Y. L. Perets, and under his influence became secretary of the Yiddish Literary Society (until 1910), later (with Dr. Gershon Levin) administering the literary and theatrical activities of Hazemir (The nightingale) in Warsaw. Together with Y. L. Perets, A. Vayter, and H. D. Nomberg, he was among the speakers at the first open, large mass meeting opposed to trashy theater in Warsaw (January 22, 1910), later a co-founder—with Y. L. Perets, Sholem Asch, Avrom Reyzen, Yankev Dinezon, H. D. Nomberg, Sh. Rozenfeld, Dr. N. Davidzon, and others—of the Yiddish Theatrical Society which was set to establish a good Yiddish theater in Warsaw. He spent 1912-1913 in Lodz, later until the start of WWI, he was back in Warsaw, and from there he made his way to St. Petersburg, where he worked on the committee to help Jewish war victims. Over the years 1915-1917, he served as plenipotentiary of the aforementioned committee for the Volga region and Siberia. There he lived through the February-March Revolution (1917), the Kolchak uprising, and the civil war. In early 1920 he left Russia, settled in Kovno where he lived until May 1922, and then traveled across Germany to the United States. He was a cofounder of the Yiddish Theater Society, of the Drama Studio at “Tealit” (Theater and literature), and of the Jewish “Theater Museum” and other cultural institutions in New York. His literary and theatrical activities began already in his yeshiva years under the influence of Ben-Tsien Ayzenshtadt, with whom he studied Hebrew texts. In those years, he directed and acted in two plays: “Shloyme un der Ashmodai” (Samuel and the Ashmodai) and “Dovid un basheve” (David and Bath-Sheba); and he also wrote correspondence pieces for Hamelits (The spectator) in Odessa (1897), but his actual writing work began with his first story in Dr. Yoysef Lurye’s Der yud (The Jew) in Cracow-Warsaw (1902) and with the sketch “Sheloshet avivim” (Three springs) in Hatsofe (The spectator) in Warsaw (1904). From that point, he published stories, sketches, and correspondence pieces on community and cultural life among student immigrants in Western Europe. In 1905 he decided to devote himself to Yiddish theater criticism, which at the time was a practically unknown field in the Yiddish press. His first work of theater criticism was a treatment of Leonid Andreev’s play Tsu der zun (To the sun), which he had read aloud before Russian immigrant circles in Switzerland. His assessment was published in Prilucki’s Der veg (The way) in Warsaw (1905), to which Mukdoni was a contributor. From time to time he also published in the party organs of the Zionist Socialists, Der nayer veg (The new way) and Dos vort (The word) in Vilna (1906-1907). He also contributed work to Der morgenshtern (The morning star) (1907), Dos yudishe folk (The Jewish people), and other serials—in Vilna (1906-1908). He became a professional newspaper writer and editor for Mortkhe Spektor’s Di naye velt (The new world) in Warsaw (1909), in which he published daily editorial articles, political surveys, translations from the French and German press, stories and theater reviews for the first time under the name “Dr. A. Mukdoni.” He also wrote for: Unzer leben (Our life) and Hatsfira (The siren) in Warsaw; Avrom Reyzen’s Kunst un lebn (Art and life) in Cracow; and other serials. When Der fraynd (The friend) in 1910 moved from St. Petersburg to Warsaw, he became a regular contributor to the newspaper and, after its demise in 1912, he wrote for Dos leben (The life) in Warsaw (1913-1914), in which he published short features and images of the provinces under the title “Fun der yidisher gas” (From the Jewish street), using the pen name “Kalif.” He also was in charge of the division concerned with foreign politics and wrote literary notices, critiques of Yiddish theatrical performances (using such pen names as K-l and Lamed). At the same time he was writing for a variety of Yiddish publications in Europe and the United States, such as: “Gordin un di yudishe bine” (Gordin and the Yiddish stage), in Y. L. Perets’s Yudish (Yiddish) (Warsaw) 2 (1910), pp. 63-78; “Shloyme etinger, zayn lebn un literarishe tetikeyt” (Shloyme