Tuesday 28 November 2017


Y. A. MERISON (May 6, 1866-January 18, 1941)
            The adopted name of Yankev-Avrom Yerukhimovitsh, he was born in Yevye (Vievis), Vilna district.  He attended religious elementary school and a yeshiva in Novigoror (an area within Vilna).  At age twelve he left for Kovno, where he studied on his own and in the synagogue study hall under the supervision of the Musar follower, Rabbi Hirsh, head of the Slobodka yeshiva.  It was there that he secretly consulted a Hebrew grammar, as well as grammars of Russian and German, read works of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, and under the influence of M. L. Lilienblum’s Ḥatot neurim (Sins of youth), turned his attention to secular education, abandoned his studies, roamed through various towns, served for several terms as a village teacher, worked as a Hebrew teacher in Vilna and other cities, mastered Russian and German, and continued reading Enlightenment works.  Under the influence of Leo Pinsker’s Selbstemanzipation (Auto-emancipation), he became a “Ḥovev tsiyon” (Lover of Zion).  In 1887 he came to the United States.  He worked at first in a sweatshop stitching shirts, while at the same time industriously studying English, giving lessons in Hebrew and English, and later studying medicine at Columbia University.  In 1892 he completed his studies to be a doctor and practiced medicine in New York.  After arriving in America, Merison became one of the leaders of Jewish anarchist movement there.  His literary work began in 1889 as a contributor and member of the editorial board of the periodical Di varhayt (The truth)—together with Yoysef Yaffa, M. Kats, H. Zolotarov, and L. Luis—in which he was in charge of a section (writing as “F. A. Frank”) entitled “Folks-verterbukh” (people’s dictionary) in which he explained in an anarchist manner revolutionary and natural scientific concepts.  Later—using such pseudonyms as F. Frey, Sar Shel Yam, F. Frank, and Dr. M-n—he published journalistic pieces on issues of socialism and anarchism in: Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) and Abend blat (Evening newspaper) in New York; and Arbayter fraynd (Workers’ friend) in London; among other serials.  He assisted Morris Rozenfeld with language, grammar, and the like in bringing out Di glokke (The bell) (New York, 1888), 67 pp. (which includes, coincidentally, a poem by Merison).  He worked for a time in 1890 as an editor for Fraye arbeter-shtime.  Over the years 1899-1902, he served as editor of the revived anarchist monthly Fraye gezelshaft (Free society) in New York.  Around 1906 he became an adherent of parliamentarism, and in June of that year he published a series of articles on this subject in Fraye arbeter-shtime (the articles shortly thereafter appeared in pamphlet form).  This led to a stinging polemic in anarchist circles, as well as between him and the anarchist leaders, and Merison thus withdrew from anarchist activities.  Aside from practicing medicine, Merison dedicated himself entirely to scholarly work and to his translations of philosophical, sociological, and pedagogical works from other languages into Yiddish.  He was a close contributor to Dos naye leben (The new life), a monthly out of New York, edited by Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, and there he published, among other items, the philosophical study, “Di eyntsikeyt fun mentshn in veltal” (The uniqueness of people in the universe), and in the last year of the journal’s publication (1922) he was in charge of the section “In der velt fun filosofye un visnshaft” (In the world of philosophy and science).  In 1920 following the resignation of Sh. Yanovski as editor of Fraye arbeter-shtime, he edited the journal in New York over the months April-August.  Together with Leybush Lehrer and Yankev Levin, in 1924 he co-edited the bimonthly pedagogical journal Undzer kind (Our child), published by the education section of the Kultur-lige (Culture league) in New York.  Of his original work in book form, we have: Der anarkhizmus un di politishe tetikeyt, a kritik un a forshlog (Anarchism and political action, a critique and a proposal) (New York: Max N. Mayzel, 1905), 48 pp., second edition (1906); Muter un kind, a lehrbukh far der muter vi zikh tsu fihren beysn shvangern un vi tsu hodeven dos kind (Mother and child, a textbook for mothers on how to conduct oneself during pregnancy and how to raise the child) (New York: Mayzel and Comp., 1912), 64  pp. “published based on the latest medical sources”; Ideal un virklekhkeyt (Ideal and reality) (New York: Frayhayt, 1914), 31 pp., “anarcho-syndicalist monthly of the Yiddish language federation of America”; Higyene, di lehre vi tsu farhiten dos gezund (Hygiene, the teaching of how to care for one’s health), with images (New York: Workmen’s Circle Education Committee, 1917), 100 pp.; Fizyologye, ershter teyl: der mentshlekher kerper, a kurs lektsyes gegebn in dem yidishn folks-universitet (Physiology, part 1: The human body, a course of lessons given at the Jewish people’s university) (New York: Workmen’s Circle Education Committee, 1914), 94 pp., second edition (1915), bearing the subtitle: “Der mentshlekher kerper: gevebn, beyner un muskuln” (The human body: tissues, bones, and muscles); Fizyologye, 2ter teyl: di blut-tsirkulatsye un der protses fun othemen (Physiology, part 2: Circulaiton of the blood and the process of breathing) (New York: Literarishe farlag, 1918), 96 pp., subsequent editions followed; Fizyologye, 3ter teyl: der protses fun fardeyung (Physiology, part 3: The process of digestion) (New York: Workmen’s Circle Education Committee, 1918), 106 pp.  