MOYSHE (MOISHE) NADIR (March 1885-June 8, 1943)
The adopted name of Yitskhok Rayz, he was born in Narayev (Narayiv), eastern Galicia. His father Meyer came from Zlotshev (Złoczów), worked in business, and later became a teacher of German to a Jewish property owner. Moyshe attended religious elementary school until age twelve and studied German with his father. His father then left for the United States without the family, and in 1898 brought over his wife Khane (Hannah) with the children. They lived in New York on the Lower East Side. To support his ill wife and their five children, he worked as a peddler of liquor. According to Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon (vol. 2), Nadir studied until age sixteen in English-language schools and then went to work. However, as Nadir reports in the autobiographical introduction to his book Moyde ani (I confess), by age fourteen he had already detected the taste of the “sweatshop.” Nadir took up various pursuits; he was an agent for an insurance company, a window washer, and other trades. For the most part, he lived among Gentiles. About his forms of employment, he wrote in the aforementioned introduction to his autobiography that in his life he threw himself from trade to trade, always working for little, such as it was, striving to do the work as well and as faithfully as possible, so that his boss would treat him with respect and not him for the boss. Around 1902 he debuted in print in Teglekher herald (Daily herald) with “frightfully bad poems” and foolish prose—sketches and articles. He also began publishing in Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) in New York. From that point he was contributing work (under own name, Yitskhok Rayz, and his pen name) to various periodicals and anthologies, among them: Di tsukunft (The future), Naye tsayt (New times), Dos yudishe vokhnblat (The Jewish weekly newspaper), Di vokh (The week), Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), and Dos naye land (The new land), among others—with poems, stories, and humorous sketches. Around 1904 he traveled to Europe with the idea that life there had “if no beautiful content, then more beautiful forms.” He soon saw, however, that this was mistaken. He stayed for a short period of time and became homesick for the “democratic quality of the East Side, for the gleam of Broadway.” He returned to America and detected in himself the violent fire to write, write, write. In 1910 he edited (with Yankev Adler) a biweekly magazine of humor, Der idisher gazlen (The Jewish bandit)—only four issues appeared. He also contributed to Der kibitzer (The kibitzer) and to the collection Humor un satire (Humor and satire), among other serials. For a long time he served, as well, as assistant editor of and contributor to Der groyser kundes (The great prankster), and in it he published a large number of his works. A strong influence on him was exercised by Kolye (Kalmen) Teper, who was a leader for “Di yunge” (Young ones) group. He began writing in a new manner, which was manifest in his first book, Vilde royzn (Wild roses) of 1915, by then using his new name of Moyshe Nadir. These erotic miniatures—“boisterous, saucy, lonesome, audacious, courteously obscene”—made an impression, and several thousand copies of the book flew off the shelves. At the time he was closely associated with the monthly brought out by “Di yunge”: Literatur un lebn (Literature and life), to which Teper, Zishe Landoy, and others contributed. In 1916 co-edited (with his friend Moyshe-Leyb Halpern) the anthology Fun mentsh tsu mentsh (From man to man). In 1918 he was (for about eight months) a close contributor and reporter for Idishe velt (Jewish world) in Philadelphia. His popularity grew quite strong, when he became a writer for Tog (Day) in New York, and there he published his lyrical-philosophical miniatures, “Fun mentsh tsu mentsh,” wherein his extraordinary talent for word play and linguistic revival ensued. A bit later, when the Communist newspaper, Frayhayt (Freedom), began to be published, he (and his friend M. L. Halpern) became contributors to it. Concerning this, he recounted in his aforementioned autobiographical description that someone (the name was not forthcoming) called him and Halpern to a café, placed before them breakfast, and explained that a new newspaper was starting to be published which would fight for true freedom and justice. This Jewish Communist had much to say to them about Communism and capitalism, about the Communist objective for a new newspaper, and he invited them to contribute to it. Nadir recounted that he and Moyshe-Leyb Halpern had both suffered considerable want, and the opportunity to get a “job” was much more enticing than the goals of the newspaper. Those goals, he wrote, initially frightened more than charmed him. He became, though, a regular contributor to the newspaper, and day in and day out he composed his features there entitled “Fun nekhtn biz morgn” (From yesterday until tomorrow). In his Communist fellow-traveling period, he tried to step in