Sunday 29 April 2018


YOYEL (JOEL) SLONIM (October 12, 1884-October 26, 1944)
            The foreshortened name of Yoyel Slonimski, he was born in Dragotshin (Drohiczyn), Grodno district, Byelorussia, to a father who was a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and knowledgeable of foreign languages (he was a member of the family of Chaim-Zelig Slonimski [1810-1904]).  He moved at age two with his parents to the United States and lived in Chicago, where he attended public school and high school, before moving on to university.  During those years, he visited Russia and for a brief time studied in religious elementary school.  His literary activities began with poems in English, but under the influence of his father, who much loved the Yiddish language, he began writing Yiddish-language poetry.  He debuted in print in Di idishe velt (The Jewish world) in Philadelphia and from that point published poetry in a variety of periodicals, mainly in New York.  He helped to establish (1903) a radical Zionist association which brought out in New York the quarterly Di naye shtime (The new voice), which lasted for one year until 1905.  From 1906 he became a regular contributor to Di varhayt (The truth) and later Tog (Day), for which he also wrote under such pen names as: Lutshi, Karmen, and Y. Sonino.  He was particularly popular for his reports and images drawn from various gangster activities of past years in New York.  He was the cofounder (1908) of the association “Literatur” (Literature) in New York.  He co-edited: with Jacob Adler, the anthology, Troymen un virklekhkeyt, literarishes zamelbukh (Dreams and reality, literary collection), (New York, 1909), 64 pp.—to which he contributed an article on Edgar Allan Poe; and with Yoyel Entin and M. Y. Khayimovitsh, the anthology, Literatur, zamlbukh (Literature, anthology) (New York, 1910)—in which he placed, among other items, an essay about Oscar Wilde.  He also contributed articles and poetry to: Revolutsyonere lider un shirim (Revolutionary poetry) (Geneva, 1905); Di tsukunft (The future), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Dos folk (The people), Tog, and Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), among other serials, in New York.  His work was represented as well in M. Basin’s anthology Finf hundert yor yidishe poezye (500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1917) and N. Mayzil’s collection Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word) (New York, 1955).  He contributed poems to the memorial volume Drohitshin (Drohiczyn) (Chicago, 1958).  He was a cofounder and for a time a member of the presidium of IKUF, a cofounder of the leftist “Writers’ and Artists’ Committee,” and other Jewish cultural institutions.  He was an assistant to the district attorney in New York, director of IKOR (Yidishe kolonizatsye organizatsye in rusland [Jewish colonization organization in Russia]), a member of the American Jewish Congress, and an unofficial councilor to the Democratic Party leaders in New York.  He died in New York.
            “A popular journalist,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “a first-rate reporter and interviewer for the daily press, Slonim also published numerous literary critical articles about Jewish and non-Jewish poets.  He was one of the forerunners of the group ‘Di yunge’ (The young ones), Yiddish poets and writers in America.  He excelled with his poetry of the city of New York, which expressed the mighty rhythm of this giant world residence.”  “In our poetry,” noted Dovis Ignatov, “Slonim was perhaps the first to employ modern images and especially a new rhythmic quality of lines and abruptness of image and word.” “Slonim’s genuine modernism,” wrote N. B. Minkov, “was rooted not so much in his individualism, as in that he was the first to introduce a sonorous quality, a rapidity of rhyming, and an impetuous, disheveled tempo.”  “He was the first American-bred Yiddish poet,” noted Yankev Glatshteyn, “and he was one of the first self-conscious lovers of Yiddish in America….  An extraordinarily talented journalist in the great American fold, he injected an immense portion of his talent and time into his journalistic impetuousness….  He possessed an undisciplined, metropolitan talent.  He wrote numerous poems in New York….  Through and through an American, he was possessed of the great Jewish metropolis.”  Shloyme Bikl put it as follows: “Yoyel Slonim was the first to so openly and directly…give expression to his psychic dependence on the metropolis and to his love for New York….  This was no nostalgia poem for America to the old country, nor was it an elegy for the harsh labor and need in America.  It was not the poem of an immigrant, but the song of a resident, of a Jew, for whom America did not become but was from the very start his psychological home.”  And, Ben-Tsien Goldberg noted: “Slonim belonged the Morris Rozenfeld school, and a number of his poems may be found in the illegal booklets of poems, published on cigarette paper, that the Bund published in Russia, although Slonim had no connection to the revolutionary struggle in Russia—he was raised in Chicago.  He was not only the best reporter among Jews but among the very best in New York.  He had three advantages over the other reporters in the New York press: he specialized in two fields; he lived with them day and night; and he not only knew everybody but he was on familiar terms with everyone.  He would only very rarely write his reports and even his articles by hand.  He would convey them directly to the secretary of the editorial board, very often by telephone, and not infrequently while sitting in a telephone booth in a café or is the corridor of a meeting hall.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Ben Yakir, in Di tsukunft (New York) (March 1908); Sh. Epshteyn, in Di tsukunft (October 1910); Ruvn Ayzland (Iceland), Shriftn (Writings) (New York, 1912); B. Rivkin, in Di tsukunft (September 1914); Avrom Reyzen, in Di tsukunft (January 19130; May 1931); L. Finkelshteyn, in Tog (New York) (February 20, 1932; February 18, 1933; March 11, 1933); P. Yuditsh, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (February 25, 1932); Z. Vaynper, Idishe shriftshteler (Yiddish writers), vol. 2 (New York, 1936), pp. 97-104; E. Grinberg, Moyshe-leyb halpern in rom fun zayn dor (Moyshe-Leyb Halpern in the frame of his generation) (New York, 1942); Shiye Tenenboym, in Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York) 320 (1937); Tenenboym, Shnit fun mayn feld, eseyen, dertseylungen, minyaturn (Harvest from my field, essays, stories, miniatures) (New York, 1949), pp. 144-49; obituary notices, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (November 1944), in Hadoar (New York) (November 3, 1944), by Y. Y. Sigal in Keneder odler (Montreal) (November 3, 1944), by K. Landau in Der veg (Mexico City) (November 4, 1944), by L. Faynberg in Epokhe New York) 16 (1944), by Y. A. Rontsh in Morgn-frayhayt (November 5, 1944); Dovied Ignatov, in Di tsukunft (December 1944); Ignatov, Opgerisene bleter, eseyen, farblibene ksovim un fragmentn (Torn off sheets, essays, extant writings, and fragments) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1957); N. B. Minkov, in Di tsukunft (December b1944); Y. Khaykn, Yidishe bleter in amerike (Yiddish newspapers in America) (New York, 1946), see index; Moyshe Shtarkman, in Hadoar (May 23, 1947); A. Leyeles, in Der tog (New York) (May 22, 1958); Yizker-bukh drohitshin (Memorial volume for Drohitshin) (Chicago, 1958),[1] p. 173; Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1960); Dr. Shloyme Bikhl, in Di tsukunft (November-December 1962); N. Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962), see index; Ben-Tsien Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 11, 1964); The UJA (New York) 9 (1943), p. 568.
Benyomen Elis

[1] This volume has now appeared in an English translation by David Goldman, edited by Florence Schumacher: Drohitchin Memorial Book: 500 Years of Jewish Life (New York, 2014), 716 pp. (JAF)

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