ALTER EPSHTEYN (EPSTEIN) (April 20, 1879-June 6, 1959)
He was Ponemunok (Panėmunelis), Kovno district, Lithuania. His father, a descendant of the Strashuns and Katsenelboyms of Vilna, was a ritual slaughterer and a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment. Alter studied in yeshiva, later becoming involved in the revolutionary movement and active in the Bund under a variety of names though mainly with the nickname, “Alter der Hoykher” (Alter, the tall). He participated (1901-1902) in the conferences of the Bund in Bialystok; the 1902 meeting took place in his apartment. In 1908 he made his way to the United States, debuted in print in 1910 in Forverts (Forward) in New York, won a prize in a literary competition, and from 1914 regularly published sketches and stories in the newspaper. He also contributed to: Di tsukunft (The future), Glaykhhayt (Equality) edited by M. Winchevsky and Shakhne Epshteyn, Ladies’ Garment Worker (in Yiddish), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Der amerikaner (The American), and Byalistoker shtime (Voice of Bialystok)—all in New York. He became a regular contributor to Tog (Day) in New York and there published articles on theater, the lives of actors, images of New York’s courthouses, and interviews and descriptions of important Jewish personalities, among other topics. He also wrote under such pen names as: Uriel Mazik, L. Lipski, Leye Shelup, Aksel, Baobakhter, A Reporter, and Alef. In book form, he published: A karyere un andere ertsehlungen (A career and other stories) (New York: M. Mayzel, 1921), 256 pp.; Der hoyker un andere ertsehlungen (The hunchback and other stories) (New York: M. Mayzel, 1923), 260 pp.; second edition of both books (New York: H. Toybenshlag, 1925). “A realist with a definite inclination for psychological analysis,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “he describes with a romantic-sentimental tone Jewish life in a Lithuanian town and immense New York, childhood, religious elementary school, yeshiva, a trade workshop, barracks, and the movement.” His dramatic scene, “Bay a fremdn fayer” (At a strange fire), which appeared in his book A karyere, was also produced for the stage. He died in Brooklyn, New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Vohl, in Di tsukunft (New York) (March 1932); B. Bukhvald, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (March 27, 1935); Byalistoker-shtime (New York), jubilee edition (September-October 1940); H. Morgenshtern, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 14, 1954); Unzer tsayt (New York) (July-August 1959); Di geshikhte fun bund (The history of the Bund) (New York, 1960), vol. 1, pp. 168, 273; Arbeter-ring boyer un tuer (Builders and leaders of the Workmen’s Circle), ed. Y. Yeshurin and Y. Sh. Herts (New York, 1962), p. 286.