stride with Communist ideology, but when it appeared that he was in full agreement with Communism, he wrote items which were an expression of an authentic Nadir-ish tone. The lyrical and Bohemian, the luminous aphorism, and even the sentimental pushed their way through during this period of time in his work as well. In the spring of 1926, he made a visit to Soviet Russia to see with his own eyes the land of socialism. He stopped en route in Paris, Warsaw, and Vilna. Over the course of nine months, he traveled around the country and appeared in public for evenings in his honor. There he saw the need and the poverty of the masses, and none of the things that he liked, but attempted to control his “petit bourgeois” feelings, and he left there with the delusion that, when Communism would ultimately be victorious, everything bad would disappear. Before this long period, Nadir had written a great deal. In addition he had fashioned himself an exotic figure. Tall, slender, with a head full of black tresses, a dark-complexioned face, with deep brown eyes, in a cape, his neck wrapped in a multi-colored scarf, with his lazy, melodic gait, he forged an impression of an aristocratic-Bohemian artistic likeness. Before he set off on his long voyage to Europe and Soviet Russia in 1926, the leftist movement arranged a farewell evening for him, and several thousand people came to hear him. That evening Nadir articulated sharp paradoxes, which did not support the “general line” of Communism. The leftist press thereafter continually presented arguments against him and accused him of “ideological errors,” but people pardoned him because he was the “shayndl” (darling) of the left. Aside from poetry, humorous sketches, satires, feature pieces, sketches, miniatures, children’s stories, and longer prose items, he also wrote essays, mostly in his Bohemian style, on writers with whom he was permanently at war. In his essays which contained a considerable admixture of biting features, blunt notions about creative work, art, and philosophy frequently forced their way through. On many an occasion, Nadir turned his attention to crafting plays and other theatrical pieces: Kloysterberg (Church mountain); Sukses (Success); Der letster yid (The last Jew); Di tragedye fun gornisht (The tragedy of nothing), in Di tsukunft (1922); Yezus ekhod (Jesus the First), in Dos naye lebn (The new life) (1923); and “Elye hanovi” (Elijah the prophet), in Frayhayt. And, a number of one-act plays: Mentshelekh (Humanly); and Di meshugoim (The madmen), an operetta. Of these, the following were performed in Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater: Sukses, Der letster yid, and Di tragedye fun gornisht. His dramatic miniature were also staged by the first Jewish marionette theater “Modikot” (from the names of the founders: Zuni Moud and Yosl Kotler), and in Nadir’s “playroom”—a summer theater at Nadir’s summer hotel in Loch Sheldrake (New York). Also, his Rivington strit (Rivington Street) was performed many times as a theatrical pierce. In 1925 he opened in New York an artists’ café “Nakinka”—“Nadirs kinstler-kafe” (Nadir’s artists’ café)—which soon shut its doors. He also wrote articles about the theater and theater reviews, in which he did not spare trash and vulgarity on the Yiddish-American stage. With his stinging and joking reviews, he even brought about a case in which one theatrical agent would not allow him into the theater. Nadir then had himself made up and came to performances disguised. He also translated into Yiddish: Anatole France’s novel Di royte lilye (The red lily [original: Le Lys rouge]), which appeared in Avrom Reyzen’s Dos naye land (The new land); Peter Altenberg’s Vi ikh ze es (As I see it [original: Wie ich es sehe]) (New York: Naytsayt, 1919); practically all of the works of Jerome K. Jerome; many of the works of Mark Twain; Eugene O’Neill’s play Di horike malpe (The Hairy Age); Gerhart Hauptmann’s dramatical poem Der ayngezunkener glok (The sunken bell [original: Die versunkene Glocke]); a dramatization of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Der toyt fun ivan ilitsh (The death of Ivan Ilyich [original: Smert' Ivana Ilyicha]), the manuscript of which was lost; gave a Jewish character to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories under the title Farvos un farven-geshikhtes (Why and when stories), published serially in Kundes (Prankster). He also wrote a great deal in English, primarily essays—“I write in English but not willingly. When I have nothing to say, I write in English. When I have something to say, I write in Yiddish.” His English writings appeared in the journals: Pagan, Smart Set, World, American Hebrew, and Peh El Peh, among others. He also Anglicized Sholem-Aleykhem’s Shver tsyu zayn a yid (It’s hard to be a Jew). In his activities as a writer he made use of numerous pseudonyms, such as: Rinnalde Rinaldine, Dr. Hortsikl, Ana Dona, Ida Shilkroyt, Ben-Meyer, Dilenzi Mirkarosh, Y. Stryer, R. Nardo, Der Royznkavalyer, M. D’nar’di, S. Fayerfoygl, Yud-ka-rish-zet, and Filatus.
In Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom), for which he wrote for many years and in which he strove to accept Communist ideology, he had nonetheless many moments of open and concealed resistance to the unbending laws of “proletarian art.” Also, he could not always swallow general Communist politics (aside from its relations to works of art). Olgin, Shakhne Epshteyn, and others did not require that he “be at ease” with it, but with the beginning of the show trials and executions of former leaders of Soviet Russia, he began to retreat. This retreat came to its final end when in 1939 Stalin concluded his agreement with Hitler. Nadir then publicly seceded from the Communist Morgn-frayhayt and vented his scathing fury at them in the periodical Hofenung (Hope), published by the League against Fascism and Dictatorship (of former Communists and fellow travelers) in New York (December 1939). In his article “Di, vos blaybn mit der morgn-frayhayt” (Those who stay with Morgn-frayhayt), in answer to Olgin’s article “Di vos geyen avek” (Those who leave), Nadir wrote that from 1936 he was already not participating “in the treasonous politics of the Stalin party” and that he spoke “at every opportunity concerning the purges underway before our eyes.” On June 8, 1943, at the age of fifty-eight, Nadir died in Woodstock, New York, of a heart attack.
His published books include: Vilde royzn, unshuldike aynfaln (Wild roses, innocent ideas) (New York: Literarisher farlag, 1915), 64 pp.; Moyshe nadirs zeks bikher (Moyshe Nadir’s six books) (New York: Verbe, 1919)—1. Fun mentsh tsu mentsh, 159 pp., also (Warsaw: Perets-biblyotek, 1924), 158 pp., and in a larger edition (Vilna, 1928), 225 pp.; 2.Mayselekh mit a moral un oysgetrakhte zakhn (Stories with a moral and imaginary items), 153 pp., also (Vilna, 1928), 250 pp.; 3. Kum shpatsirn, gelibte (Come take a walk, darling) and Fliterflirt, 155 pp.; 4. In vildn verter-vald (In the wild forest of words), 155 pp.; 5. Af gelekhter (As for laughter), 155 pp.; and 6. Mayne hent hobn fargosn dos dozike blut (My hands have shed this blood), on books and theater, 186 pp., also in an enlarged edition (Vilna: Kletskin, 1928)—the full six volumes were also published in a new edition (New York: M. N. Mayzil, 1928); Peter Altenberg’s Vi ikh ze es, un anderes (As I see it, and other pieces) (New York: Naytsayt, 1919), 223 pp.; Unter der zun (Under the sun) (New York: Frayhayt, 1926), 252 pp., also (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1928), 247 pp.; Fun mir tsu dir, humoreskn (From me to you, humorous sketches) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1927), 157 pp.; Farvos der keml hot aza breytn haldz? Farvos der keml hot a hoyker? (Why does the camel have such a long neck? Why does the camel have a hump?) (Vilna: Naye yidishe folkshul, 1928), 19 pp.; Benyomen un senderl (Benjamin and Senderl), dramatization of Mendele’s Masoes benyomen hashlishi (Travels of Benjamin the Third) (Warsaw: Culture and Propaganda Department, Central Committee of Jews in Poland, n.d.), 23 pp.; Fun nekhtn biz morgn (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1928), 267 pp.; Gerhart Hauptmann’s Der ayngezunkener glok, a play in five acts (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1929), 150 pp.; A lomp afn fentser (A lamp by the window) (New York: Narayev, 1929), poetry divided into three sections (bread, life, love), 192 pp.