YANKEV (JACOB) PENKIN (January 13, 1879-February 4, 1968)
He was born in Kalinovke (Kalinovka), Kiev district, Ukraine. In childhood he moved with his parents to the United States, where his father was the first Jewish colonist in the state of Connecticut. He was raised on a farm and there attended the village school. While young he became interested in the Jewish labor movement. He learned how to make purses and lived for several years in this profession. But his agitational work among the laborers placed him on the bosses’ black list, and he was forced to leave the trade. For a short time, he was a bookkeeper, and in 1905 he graduated in law from New York University. In 1917 he was selected onto the socialist list for judge on the municipal court—the first socialist judge in the United States. He was one of the fighters for abolishing sweatshops and among the first organizers and builders of the major Jewish unions and their legal councilor, and one of the fiercest fighters against Communism and every form of dictatorship. He was an active leader in a number of labor and people’s organizations. He wrote for Forverts (Forward) and also Tsukunft (Future) in New York. In 1925 he visited Eastern Europe and published his travel impressions in Forverts and Der farband (The union), organ of the Federation of Polish Jews in America. He was a candidate in 1926 of the Socialist Party for governor of New York state. In 1934 he was appointed a judge in family court. He was labeled “the poor man’s judge.” He wrote several books in English about children’s education and problems of home and family life.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Y. Sh. Herts, Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 1 (New York, 1956); Sh. Regnsberg, in Forverts (New York) (February 21, 1959); H. Morgenshtern, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 3, 1964; April 3, 1965); Y. Fogel, in Forverts (February 1, 1964; March 29, 1965).
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