Etinger, his life and literary activity), Der pinkes (The record), edited by Shmuel Niger (Vilna) (1913), pp. 38-48; “Der repertuar fun dem yidishn teater in rusland farn yor 1912” (The repertoire of the Yiddish theater in Russia for the year 1912), in Der pinkes (1913), pp. 265-72; Der shtrahl (The beam [of light]) and Romantsaytung (Fiction newspaper) in Warsaw (1909-1911); and Forverts (Forward) in New York. He edited: the anthology Di yudishe yugend (Jewish youth) (Warsaw, 1910), 184 pp., in which he published a piece entitled “Gedanken vegn teater” (Thoughts about theater), pp. 173-84; the daily paper Dos lodzer morgnblat (The Lodz morning newspaper) (1912-1913), in which he wrote the majority of items that were included in his first book, under the byline Kapel and Kalif. In the summer of 1920 he founded in Kovno the democratic daily newspaper, Nayes (News), and edited it until May 1922. The newspaper, according to Zalmen Reyzen, “had a great impact on the Jewish masses in Lithuania.” In these years he was also a contributor to: Vilner tog (Vilna day); Tog (Day) in New York; Nayer folksblat (New people’s newspaper) in Lodz; Dos naye leben (The new life) in Bialystok, in which, among other items, he published a series of articles on the destruction of Jewish autonomy in Lithuania, as well as the essays entitled “Kunst un kinstler” (Art and artist). From 1922 until his death, he regularly wrote for Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) in New York—later, Tog-morgn-zhurnal (Day-morning journal)—in which he published thousands of articles on politics, the Jewish community, and cultural and literary matters, and was in charge of the columns entitled “In der velt fun bikher” (In the world of books) and “Bikher un shrayber” (Books and writers). From 1922, his work appeared in: Tsukunft (Future), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Der groyser kundes (The great prankster), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Der onhoyb (The beginning), Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education), Tealit (in the first three months of 1924, he was also co-editor together with Shmuel Niger and Mendl Elkin), and Teater un kunst (Theater and art) for which he also served as editor—all in New York. At the same time he contributed to such foreign works as: Emigrant (Emigrant) (1922), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), and Teater (Theater) in Warsaw (1925-1926); Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires; and in various and sundry Yiddish periodicals throughout the world. In the collection In der tkufe fun revolutsye, memuarn, materyaln, dokumentn (In the era of revolution: memoirs, materials, documents) (Berlin: Historical Archive of Eastern Jewry, 1924), edited by E. Tsherikover, pp. 72-144, he wrote a memoirs entitled “Di eserishe regirung, koltshak un yidn” (The S. R. [Socialist Revolutionary] government, Kolchak, and the Jews). He published “Zikhroynes fun a yidishn teater-kritik” (Memoirs of a Yiddish theater critic) in Arkhiv tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive for the history of Yiddish theater and drama), vol. 1 (Vilna-New York, 1930), pp. 321-41; and a fragment from his major work, “Di emigrantishe drame” (The immigrant drama) in Yorbukh fun amopteyl fun yivo (Annual from the American branch of YIVO), which he edited with Y. Shatski, vol. 1 (New York, 1938), pp. 257-77. He also edited the jubilee volume, Der lebediker, tsu zayn 50-yorikn yoyvl (Der Lebediker, on his fiftieth birthday) (New York, 1938), in which he published his essay, “Der lebediker, der mentsh un shriftshteler” (Der Lebediker, the man and author), pp. 7-20. He also contributed to Sefer hashana (Yearbook) (1943), Der poylisher id (The Polish Jew), and Zamlbikher (Collections) (1948)—all in New York.