—this book begins with a well-known poem and Nadir’s own melody (with notation) for it; Derlangt aher di velt, burzhoy, un andere lider (“We want the world,” bourgeois, and other poems) (New York: Morgn-frayhayt, 1930), 64 pp.; Di nayste verk (The latest work)—1. “Foystn un fonen” (Fists and flags) and “Shtayendike vayzers” (Unmoving hands [on a clock]), 286 pp.; 2. “Der genyaler idyot” (The brilliant idiot) and “Af vakatsye” (On vacation), 243 pp.; 3. “Teater-tekstn” (Theater texts), 294 pp.; 4. “Morgn un montik” (Tomorrow and Monday), 190 pp.—(New York: Morgn-frayhayt, 1931-1932); Teg fun mayne teg (Days of my days), divided into seven parts (“In Narayev,” “On Broadway,” “In Yiddish Theater,” “On Editorial Boards,” “With Yiddish Writers,” “At My Universities,” and “Epilogue”) (New York: Morgn-frayhayt, 1935), 240 pp.; Kind on keyt (Child without chains), children’s poems and stories (New York: International Labor Order, 1936), 159 pp.; An ander sort mentsh (Another kind of person), humorous sketches and satires (Warsaw: Kinder-fraynd, 1936), 41 pp.; Rivington strit, a poem (New York, 1936), 32 pp.; Nadirgang, fun 1900 biz 1937, a zamlung fun kurtse muster-zakhn (Nadir method, from 1900 to 1937, a collection of short exemplary items), divided into three parts (“Rambling and Disconnected,” “Knowledge and Attachment,” and “Reflection and Purification”) (New York, 1937), 305 pp.; Tint un feder (Ink and pen), polemics and chapters from the life of Yosl Kotler (New York: Idbyuro, 1936), 252 pp.; Moyde ani, lider un proze, 1936-1943 (I confess, poems and prose, 1936-1943), starting with a foreword by the poet L. Faynberg, entitled “Di legende moyshe nadir” (The legendary Moyshe Nadir), and with Nadir’s “Oytobyografish” (Autobiographical), followed by the poem “Moyde ani” (eight parts: “From the depths,” “Comfort and Sorrow,” “Provincetown,” “My Bathsheva,” “Poems of Yes and No,” “Anxiety and Quiet,” “A Smile through Tears,” and “Sacred Days, Fearsome Days”) (New York: Narayev, 1944), 224 pp. This last book was published posthumously by his wife Genia Nadir. Much of Nadir’s work has been translated in various languages: into German by A. Grosman; into French by L. Blumenfeld; into Russian by Osip Dimov, Dovid Manyevitsh, Sore Gurland (sister of Arn Gurland), in L. Faynberg (Grebnev), Evreiskaia Poeziia (Jewish poetry) (New York, 1947); into Polish in the Lodz daily newspaper Republika (Republic), as well as in the Polish Jewish newspaper Nasz Przegląd (Our overview). Some of his work has also been translated into Hebrew. Also posthumously: Nadirizmen, aforizmen, paradoksn, vertershpil, poetishe proze (Nadirisms, aphorisms, paradoxes, word play, poetic prose) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1973), 111 pp.