He later went on to publish: Di fizyologye fun mentshn (The physiology of people), 5 parts (New York: Workmen’s Circle Education Committee, 1925)—the first three parts were reprinted from his earlier works, parts 4 and 5, “Der nerven-sistem” (The nervous system), 217 pp.; Di teorye un praktik fun anarkhizm, geklibene shriften (The theory and practice of anarchism, selected writings) (New York: Naye gezelshaft and Ferer senter [branches of Workmen’s Circle], 1927), 371 pp.; Meditsinishe visnshaft, di sibes, simptomen un farhitung fun farsheydene krankhaytn (Medical science, the causes, symptoms, and prevention of diseases), vol. 6 of “Populere visnshaftlekhe biblyotek” (Library of popular science) (New York-Warsaw, 1929), 167 pp.; Di printsipen fun anarkhizm (The principles of anarchism) (New York: “Naye gezelshaft,” Br. 364 of Workmen’s Circle, 1934), 62 pp.  Among his translations, the following appeared in book form: Henry David Thoreau, Di flikht fun ungehorkhzamkeyt tsum shtat (On the Duty of Civil Disobedience), with an introduction about Thoreau and his times (New York: N. Mayzel, 1907), 64 pp.; (using the pen name F. A. Frank) Enrico Malatesta, Der anarkhizmus (Anarchism) (London, 1908), 43 pp.; John Stuart Mill, Frayhayt (On Liberty), with a biography of the author and a preface by Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky (New York: A. M. Evolenko, 1909), 258 pp.; Dr. Paul Eltzbacher, Der anarkhizm (Anarchism [original: Der Anarchismus]) (New York: Internatsyonale biblyotek, 1909), 347 pp., second edition (1910); Herbert Spencer, Di ershte printsipn fun a system fun sintetisher filozofye (The first principles of a system of synthetic philosophy), “translated from the English original” (New York: Internatsyonale biblyotek, 1910), 197 pp., second edition published by “Literarishe farlag”; Spencer, Di ertsihung, gaystig, moralish un fizish (Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical) (New York: M. N. Mayzel, 1910), 279 pp., second edition (1911); (using the pen name A. Yam) Henrik Ibsen, Hedda gabler (Hedda Gabler) (New York: Mayzel et Co., 1910), 137 pp.; Di froy fun yam (The lady from the sea [original: Fruen fra Havet]) (New York: Mayzel et Co., 1910), 133 pp., and included in Gezamlte dramen (Selected plays) (New York: Mayzel et Co., 1926); Charles Darwin, Di opshtamung fun mentshn in der opkleyb beshaykhes tsu geshlekht (The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex), with a biographical sketch of Darwin and an introduction to Darwinism by Professor J. Arthur Thomson, 3 vols., illustrated (New York: N. Mayzel, 1921), 364 pp., 368 pp., 312 pp.  Merison also edited social scientific works that others translated.  In 1913 he founded in New York the “Kropotkin Literature Society,” which functioned until 1921 and over the course of the eight years of its existence published a great number of social science works and disseminated them in many thousands of copies.  This press also published his translation of Peter Kropotkin’s works: Gegenzaytige hilf bay khayes un menshen als a faktor fun entviklung (Mutual aid among animals and people as a factor of evolution [original: Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution]), including a special foreword by Kropotkin to the Yiddish edition (New York, 1913), 433 pp.; Felder, fabrikn un verksheper, oder industrye ferbunden mit agrikultur (original: Fields, Factories, and Workshops or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work]), “translated following the last, improved edition” (New York, 1914), 410 pp.; Di etik, di opshtamung un antviklung fun moral (Ethics, the origin and evolution of morals), part 2 of vol. 1, with an introduction by N. Lebedyev (New York, 1924), 283 pp., (1932 edition as well).  In the 1930s, YIVO in Vilna began publishing Merison’s works.  As a beginning they published: Di ershte printsipn fun a system fun sintetisher filozofye by Herbert Spencer, “translated from the English original by Dr. Y. A. Merison,” with a foreword by Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, entitled “Hegel, Spencer, and Marx” (Vilna: YIVO, 1937), 538 pp. + 22 pp.  To express acknowledgement to distinguished scholars, YIVO created the Merison Fund to publish in Yiddish translation classics of social science and, first of all, his own translations.  Just before the outbreak of WWII, there appeared a translation of Herbert Spencer’s Di printsipn fun etik (The principles of ethics), vol. 1, part 1 (Vilna: Merison Fund, YIVO, 1939), 292 pp.  The war and the Holocaust interrupted YIVO’s publishing activities in Vilna, and the second part of this work in Dr. Merison’s translation remained in manuscript.  In the summer of 1939 Merison had already completed his translation of Franz Boas’s Der gayst fun primitivn mentshn (The Mind of Primitive Man).  It turned out, though, that just then the author (Boas) published a second edition with considerable emendation.  YIVO asked Merison to make the necessary changes, and Merison preferred (in the summer of 1940) to translate the entire second edition of the new work, but because of the war and the Holocaust this manuscript as well remained unpublished.  (Merison’s handwritten manuscript may be found in the YIVO archives.)  He also published in Pinkes (Records) “A por verter vegn di tfile-zakes” (A couple of words about the confessional prayers), and he prepared for YIVO editions of other works.  In the late 1930s, he became so ill that had to relinquish his medical practice which he had begun close to a half century earlier among the Jews on New York’s East Side, both in his private office and as one of the most prominent physicians in the Workmen’s Circle.  Merison belonged to that sort of Jewish doctor who not only took poor patients without any money, but often gave them the money to purchase medicine.  For a long period of time, he was a teacher of biology at the Jewish teachers’ seminary in New York.  He was so weak over the years 1940-1941 that he was unable to leave his bed, but he was still writing for Fraye arbeter-shtime and other serials.  His last work, which began to be published in Fraye arbeter-shtime one day before his death (Friday, January 17, 1941), was his Yiddish translation of Vilhjalmur Steffanson’s “Dos eynfakh un gut lebn fun a primitive folk” (The simple and good life of a primitive people), which was carried in installments until February 21, 1941.  He died at his home in the Bronx.