In book form, he published: Ertseylungen un skitsen (Stories and sketches) (Warsaw, 1911), 288 pp. (his stories as Aleksander Kapel which were extremely popular in their day); the popular pamphlet series, Di milkhome fun di balkan-melukhes mit terkay (The war of the Balkan states with Turkey) (Warsaw, 1912), 24 pp.; Ernst un shpas (Serious and joking), “a collection of features, satires, and humorous sketches” (Lodz, 1913), 126 pp.; Teater (Theater) (New York, 1927), 288 pp., essays on Yiddish and general theater issues, portraits of Yiddish stage artists; Yitskhok leybush perets un dos yidishe teater (Yitskhok Leybush Perets and Yiddish theater) (New York, 1949), 271 pp.; Mayne bagegenishn, yidishe geshtaltn vos ikh hob bagegnt in mayn lebn (My encounters, Jewish figures whom I have encountered in my life) (Buenos Aires, 1949), 303 pp., with an introduction (the first part of his autobiography); Oysland, mayne bagegenishn (Abroad, my encounters) (Buenos Aires, 1951), 340 pp. (second part of his autobiography); In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955), 302 pp. (third part of his autobiography); In varshe un in lodzh, vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1955), 292 pp. (fourth part of his autobiography). For the fourth volume of his memoirs, he received in 1956 the Leib-Hofer Prize. Mukdoni also composed the preface to Y. Briks’s Af kidesh hashem un andere dertseylungen (For the sanctification of God’s name and other stories) (New York, 1956). He translated: Leo Tolstoy’s Der lebediger mes (The living corpse [original: Zhivoy trup]) (Warsaw, 1912), 85 pp. (staged by Jacob Ben Ami in North and South America and by an amateur troupe in Warsaw); Osip Dymov’s Der eybiker vanderer (The eternal wanderer [original: Vechnyi strannik]), staged by Boris Tomashevsky in New York in 1913); and Alexandre Dumas’s Kin (Kean) (New York, 1913), 100 pp., for the Tomashevsky theater, with which he was connected as a literary consultant (staged in New York on Mukdoni’s fiftieth birthday celebrations, March 30, 1927). That same day was published Yoyvl zamlbukh lekoved dem fuftsik yorign geburtstog fun dr. a. mukdoni (Anniversary collection in honor of the fiftieth birthday of Dr. A. Mukdoni) (New York, 1927), 24 pp., with articles by Sh. Rozenfeld, Shmuel Niger, Dr. A, Koralnik, Der Lebediker, Mendl Elkin, Yankev Mestel, Mark Shveyd, A. Taytelboym, Yoysef Runshinski, and Yankev Kalikh. On several occasions he visited Europe and the land of Israel. A portion of his letters which describe the era of Yiddish literary and theatrical renaissance was published in: Shmuel niger-bukh (Volume for Shmuel Niger) (New York: YIVO, 1958), pp. 44-47; and Shatski-bukh (Shatski volume) (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 207-14. He was productive and creative literally until the last days of his life. After settling in Miami, he ran local forums for YIVO, while at the same time following with great enthusiasm the achievements in Yiddish literature, and his last literary critical assessments were both “about the forgotten Yiddish classics” and about the youngest Yiddish writers of the young Israel group. He spent the last weeks before his death in his son’s summer home in the Caskill Mountains and passed away there. He was buried in New York City. He was, according to Shmuel Niger, “the creator of Yiddish theater criticism. His signal virtue was that he was prepared to learn on his own and not solely to earn from others.” “One of the most popular Yiddish journalists,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “he deserved especially great merit for improving Yiddish theater, for which he conducted a campaign over the course of his entire life as one of our best theater critics.” “The first Yiddish theater critic,” noted Sh. Rozenfeld, “the first to proclaim Yiddish theater as an artistic issue in and of itself and to lay down concrete, clear, self-conscious requirements for actors, for directors, set designers, demanding pure theatrical art.” “The quiet and intimacy,” wrote Yankev Glatshteyn, “lie firmly at the bottom of Dr. Mukdoni’s impetus. The dictator of theater and solemn proclamation in literature with respect for writing, and when it comes to an intimate word, experienced and well thought out, he gives us a modest and straightforwardly concise one, not a decorative one.” It is “refreshing to read Mukdoni’s articles on theater,” noted Y. Rapoport, “both the theatrical ones that are concerned with theater generally and those aimed solely at performances, as well as his portraits in words of actors.” “The journalist and critic [in Mukdoni],” wrote Y. Kharlash, “work in full harmony with the artist-storyteller. The critic does not allow the artist to spread his wings too broadly and compels him to restrain and control himself with facts, with the truth; by the same token, the artist makes sure the journalist does not get lost in arid details, and prepares for him a collection of material.