HERSH (HERSHEL) NOVAK (August 2, 1892-August 8, 1952)
He was born in Pyetrikov (Piotrków), Poland, into a laboring family. He attended religious elementary school and yeshiva, and also studied Polish and Russian. In 1909 he immigrated with his parents to Montreal, Canada, where he worked for a time in a glass factory, later in shops making ladies’ coats. He was one of the founders and among the first leaders of the secular Jewish schools in Montreal. During WWI he worked with “People’s Relief” in Montreal, and he helped to establish labor unions, the Montreal People’s Library, the People’s University, and other institutions. Over the years 1921-1931, he worked in the schools of Workmen’s Circle in Philadelphia. In 1932 he settled in New York, where he was a teacher and assistant director in the summer camps “Nayvelt” (New world) and “Kinderland” (Children’s land). In the same years (1932-1934), Novak served as secretary general of the Jewish Cultural Society, and under his leadership divisions of the society were established throughout the country, and a mass dissemination of Yiddish books ensued. He was also a builder of the Central Jewish Cultural Organization (Tsiko) and its publishing house. In 1948 he helped organize the first conference of the World Jewish Culture Congress in New York. During the last ten years of his life (1942-1952), he worked as manager of the monthly Di tsukunft (The future), in which he also published articles on a variety of cultural matters. After his death there was published a volume of his memoirs Fun mayne yunge yorn (From my youthful years), with a foreword by Y. Mark (New York: Educational Committee of Workmen’s Circle, 1957), 227 pp. He died in New York. “He spent hours, days and nights of work,” wrote Y. Y. Sigal, “as always, building the walls of the edifice of Yiddish culture…. Novak was one of those brave and proud individuals, who in his own way with the richest and most cautious sincerity carried out the commandment of the hour of Jewish cultural history.” “H. Novak was among the founders and the first principal of the ‘National Radical School,’” noted Yisroel Rabinovitsh, “from which later emerged the (Montreal) Perets schools. For him and for other teachers at the time, this was not a matter of a career, but a sacred duty for which they literally sacrificed their lives. Until the end of his life, Novak served the ‘cultural renaissance’ of the Jewish people with a devotion and loyalty the likes of which were unmatched. What he started in Montreal, he later continued in New York both as a builder and teacher in Yiddish schools and as an indefatigable leader for everyone who was associated with Yiddish culture. Even in the last years of his life, when he was suffering a good deal of disappointment, he never ceased bearing under the yoke of the commandments of Yiddish culture.” “Hersh Novak,” wrote N. Khanin, “felt that, if one wished for our modern literature and our modern life to endure, then one must first of all seek out how to entrust this to our children, now already born in the America. He was one of the first to open in Montreal a secular school, in which Jewish children would be educated. This was in fact the first secular Jewish school on the American continent. Novak became one of the teachers in the school and remained in the profession his entire life, aside from several years before he departed this world, when he served as manager of Tsukunft. It was a difficult life, financially tormenting, and yet Novak did not leave the field of education for Jewish children. On the contrary, he all the more and more hitched his wagons to it.”
Sources: Obituary, in Di tsukunft (New York) (September 1952); Y. Levin, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (October 1952); Levin, in Di tsukunft (November 1952); Y. Y. Sigal, in Di tsukunft (November 1952); Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (November 1952); Sigal, in Bleter far yidisher dertsiung (New York) (April-May 1953); V. B-n, in Yorbukh fun semeteri-department fun arbeter-ring (Annual of the Cemetery Department of the Workmen’s Circle) (New York, 1953); A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 29, 1955); D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (April 6, 1958); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (May 11, 1958); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (June 25, 1958); Y. Rabinovitsh, in Keneder odler (June 30, 1958); N. Khanin, in Di tsukunft (December 1961), pp. 474-76.