Monday 16 April 2018


MIKHL HAKOYEN SINAI (MIGUEL J. SINAY) (December 3, 1877-August 8, 1956)
            The son of Ruvn Hakoyen Sinai, he was born in Grodno, then part of Russia.  At age three he moved with his parents to Zabludove (Zabłudów), near Bialystok, where he studied in religious elementary school, and at home he studied Tanakh, Hebrew grammar, and Talmud with his father.  Ten years later, he and his family returned to Grodno, and there he studied in the yeshiva and in the municipal Russian school.  At the time he was reading books on his father’s shelf, and the first volume in Yiddish to come into his hands was Mortkhe Spektor’s anthology Der hoyz-fraynd (The house-friend).  From reading this, he gained a great eagerness to write and with friends he brought out several issues of a printed Hebrew leaflet: Hanitsanim (The buds).  In 1894 the Sinai family was brought by YIKO (Jewish Cultural Organization) to the Mozesville colony in Argentina.  In 1896 he became a teacher in the first Mozesville YIKO school; the next year his family moved to Buenos Aires (see the biography for Ruvn Hakoyen Sinai).  In 1896 he published in St. Petersburg’s Hamelits (The advocate) a correspondence piece concerning the life of colonists in Mozesville and two similar correspondence pieces in Di yudishe gazetten (The Jewish gazette) in New York.  In 1898 the twenty-one-year-old Sinai published the first Yiddish newspaper in Argentina.  This was to be a weekly and was called Der viderkol (The echo).  The first issue appeared on March 8, 1898 (Adar 14).  The entire newspaper, four pages in large newspaper format, he printed by hand and then allowed it to be lithographed (there were no Jewish publishing houses in Argentina at the time).  The work was hard labor, as he described it: “Like the black slaves or like those arrested and held in the stockades of Siberia, I labored over the newspaper day and night, and I sat stooped over the writing desk, not allowing out of my hand the pen for so much as half a second to catch my breath.”  Thus, Sinai brought out four issues—only three went for sale; the fourth was printed but Sinai lacked the strength to lithograph it, as he lay in bed ill.  That year (1898) he edited the weekly newspaper Der kolonist (The colonist)—twelve issues—and Argentina came into possession at the time of its own Yiddish type.  He later again took up teaching, worked for a time in a business, even for a while as a peddler.  In 1908 he was living in Rosario and, together with Yitskhok Drapkin, he edited and published the biweekly Der veker (The alarm)—eight issues.  In 1911, together with Hillel Davidovitsh (pen name of Tsvi Shkolnik), he published (with Herman Krasilovski) the one-off work Dos peyekh-blat (Passover sheet).  He lived in Rosario until 1917, again taking up teaching, served as secretary of the local “Asociación Israelita” (Jewish association).  In 1913 he edited there the newspaper Foterland (Fatherland)—only one issue.  From Rosario he was led out to the Pampa, to a town called Bernasconi, where he lived for thirteen years, after which he lived in the city of Corrientes and from there once again to Bernasconi, then to Coronel Suárez, Tucuman, and again to the Pampa, to a town called Villa-Alba (present-day San Martín).  Thereafter he cut through all of Argentina’s length and width, wrote, taught children and turned his attention to cultural and Zionist work.  In 1945 he gave up teaching and took a position in the Argentinian division of YIVO in Buenos Aires.  His main work there consisted of managing the archive of the community.  His work appeared in sixty publications (mostly in Argentina)—in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Spanish.  The most important of his published works were: “Di antshteyung un di antiviklung funem yidishn gedruktn vort in argentine” (The rise and development of the published Yiddish word in Argentina), Der shpigl (The mirror) (May 18, 1834; June 17, 1934; June 28, 1934; July 28, 1934; August 10, 1934); “Mit fuftsik yor tsurik” (Fifty years ago), Der shpigl (beginning May 25, 1944 in thirty installments); “Tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn gedrukte vort in argentine” (On the history of the published Yiddish word in Argentina), Di idishe tsaytung (The Jewish newspaper) (tenth year jubilee issue, Buenos Aires, 1924); “Der baginen fun unzer yishev” (The dawn of our community), Yorbukh (Yearbook) (Buenos Aires, 1945-1946); “Di ershte yidishe korbones in mozesvil” (The first Jewish victims in Mozesville), in Argentiner yivo-shriftn (Argentinian YIVO writings) 4 (1947); “Di batsiung fun yidishe foters tsu der kinder-dertsiung” (The connection between Jewish fathers and their children’s education), Di idishe tsaytung (October 10, 1935; October 20, 1935; October 29, 1935); “Vi azoy zoln mir dertsien undzere kinder” (How are we to raise our children), Rozaryer lebn (Rosario life) (July 26, 1939); and the like.  Sinai was also the author of two booklets: Gam zo letova (Just as well), sketches (Buenos Aires, 1919), 36 pp.; and Baleydikt a mes (A corpse is offended), a story (Buenos Aires, 1920), 48 pp.—both published by “Bikhlekh far yedn” (Booklets for everyone).  In the first issue of Viderkol, there is an article entitled “Di inkvizitsyon” (The Inquisition): a description of the large courtyards of poverty in Buenos Aires, where Jewish colonists stayed, people who had fled from Mozesville’s valley of tears.  In both this description as well as in everything that he wrote over the course of several decades, Sinai fought against the YIKO elite in the Jewish colonization in Argentina.  “Do you know what a newspaper is supposed to do?” responded Sinai to a reader in the mailbox section of Viderkol. “To fight for the truth, not to give in to flattery, particularly to rip off the mask from anyone who is dishonorable, vile, or corrupt, and also to stand up for the lonely, the oppressed, and the stifled.”  Sinai carried these very pure ideals through a long career.  His great service for the Yiddish press in Argentina lay not only in the fact that he was the first to produce the published Yiddish word there, but also in that he spoke true, punishing, consoling words.  He was for ten years the editor of Grodner opklangen (Grodno echoes).  He also wrote under such pseudonyms as: Smakh, Khirik, M. H. S., M. Skibelski, A Lerer, Sekhem, A Higer, and Oyker-Horim.  He died in Buenos Aires.  His son Ruvn Sinai (named for Mikhl Sinai’s father) was an important Spanish-language poet.  He wrote an excellent Yiddsh as well and was a contributor to the Buenos Aires Yiddish newspaper Haynt (Today).

