Wednesday 29 November 2017



The adopted name of Avrom Merezheni, he was a current events author, born in the town of Merezhani, Byelorussia (?). He received a traditional Jewish education and also studied in yeshivas. He began community activities as a Zionist and Hebraist, later becoming a fervent Yiddishist. He led a fight for Yiddish and came out openly against Russification and the Hebraists in the Odessa “Khevre mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]), in whose schools he taught for many years. While working as a teacher in an Odessa Jewish orphanage, he began to introduce Yiddish into the institution. He was one of the initiators in the establishment of children’s literature in Yiddish. He was a cofounder of the publishing house of “Blimelekh” (Little trees), which brought out several dozen original and translated children’s books that he himself helped to disseminate. As a journalist he contributed for a time to Russian-language newspapers in Odessa, in which he chiefly wrote about ethnic Jewish issues. After the February Revolution in 1917, he became a member of the Bundist organization in Odessa, and from that point engaged in active political work. He was selected by the local committee of the Bund and took part in a variety of party conferences. He represented the Bund in the Jewish community council of Odessa and on the Odessa city council. He was later selected onto the national Jewish assembly of Ukraine. It was in this period that he composed his pamphlet Bund un tsienizm (The Bund and Zionism) (Odessa: Odessa Committee of the Bund, 1917), 45 pp., which was also published in Russian. On the same theme, he gave lectures in various cities in Ukraine and Greater Russia. He also contributed to the Odessa Bundist publications: Nash golos (Our voice), Rabochii ezhenedel'nik (Labor weekly), Ponedel'nik (Monday), and Der glok (The bell), among others. He was one of the initiators on the part of the Bund, who with the representatives of the left wing of the “Fareynikte” (United socialists)—Mikhl Levitan and Yude Novakovski—established the Kombarbund (Communist union), which soon joined the Communist Party. When the White Army under Denikin occupied Ukraine, Merezhin was active in the underground, illegal Communist movement in and around Zhytomyr. After the revolution’s victory, he took on leading posts in Soviet institutions. He later moved to Moscow, where he assumed an important position in the Yevsiktsye (Jewish section) and was one of the leaders of Jewish Communists in Soviet Russia. Together with M. Kiper, he helped organize Jewish artisans in Russia, in an effort to turn tradesmen into productive members of Soviet society. As the chairman of Komerd (Committee for Land Settlement of Jewish Laborers), he directed Jewish colonization, and for his service in the field (for which he was very popular), several Jewish colonies were named for him. He worked tirelessly in “productivization”—to get small businessmen, artisans, and the jobless to work on the land. His journalistic activities were linked to his political work. He wrote on a variety of topics for Komunistishe fon (Communist banner) in Kiev and for Emes (Truth) in Moscow, of which he was co-editor (with Moyshe Litvakov) over the years 1919-1921. His articles, reportage pieces, and essays would often be reprinted in other Yiddish publications. He was arrested in the 1930s and murdered along with other leading figures in the Yevsektsye in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist purges.

In book form, he published: Bund un tsienizm, 2nd edition, with a foreword by Vladimir Medem (Warsaw: Lebns-fragn, 1918), 63 pp.; Dray yor erd-aynordenung fun di arbetndike masn (Three years of land management of the working masses) (Moscow: Gezerd, 1928), 62 pp.; Vegn birobidzhan (On Birobidhzan) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 111 + 3 pp.; Durkhoysike kolektivizatsye un di yidishe ibervanderung (Total collectivization and Jewish migration) (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk: Central People’s Publishers, 1930), 94 pp.; Vos iz azoyns birobidzhan? (What is this Birobidzhan?) (Moscow: Gezerd, 1930), 95 pp.; and with Aleksander Tshemeriski and Y. Gontar, he compiled the pamphlet Dos ferte yor yidishe erd-aynordenung (The fourth year of Jewish land management) (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk: Central Publishers, 1929).

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Agurski, Di yidishe komisaryatn un di yidishe komunistishe sektsyes, 1918-1921, protokoln, rezultatsyes un dokumentn (The Jewish Commissariats and the Jewish Communist Sections, 1918–1921, protocols, resolutions, and documents) (Minsk, 1928); Kh. Dunyets, In kamf af tsvey frontn (In a struggle on two fronts) (Minsk: Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1932); B. Smolyar, in Tog (New York) (June 5, 1932); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1938); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Solomon Schwartz, Jews in the Soviet Union (New york, 1951), see index.

Benyomen Elis

[Additional information from: 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. 242-43.]

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