“With Nadir,” wrote A. Tabatshnik, “linguistic mastery is not extrinsic but intrinsic. His linguistic mastery stems not only from knowledge of words, but more from knowledge of things.” “He was not simply able to demonstrate what he knew,” noted Shmuel Niger, “not revealing what he liked. This lack of the possession of something was part of (and a condition of) what he did possess. A more vulgar frame was necessary for the courteousness of the image that he was adapting…. When I have nothing to do, he says, I create the world as fully as my strength allows me.” He “left home,” wrote Itsik Manger,” “too early. A melody remained in his disposition, and the melody escorted all the shadows that shuddered in his memory…. The Narayev romantic somehow balanced his sharp and bitter sarcasm.” In a letter of his to N. B. Minkov, now held in the Kurski archives, Nadir himself in a few words characterized his personality and his work: “Incidentally, Moyshe Nadir divided himself into small pieces, scattered and diffuse, like a ray of light that one cannot grasp, like a sea that one cannot restrain.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; N. Shteynberg, in Tsayt (New York (December 1920); Shteynberg, Yung-amerike (Young America) (New York, 1930), pp. 149-82; Lilyan Aba (B. Rivkin), in Tsayt (November 18, 1921); N. Mayzil, Noente un vayte (Near and far), vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1926), pp. 198-203; Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Nayer folksblat (Lodz) (July 19, 1926); Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), pp. 202-35; L. Kenig, in Unzer hofenung (Warsaw) (September 1927); Kenig, in Di yidishe velt (Vilna) (December 1928); Shmuel Niger, in Di tsukunft (New York) (February 1928); Niger, in Tog (New York) (June 20, 1943); Niger, Kritik un kritiker (Criticism and critic) (Buenos Aires, 1959), pp. 155-60; Y. Botoshanski, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (February 1929); Botoshanski, in Di tsukunft (October 1947); Botoshanski, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) (August 2, 1963; August 9, 1963); Y. Pat, in Folks-tsaytung (Warsaw) (January 30, 1931); Avrom Reyzen, in Di tsukunft (May 1931); Meylekh Epshteyn, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (May 21, 1932); Sh. D. Zinger, in Shikago (Chicago) (March-April 1935); M. Olgin, in Shtern (Minsk) (March 1935); Al. Pomerants, in Proletpen (Kiev) (1935), pp. 86-89, 219-24; L. Finkelshteyn, in Tog (April 9, 1935); A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 17, 1935; August 28, 1935); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog (March 12, 1935); Yosl Kotler, in Morgn-frayhayt (March 3, 1935); Kalmen Marmor, in Literarishe tribune (Lodz) 4 (1936); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Idisher kemfer (New York) (July 23, 1943); A. Tabatshnik, in Di tsukunft (September 1943); E. Almi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (June 25, 1943); Almi, In gerangl fun ideyen, eseyen (Struggling with idea, essays) (Buenos Aires, 1957), pp. 105-9; D. Perski, in Hadoar (New York) (July 30, 1943); Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (July 16, 1944; July 17, 1950); L. Faynberg, foreword to Nadir’s Moyde ani (New York, 1944); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (January 19, 1945); M. Yofe, in Hadoar (May 23, 1947); Yofe, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (October 25, 1953); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Hadoar (May 23, 1947); Y. Paner, in Nayes (Tel Aviv) (October 25, 1953); Y. Yanasovitsh, in Di naye tsayt (July 23, 1953); M. Gros-Tsimerman, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 20 (1954); N. Sverdlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 14, 1954); Sh. Leshtshinski, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays), vol. 2 (New York, 1955), pp. 126-36; Y. Shtern, Lider un eseyen (Poems and essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 225-34; D. Ignatov, Opgerisene bleter, eseyen, farblibene ksovim un fragmentn (Torn off sheets, essays, extant writings, and fragments) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1957), p. 70; Kh. Gotesfeld, in Forverts (New York) (November 4, 1958); Itsik Manger, in Der veker (New York) (July 1, 1958); Manger, Noente geshtaltn un andere shriftn (Close images and other writings) (New York, 1961), pp. 448-55; Y. Ḥ. Biltski, Masot (Essays) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 123-30; Y. Blum, in Keneder odler (June 27, 1960); Blum, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (July 27, 1962); Y. Likhtenshteyn, in Undzer dor (New York) (September-October 1962), reprinted from Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (1926); Y. Goldkorn, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (January 1, 1963); Moshe Basok, Mivḥar shirat yidish (Selection of Yiddish poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963), pp. 83-86.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 386.]
 Translator’s note. There are, of course, also many translations into English (by Harvey Fink, Joseph Kling, and others), and even some into Japanese (by Imai Makiko) and Spanish (by Alek Kaplan). (JAF)