MIKHL (MITCHELL) KAPLAN (February 28, 1882-October 15, 1944)
He was a popular poet, born in Chernobyl, Ukraine. He lived for several years in Kremenchuk. In 1905 he survived a pogrom there which greatly shook him up, and that same year he left for the United States. For many years he worked as a pharmacist in Brownsville, [Brooklyn,] New York, and later in Newark. His entire life, he assembled a few Hebrew books and manuscripts in Yiddish and other languages, and in the early 1940s donated them to New York University. He debuted in print in 1899 with a poem in Yud (Jew). He published features, sketches, and mostly poems, from time to time articles on rabbinical texts—textual interpretation, Musar, Jewish law, and homiletics. He contributed to: Di yudishe folkstsaytung (The Jewish people’s newspaper), edited by M. Spektor; Fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg; Tsukunft (Future); Forverts (Forward); Fraye gezelshaft (Free society); Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor); Literatur (Literature); Humor un satire (Humor and satire); Dos naye land (The new country); Kibitser (Kibitzer); and Groyser kundes (Great prankster). His work also appeared in: Morris Basin, Finf hundert yor yidishe poezye (500 years of Yiddish poetry), vol. 2 (New York, 1917); Nakhmen Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word) (New York, 1955); Y. A. Rontsh, Amerike in der yidisher literatur (America in Yiddish literature) (New York, 1945). He withdrew from literary work around 1916. Only in 1940-1941 did he publish a column entitled “Fun mayn bikher-shrank” (From my bookcase) in Nyu-yorker vokhnblat (New York weekly newspaper), edited by Y. Libman. With B. Botvinik, he edited Unzer shrift (Our writing) in New York (1912), a small collection in Romanized text to campaign for the idea of introducing the Roman alphabet for Yiddish. His books include: A fidil, etlikhe lirishe shirim (A fiddle, several lyrical poems) (Berdichev: Y. Sheftil, 1900), 28 pp.; Gheto-klangen (Ghetto sounds), poetry (New York: International Library, 1910), 64 pp.; Gezamelte shriftn, lider, dertseylungen, eseyen un ophandlungen ṿegen zelṭene sforim (Collected writings, poetry, stories, essays, and treatments of rare religious texts) (Newark: Mitchell Kaplan Yugnt-kultur-grupe, 1947), 488 pp. Several English-kanguage Jewish poets have translated sixty poems by Kaplan and published them in: East Side Ballads and Lyrics (New York, 1927), 159 pp. “Popular with a very simple sad-humorous tone,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “…Kaplan’s poems are highly popular on the American Jewish street, and a portion of them are included…in the repertoire of all manner of actors and reciters of poems.” “An interesting poet with a tone all his own,” noted N. B. Minkov, “and path all his own,…his important accomplishment was to introduce into Yiddish poetry the immigrant Jewish way of life.” “Mikhl Kaplan as a poet,” stated Avrom Reyzen, “assumed a distinctive place in Yiddish poetry in America. As social as he is in every poem, he is far from every trend…. [It is] the poetry of poor folk and also suffering Jewish people, to whom he dedicated a great portion of his creative writing.” He died in New York.
Sources: S. Shnefal, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1910); Yoyel Entin, Yidishe poetn, hantbukh fun yidisher dikhtung (Yiddish poets, a handbook of Yiddish poetry), vol. 1 (New York: Jewish National Labor Alliance and Labor Zionist Party, 1927), pp. 163-66; Dovid Ignatov and N. B. Minkov, in Tsukunft (December 1944); Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York) (1949); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York); H. Schneiderman, in Jewish Book Annual (New York) (1945/1946).