ROKHL FAYGENBERG (RAḤEL OMRI) (1885-June 5, 1972)
She was born in Luban (Lyuban’), Minsk district, Byelorussia. Her father, Ber, a great scholar, a mystic, and a Talmud teacher, died young. Supervision for her education fell into the hands of her mother, Sore, née Epshteyn, a niece of Zalmen Epshteyn. Also influential in her upbringing was her grandfather, a rabbi. She studied Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian until age twelve. She had to run their store, but she still managed to read a great many books. Impressed by several novels by Shomer [N. M. Shaykevitsh], she composed her own novel called “Yozef un roze” (Joseph and Rosa), but she soon tore up the manuscript. At age fifteen, now an orphan on both sides, she moved to Odessa and for four years she worked in a salon for women’s clothing. At that time she wrote her first story, “Di kinder-yorn” (Childhood), which was published in the monthly Dos naye lebn (The new life) in 1905. Over the years 1911-1912, she studied in Lausanne (Switzerland) and was later a teacher in Volhynia. Throughout all this time, she wrote and published stories and sketches in: Fraynd (Friend), Haynt (Today), Eyropeishe literatur (European literature), and Bobroysker vokhnblat (Bobruisk weekly newspaper), among others. Among her other writings at this time, she penned a dramatic study entitled “Kursistkes” ([Female] students), a long story “Tsvey veltn” (Two worlds)—in Unzer lebn (Our life) (1910), published in 1911 in book form in Warsaw as A mame (A mother)—a novel entitled Tekhter (Sister) which was published serially in Moment (Moment) in Warsaw (1913), and the first part of her book Af fremde vegn (Along foreign pathways). She survived the Ukrainian pogroms of 1919. She then renewed her literary work and translated for a planned “Universal Library.” In 1921 she left Ukraine and settled initially in Kishinev and later in Bucharest. She then went to work on a rich collection of materials on the pogroms, to which she contributed from Ukraine. She published these materials in: Der yud (The Jew) in Kishinev; Forverts (Forward) and Tog (Day) in New York; and Haynt in Warsaw; among others. She also published in the Romanian newspaper Mantureo. From Romania she moved to Warsaw, and in 1924 she made aliya to the land of Israel. From there she was a correspondent for Moment. She contributed to Hebrew-language publications—Haarets (The land), Davar (Word), Haolam (The world), and Kuntres (Pamphlet)—her articles initially translated from Yiddish into Hebrew. She later mastered the Hebrew language and eventually carved out for herself a distinctive style. In 1926 she came back to Poland for a time, later living in Paris where she helped assemble materials for the defense of Shalom Schwartzbard (her work, A pinkes fun a toyter shtot, khurbn dubove [A record of a dead city, the destruction of Dubove (Warsaw, 1926)], was translated at the time into French). She translated three volumes from the writings of the late Russian-Jewish writer Semyon Yushkevitsh. In 1933 she returned to Israel. There she founded the publishing house Measef (Collection), which set as its task to publish Hebrew translations from Yiddish literature. Three volumes of translation (by Dovid Bergelson, Y. Y. Zinger, and Moyshe Kulbak) appeared from this press. Aside from her novels, she published in Hebrew a number of folk stories. Some of them were published with vowel pointing, so that new immigrants could more easily understand them. In addition to the Hebrew press, she contributed as well to: Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) and Letste nayes (Latest news) in Tel Aviv. In 1965 she was awarded the Ḥaim Grinberg Prize from the Pioneer Women’s Organization for 1964-1965. She wrote primarily in Hebrew after settling in Israel and under the Hebraized name Raḥel Omri. Her books would include: Di kinder-yorn (Warsaw, 1909), 155 pp.; A mame (Warsaw, 1911), 56 pp.; Af fremde vegn (Warsaw, 1925), 310 pp.; a four-act play, Hefker-mentshn (Derelicts), published in Tsukunft (Future) (New York) 6-9 (1924), staged by R. Zaslavski in Vilna’s “Jewish Folk Theater” in November 1927 under the title “Tekhter”; A pinkes fun a toyter shtot, khurbn dubove (Warsaw, 1926), 148 pp.; Af di bregn fun dnyester (On the shores of the Dniester) (Warsaw, 1925), 160 pp.—the latter two volumes were translated into French by Moïse Twersky; Heyrat af tsvey yor, roman (Marriage for two years, a novel) (Warsaw, 1932), 261 pp.; Di velt vil mir zoln zayn yidn (The world wants us to be Jews) (Warsaw, 1936), 71 pp.; Susato shel mendele veshot hayidishaim (Mendele’s nag and the scourge of the Yiddishists) (Tel Aviv, 1950), 36 pp.; Megilot yehude rusia, tarsa-tashkad (The scrolls of the Jews of Russia, 1905-1964) (Jerusalem, 1965), 463 pp. (including five volumes of which Faygenberg herself translated three from Yiddish; one volume, Dapim bemegilat krivoye ozero (Pages from the scroll of Lake Krivoye) which she composed originally in Hebrew, and the fifth volume was translated by Sh. Droyanov); Yidish vesofreha (Yiddish and its literature) (Tel Aviv: Zeman, 1967), 32 pp. She died in Tel Aviv.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Kh. D. Hurvits, in Yidishe literatur (Yiddish literature) (Kiev, 1928), part 1; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (April 30, 1932); Rokhl Oyerbakh, in Pyonern-froy (New York) (September-October 1954); Y. Likhtnboym, Hasipur haivri (The Hebrew story) (Tel Aviv, 1955); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Ravitsh, in Heymish (Tel Aviv) (February-March 1960; December 1960); E. Almi, in Fraye arbiter-shtime (New York) (October 15, 1960); Pinkas slutsk uvenoteha (Records of Slutsk and its children) (New York-Tel Aviv, 1961); D. Khanun, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (September 17, 1965); A. Volf-Yasni, in Letste nayes (November 12, 1965); G. Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit badorot haaḥaronim (Handbook of modern Hebrew literature), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1965); Y. Emyot, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1966); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 3, 1966); Yefim Yeshurin, 100 yor moderne yidishe literatur, biblyografisher tsushteyer (100 years of modern Yiddish literature, bibliographical contribution) (New York, 1966).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 440.]