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934), with a bibliography; M. Shalit, in Der pinkes (Vilna, 1913), p. 293; Y. Mestel, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (April 29, 1929); Mestel, in Arkhiv fun der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive of the history of Yiddish theater and drama) (Vilna, 1930), pp. 493-95; Shmuel Niger, in Vilner tog (Vilna) (April 30, 1929); Niger, in Tog (New York) (May 13, 1934); Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (August 7, 1932; August 14, 1932); Tsvi Hirshkorn, in Morgn frayhayt (New York) (December 24, 1934; January 28, 1935); Moyshe Nadir, Polemik (Polemic) (New York, 1936), pp. 73-80; R. Ben Ari, Habima (Habima) (Chicago, 1937), p. 305; Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (May 8, 1940; April 1, 1947); Botoshanski, in Tsukunft (New York) (September 1956); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), pp. 157-58; A. Almi, in Der poylisher id (The Polish Jew), yearbook (New York, 1944); A. Gordin, in Yidishe kultur (new York) (April 1947); Dr. Sh. Margoshes, in Tog (April 13, 1949); Y. Y. Trunk, Poyln (Poland), vol. 5 (New York, 1949), p. 25; G. Aronson, in Tsukunft (January 1951); Sh. Grodzenski, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 30, 1951); Sh. Izban, in Idisher kemfer (August 29, 1952); Y. Kharlash, in Tsukunft (September 1952); Kharlash, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (August-September 1956); Kharlash, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (October 1958); Talush, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (November 7, 1952); Z. Diamant, in Der veg (Mexico City) (February 14, 1953); Y. Mastboym, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 21, 1954); M. Turkov, Di letste fun a groysn dor (The last of a great generation) (Buenos Aires, 1954), pp. 106-7; Dovid Eynhorn, in Forverts (September 2, 1956); A. Tenenboym, Lodzh un ire yidn (Lodz and its Jews) (Buenos Aires, 1956), see index; Y. Rapoport, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 27 (1957); Rapoport, Zoymen in vint (Seeds in the wind) (Melbourne, 1961), pp. 217-26; Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), see index; B. Ts. Goldberg and Der Lebediker, in Tog (September 25, 1958); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog (September 28, 1958); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958), pp. 215-22; Y. Pat, in Tsukunft (October 1958); Osip Dymov, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 9, 1958); M. Perlmuter, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (November 15, 1958); Sh. Rozenberg, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (December 1, 1958); A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), pp. 253-54; Roback, Di imperye yidish (The imperium of Yiddish) (Mexico City, 1958), see index; Pinkes pruzhane (Records of Pruzhany) (Buenos Aires, 1958), p. 120; Sh. D. Zinger, Dikhter un prozaiker, eseyen vegn shrayber un bikher (Poets and prose writers, essays on writers and books) (New York, 1959), pp. 279-83; Celia Adler, Tsili adler dertseylt (Celia Adler explains) (New York, 1959), see index; Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1959), pp. 303-7; Dr. M. Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw) (Tel Aviv, 1961), see index; A. Zak, In onhoyb fun a friling (At the beginning of a spring) (Buenos Aires, 1962), see index; Y. Sh. Herts, Geshikhte fun bund (History of the Bund), vol. 2 (New York, 1962), pp. 438, 556; Biblyografye fun yidishe bikher vegn khurbn un gvure (Bibliography of Yiddish books concerning the Holocaust and heroism) (New York, 1962), see index.
Khaim Leyb Fuks