Muter un kind (Mother and child), price: 20 cents

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), under “A. Yam”; Dr. K. Fornberg, in Tsukunft (New York) (November 1905; December 1905); Fornberg (writing as K. F.), in Tsukunft (May 1910; August 1910); L. B. Budyanov-Budin, in Tsukunft (March 1907); Y. Klohrbakh, in Tsukunft (November 1910); Tsvien, in Tsukunft (April 1911); R[ivkin], B., in Tsukunft (January 1915); Ben-Yakir (Dr. F. Rozenblat), in Tsukunft (September 1916); M. Terman, in Tsukunft (1917); Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, in Tsukunft (January 1918); Dr. H. Frank, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (July 22, 1927; July 29, 1927); Frank, editorial in Fraye arbeter-shtime (January 19, 1951), p. 4; Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO) (Warsaw, 1928), see index; Moyshe Shtarkmen, in Pinkes (New York) 1 (1927-1928); Shtarkman, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4.4-5 (1932); Shtarkman, in Yorbukh (New York) (1942/1943); Shtarkman, in Tsukunft (February 1951); Shmuel Niger, Lezer, dikhter, kritiker (Reader, poet, critic), vol. 2 (New York, 1928), p. 464; Niger, in Tog (New York) (May 29, 1932; July 9, 1932); M. Gordin, in Tsukunft (June 1936); Kalmen Marmor, in Almanakh, 10 yoriker yubiley fun internatsyonaln arbeter ordn (Tenth anniversary of the International Workers Order) (New York, 1940); Marmor, Dovid edelshtat (Dovid Edelshtat) (New York, 1950), see index; M. V[aynraykh], in Yivo-bleter (New York) 17 (1941), pp. 64-67, with a listing of Merison’s writings; Y. Kahan, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (January 31, 1941; August 17, 1951); Kahan, Di yidishe anarkhistishe bavegung in amerike (The Jewish anarchist movement in the United States) (Philadelphia, 1945); Dovid Izakovitsh, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (January 31, 1941); Elye (Elias) Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Jewish literature in America) (New York, 1943), pp. 64, 70; Yivo-biblyografye (YIVO bibliography) (New York: YIVO, 1943); E. Tsherikover, Geshikhte fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung in di fareynikte shtatn (The history of the Jewish labor movement in the United States), vol. 2 (New York: YIVO, 1945), see index; Y. N. Shteynberg, Mit eyn fus in amerike (With one foot in America) (Mexico City, 1951), pp. 140-44; A. Gordin, Eseyen (Essays) (New York, 1951), pp. 179-87; R. Roker, In shturem (In the storm) (Buenos Aires, 1952), see index; Y. B. Beylin, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (May 11, 1958; May 18, 1958), index; Arbeter-ring boyer un tuer (Builders and leaders of the Workmen’s Circle) (New York, 1962), p. 250; Who’s Who in American Jewry, vol. 3 (New York, 1938-1939).
Zaynvl Diamant

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 384.]

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