YANKEV MESTEL (MESTL) (February 25, 1884-August 6, 1958)
He was born in Zlotshev (Złoczów), Galicia. He attended religious elementary school, a public school, and middle school, and he later enrolled at the Polish-Ukrainian teachers’ seminary in Lemberg, from which he graduated in 1905. For a time he worked as a teacher, while studying philosophy at Lemberg University. In public school, he played in a dramatization of Adam Mickiewicz’s Powrót taty (Daddy’s back). He performed later in various student drama circles. In 1907 he traveled to Vienna, where he served a year in the military and graduated from officers’ school. From 1910 he was performing with Vienna’s Stefanie Theater, and he went on tour with the troupe to Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and the German-Austrian provinces. In WWI he was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, was wounded several times, and gained the rank of senior lieutenant. After demobilization in 1918, he studied directing and playwriting at the Vienna “Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst” (Academy for music and performing arts), ran a course in Yiddish literature for the Labor Zionists in Vienna, assisted in the organization of the Vienna “Fraye yidishe folks-bine” (Free Jewish people’s theater), and founded the first Yiddish drama school in Vienna. After the partition of Austria and Hungary, he was banished from Vienna as an “alien.” He came to the United States in 1920, at first was engaged by Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theater, and then, over the 1923-1925 period, he acted in the Yiddish Art Theater of Maurice Schwartz, with whom he made a European tour in 1924. Over the years 1926-1930, he performed with a variety of troupes, and he managed and directed the art studio of Artef as well as a number of dramatic circles and the experimental theater “Nit gedayget” (Don’t worry about it!). He visited (1931-1932) Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and a number of cities in the United States and Canada, as the representative of Ben-Ami’s theater. He adapted, directed, and staged one-acts and other plays from the Yiddish and the European repertoire. In 1911 the Stefanie Theater in Vienna staged his comedy Mir, shvakhe froyen (We weak women) and his operetta Der shabes-goy (The Sabbath Gentile) which also played in Warsaw under the title Der shabes-fardiner (The Sabbath earner). He also acted in movies: “Der gekroytster yude” (The crucified Jew), H. Sekler’s Yiskor (Prayer commemorating the dead), “East Side Sadie,” “Onkl mozes” (Uncle Moses),” and “A yidishe tokhter” (A Jewish daughter [= A Daughter of Her People]). His literary activities began in 1903 with journalistic and critical essays in M. Rikhter’s Vahrhayt (Truth). From 1906 he was publishing poems in Togblat (Daily newspaper) in Lemberg, G. Bader’s Yudishe folks-kalender (Jewish people’s calendar), and elsewhere. Together with Gershom Bader and Tsvi Shpitser-Bikels, he edited the anthology Yung galitsisher almanakh (Young Galician almanac) (Lemberg, 1910), 48 pp. He contributed work as well to: Idishe teater (Yiddish theater) and Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; Arkhiv tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater (Archive of the history of Yiddish theater) and Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) in Vilna; Kultur (Culture) in Chicago; and Oyfkum (Arise), Bodn (Ground), Di feder (The pen), Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom), Yivo-bleter, Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), and Zamlungen (Collections), among others, in New York. His work also appeared in M. Basin’s 500 yor yidishe poezye (500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1917), N. Mayzil’s Amerike in yidishn vort antologye (America in Yiddish, an anthology) (New York, 1955), and Pinkes varshe (Records of Warsaw) (Buenos Aires, 1955). In book form he published: Farkholemte shoen (Dreamy hours), poetry (Lemberg: Kh. Itskovitsh, 1909), 80 pp.; A liebes-lied (A love poem) (Cracow: Shulamis, 1911), 60 pp.; Vita kheyzd (??) (Cracow: Shulamis, 1913), 43 pp.; Dimyoynes (Fantasies), a dramatic trilogy (Vienna-New york, 1921), 207 pp.; Milkhome-notitsn fun a yidishn ofitser (War notices from a Jewish officer) (Warsaw: Yatshkovski, 1924), 370 pp., part 2 (1924), 386 pp., second edition (Warsaw: Bzhoza, 1927); Soldatn- un payatsn-lider (Soldiers’ and clowns’ poems) (Warsaw: Bzhoza, 1928), 217 pp.; Teater, di bine, drame (Theater, the stage, drama) (New York, 1934), 23 pp.; Di bine (The stage), a play (New york, 1934), 96 pp.; Lukretsyas toyt, a togbukh fun a froy (Lucretia’s death, a diary of a woman) (Warsaw: Bzhoza, 1936), 114 pp.; Unzer teater (Our theater) (New York, 1943), 199 pp., awarded a prize while in manuscript from the Leah Kesman Fund; Zibetsik yor teater-repertyar, tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater in amerike (Seventy year of theater repertoire, on the history of Yiddish theater in America) (New York: IKUF, 1954), 112 pp.; Literatur un teater (Literature and theater) (New York: IKUF, 1962), 346 pp. He published a series of works in Yivo-bleter in Vilna (1932-1934), which came out in a separate imprint as well. He was co-editor and close contributor to Zalmen Zilbertsvayg’s Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater)—vol. 3 (New York, 1960) was dedicated to Mestel. He co-edited Yidishe kultur, in which he published a large number of essays and articles. Aside from his translation of Arthur Miller’s Der toyt fun a seylsman (Death of a Salesman), published serially in Yidishe kultur, he translated for the Yiddish stage plays by Richard Dehmal, František Langer, Frank Kalner (?), Leon Krukowski, Clifford Odetts, Arnold Zweig, Elmer Rice, Yigal Mossinson, Leon Feuchtwanger, and others. He also translated Alexander Granach’s Ot geyt a mentsh (There goes a man [original: Da geht ein Mensch]) (New York, 1948), 384 pp.; and Leo Katz’s Zrie-tsayt, roman (Seedtime, a novel [original: Brennende Dörfer (Burning villages)]) (Mexico City, 1949), 324 pp. After his death his autobiographical notes were published in Morgn-frayhayt under the title Yankele der stolyar (Yankele the painter). He was active in IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association) and other cultural organizations, many of them associated with leftist circles. He bequeathed to the YIVO archives an assemblage of materials which comprise a valuable collection for the history of the Yiddish theater and of his activities on the Yiddish stage. Among his pen names: Y. V. Omer and Y. M. Kamila. He died in New York.
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; Zilbertsvayg, in Yidishe kultur (new York) (October 1958); M. Gros, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (June 8, 1930); Avrom Reyzen, “Milkhome-yorn” (War years), Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1930); Khayim Krul, Arum zikh (Around itself) (Vilna, 1930), p. 37; M. Osherovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (March 22, 1931); A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 27, 1931; April 10, 1935); Mukdoni, in Di tsukunft (May-June 1955); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Der tog (New York) (July 16, 1932); N. B. Linder, in Der tog (December 14, 1934); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), pp. 201-20; A. Grinberg, Moyshe leyb halpern in ram fun zayn dor (Moyshe Leyb Halpern in the framework of his generation) (New York, 1942), p. 24; Y. Tenenboym, Galitsye mayn alte heym (Galicia, my old home) (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 168; N. Bukhvald, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (February 1953); Y. Shatski, in Yivo-bleter 38 (1954), pp. 384-85; N. Sverdlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (June 24, 1954); B. Grin, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (December 10, 1954; August 12, 1958); Y. B. Beylin, in Morgn-frayhayt (March 25, 1956); Z. Vaynper, Shrayber un kinstler (Writers and artists) (New York, 1958), pp. 222-31; L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (August 9, 1958); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (August 13, 1958); A. Mayzels, in Di yidishe shtime (London) (September 5, 1958); Yedies fun yivo (New York) 69 (December 1958); M. Vaykhert, in Letste mayes (Tel Aviv) (September 1958); Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1961), see index; N. Mayzil, in Yidishe kultur (October 1958); Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv, 1962), see index; Sh. Shtern, in Morgn-frayhayt (March 29, 1959); Sh. Kindman-Mestel, in Morgn-frayhayt (January 16, 1959; November 15, 1959); M. Erdberg-Shatan, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 22, 1962); Erdberg-Shatan, Yidishe shrayber in amerike (Yiddish writers in America) (New York, 1963).