Sinai’s identity card (signed Miguel José Sinay)

            “Sinai came to the published Yiddish word in Argentina,” wrote Sh. Rozhanski, “as a fine people’s teacher and remained as such his entire life….  Teaching and finding a popular register also became the tone of his writing.  With idealism he spread love of the Yiddish word.  As a teacher in YIKO schools and other educational institutions in various cities and towns of the Argentine provinces,…Sinai always considered his writing articles and stories, just as his giving public lectures (largely about Yiddish literature and education), as a gift, a contribution, that he was obliged to pay as a debt.”  “He wrote a great deal,” noted M. Bursuk, “and he wanted to write even more, when he found himself among a circle of friends who encouraged him….  By nature he possessed nothing less than a juicy and folkish language, and if in the first years he used a great many Germanisms, this was under the influence of A. Vermont and Y Liakhovitski who believed that the more German expressions one inserted into Yiddish, the more literary it would become….  Not once did Sinai recount this as a curiosity from a bygone era….  The last thirteen or fourteen years, he was employed by the YIVO archive.  A fitting person for a fitting place, because what Sinai lacked in writing, he had in memory—he truly enjoyed his work at YIVO, and he considered the Scientific Institute [YIVO] to be a second home, and he thus spent all his time there.”

Sources: Sh. Kneyfel, in Penemer un penemlekh (Buenos Aires) 306 (1929); M. Shalman, in Rozaryer lebn (Rosario), special edition (1931); Y. L. Gruzman, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (May 1, 1938); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), vol. 1, pp. 9-10, 20-21, 28, 36, 40-41, 90, 122, 138, 150; Rozhanski, in Mikhl hakoyen sinai (Mikhl Hakoyen Sinai), on his seventieth birthday (Buenos Aires, 1947), 16 pp.; Volf Bresler, Antologye fun der yidisher literatur in argentine (Anthology of Jewish literature in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1944), p. 921; P. Kats, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings), vol. 5 (Buenos Aires, 1946), pp. 5-13, 17-27; longer appreciations of Sinai on his seventieth birthday (publ. December 1947) in Di idishe tsaytung, Di prese, Der veg, Rozaryer lebn, Der shpigl, Ikuf, Argentiner beymelekh, and elsewhere; M. H. S., “Vegn mayn eygener veynikheyt” (On my own modesty), Grodner opklangen (Buenos Aires) 3-4 (1950); D. Gorskin, Zikhroynes vegn sante izabel (Memoirs of Santa Isabel) (Buenos Aires, 1951), p. 113; Yorbukh tshy”d fun der yidishe kehile in buenos-ayres (Yearbook for 1953/1954 for the Jewish community of Buenos Aires) (Buenos Aires, 1954), p. 113; Yorbukh tsht”v fun der yidishe kehile in buenos-ayres (Yearbook for 1954/1955 for the Jewish community of Buenos Aires) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 288; Y. Botoshanski, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 5” (New York, 1957), p. 375; N. Vital, in Dos yidishe vort (Buenos Aires) (December 13, 1957); Sasha, “A shtik yidish-argentiner geshikhte” (A bit of Argentinian Jewish history), Landsmanshaftn (Buenos Aires) (September 1958); Davke (Buenos Aires) 35 (September 1958); R. Flekhner, “Tsum ondenk fun tsvey pyonern” (To the memory of two pioneers), Ikuf (Buenos Aires) (May-October 1958); B. Grin, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (January 25, 1959); M. Bursuk, in Kolonist-kooperator (Buenos Aires) (December 1963), pp. 5-7.
Yankev Birnboym

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