YITSKHOK MARGOLIS (September 8, 1855-December 23, 1919)
The son of Berl Broder, he was born in Podkamień, eastern Galicia. Because of his father’s incessant wanderings, he was educated by his mother who sent him for seven years to study in the town’s religious elementary school; later, due to the family’s needs, he was dispatched to his brother in Brod (Brody), where until age thirteen he studied in yeshiva and acquired the reputation of a prodigy. After his father’s death in 1868, he returned to his hometown and became a teacher of youngsters. In 1871 he came to Zlotshev (Złoczów), and, under the influence of the well-known follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, Borekh Shtern, he began reading secular books in Hebrew and studying German, and he became a follower of the Enlightenment as well. He drew his poor subsistence giving lessons in the homes of the wealthy. From 1892 until WWI, He worked as a teacher of religion in the Baron Hirsch School in Sasov (Sasów), while at the same time he was active in the local Jewish community life. He was cofounder of a “Ḥoveve-tsiyon” (Lovers of Zion) group, of a drama circle (from which Yankev Mestel emerged), and of the craftsmen’s association “Yad Ḥarutsim” (Hand of the diligent) in Sasów. He was among the first craftsmen’s representatives in the local Jewish community, in which he led a fight on behalf of the Jewish poor with the assimilationist and Hassidic majority. His literary activities began with Hebrew poetry. He debuted in print with a polemical correspondence piece of Jewish education in Złoczów in the Hebrew-language Ivri anokhi (I am a Jew) in Brod (1871), which he wrote under the pen name “Yam” (Sea). The correspondence piece drew the attention of the followers of the Enlightenment in Brod. He contributed to the German Jewish periodical Der Israelit (The Jew) in Vienna, in which he published poetry in German. He placed work (1885-1886) in Nosn Birnboym’s German periodical Selbst-Emancipation (Auto-emancipation) in Vienna. In 1890 he began a correspondence with Yankev Dinezon in Warsaw and sent Dinezon his Hebrew and Yiddish writings. Dinezon published Margolis’s Hebrew items in Slonimski’s Hatsfira (The times) and the Yiddish pieces in Warsaw Yiddish newspapers. And soon he moved almost entirely over to Yiddish and became one of first fighters for the Yiddish language in Galicia. In 1894 he was a regular contributor (using his popular pseudonyms “Yam” and “Yam Hatsieni” [Zionist Sea]) for Dr. Broydes’s “Ḥoveve-Tsiyon” (Lover of Zion) weekly newspaper Karmel, for his biweekly literary anthology Der veker (The alarm), both in Lemberg, and for Dos yudishe vokhnblat (The Jewish weekly newspaper). In the latter he also published, in addition to poetry series “Yudishe trehren” (Jewish tears) and “Yisroeliks shteren” (Yisroelik’s star), his first feature piece “Di khsidishe tsienist” (The Hassidic Zionist), which gained him fame as the “creator of Yiddish features” in Galicia. He “elevated” the genre of the feature—as noted by Dr. Yoysef Tenenboym—“to the level of the Viennese ‘New Free Press’ [Ndeue freie Presse] in Yiddish literature.” From that point his published his features in: Togblat (Daily newspaper) in Lemberg); Tog (Day), Di yudishe ilustrirte tsaytung (The Jewish illustrated newspaper), and Dos naye yidishe togblat (The new Jewish daily newspaper) in Cracow; Turniver tsaytung (Turnów newspaper); Folks-shtime (Voice of the people) in Sanok; and Leyb Toybish’s Yudishe folkstsaytung (Jewish people’s newspaper), Ish yehudi (Jewish man), and Folksfraynd (Friend of the people) in Kolomaye. At the same time, he was publishing in Hamitspe (The watchtower), Likhtenshteyn’s Maḥazike hadat (Upholders of the faith), and Zilberbush’s Haam (The people) in Kolomaye (1893), where, among other items, he published polemical articles on socialism and assimilation. He also wrote for Moyshe Frostik’s Kalendarn (Calendars) and other literary publications in Galicia, Bukovina, and Romania, where he published hundreds of stories, fables, features, and depictions of Jewry in small Galician towns in the nineteenth century. All of these pieces, written with heart and soul in a folksy Yiddish, were at the time widely read in Galicia. Transported by the “Lovers of Zion” movement, though, at the same time through his literary activities he had an impact in the positive work of arousing the establishment of craftsmen’s unions, improving Jewish education, enhancing Jewish religion, and the like. Publicly opposed to “powerful people and small-town idlers,” he was also opposed to arousing a strong opposition. And, although he wrote in Hebrew and German, his spiritual home was in Yiddish. “He excelled with his warm humanity,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “and always befriended young Yiddish writers and the political immigrants who would steal across the Russian border.” In August 1914, at the time of the Russian invasion, he was plundered and escaped with his life to Vienna where he lived until the end of 1916, later returning to Sasów. After the war he lived in Złoczów, where he again became active in literary affairs. During the war years, he wrote Hassidic tales, war fiction, and plays, among them: Der flikhtling (The refugee), a play in four acts, which was staged in the Yiddish theater in Lemberg. Many of his writings were lost in the turmoil of war. On his sixtieth birthday, a collection in his honor was prepared in 1915 for publication, edited by his students Moni Petshenik and Leyzer Bernshteyn. A copy of this was saved and found by his son, Shmuel, in Reading, Pennsylvania. A portion of it, beneath bits of his biography and a critical assessment by M. L. Petshenik, as well as a number of his feature pieces—“Farpeysekhdike bilder” (Spring images), “Shabes nokh varmes” (Sabbath after a warm meal), “Kheyder-erinerung” (Experiences in religious elementary school), “Ikh for aheym” (I head home), “Dos veykhe harts fun yidishe kinder” (The tender heart of Jewish children), “Der karger” (The miser), “Rus” (Ruth), “Di seyder-nakht” (The seder night), and his final lyrical poem in prose “Ikh bin masker-neshomes” (I perform the synagogue commemoration of the dead)—were included in a collection by his son, Dray doyres (Three generations) (New York, 1957), 112 pp. A firm opponent of war, he wrote and in 1916 published the allegorical story “Dem ashmodays nitsokhn” (The Ashmodai’s triumph), which he later adapted into a play: Dem ashmodays yontef (The Ashmodai’s holiday). He died in Złoczów. “Yitskhok Margolis was a brilliant man,” noted Dr. Yoysef Tenenboym, “a teacher, educator, and a pedagogue for the generation.” He was “the first and classic Yiddish feature writer,” wrote M. L. Petshenik, “who introduced the feature into the Yiddish press and literature.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; M. L. Petshenik, in Yoyvl-shrift likhvoyd 60 yor fun yam hatsieni (Jubilee writing in honor of the sixty years of Yam Hatsieni) (Lemberg, 1915); Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 75 (1925); Yitskhok Verfel, in Sefer haishim (Biographical dictionary) (Jerusalem, 1949/1950), p. 27; Dr. Y. Tenenboym, Galitsye mayn heym (Galicia, my home) (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 173; M. Naygreshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955), p. 321; Yankev Mestel, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (November 1957), pp. 29-33; Ber Margolis, Dray doyres (Three generations) (New York, 1957), pp. 33-81; N. M. Gelber, Toldot hatenua hatsiyonit begalitsiya (History of the Zionist movement in Galicia) (Jerusalem, 1958), see index; information from his son Shmuel in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Khayim Leyb Fuks