LEON KUSMAN (L. KUSSMAN) (January 13, 1884-April 27, 1974)
Poet, storyteller, playwright, he was born in Aleksanderhof, near Mitave (Mitava). In 1887 he moved with his parents to Zager (Žagarė), Lithuania. He attended religious elementary school and graduated from a Russian public school. At age eight he was orphaned on his father’s side. In 1901 he came to Odessa, where he sat for the high school examinations as an external student. Over the years 1905-1907, he studied philosophy at the Universities of Berne and Geneva. In 1911 he departed for London and in 1913 for New York, where for a time he worked as a Hebrew teacher and lived for many years. He debuted in print in 1904 with a poem about the Kishinev pogrom in Dr. Vortsman’s Di idishe tsukunft (The Jewish future). He contributed poetry, stories, feature pieces, journalistic articles, and theater reviews to: Avrom Reyzen’s Kunst un leben (Art and life) (1908); Der idisher ekspres (The Jewish express) and Der idisher zhurnal (The Jewish journal) in London; and Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper), Varhayt (Truth), Dos naye land (The new country), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Millers vokhenshrift (Miller’s weekly writing), Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), Kundes (Prankster), Amerikaner (American), Di feder (The pen), and Shikago (Chicago), among others—all in the United States. From 1920 for two decades he was an internal contributor to Morgn zhurnal (Morning journal) for which he was highly productive with journalism and literature. His work appeared as well in: Nakhmen Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word) (New York, 1955); Shimshon Meltser’s anthologies, Al naharot, tisha maḥazore shira misifrut yidish (By the rivers, nine cycles of poetry from Yiddish literature) (Jerusalem, 1956) and Zugot, shemona asar sipurim shel shisha asar meḥabrim beyidish (Pairs, eighteen stories by sixteen authors in Yiddish) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1972). He edited: the humor leaflet Der blofer (The bluffer) in London; the illustrated serial Di vokh (The week), no. 7; and Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people) (1918-1920). In book form, his poetry and stories include: Di umru, un andere lider (The disquiet and other poems) (New York: Atlantis, 1933), 93 pp.; Litvishe geshtaltn, dertseylungen (Lithuanian figures, stories) (Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1936), 180 pp.; In shpigl fun hodson (In the mirror of the Hudson, a poem) (Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1938), 68 pp.; Mayn shtam (My tribe) (New York: Atlantis, 1940), 94 pp.; Ezre, vegn eynem un a dor (Ezra, on him and a generation) (New York, 1948), 223 pp.; Der lomp brent (The lamp burns) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962), 96 pp.; Bleter royshn (Rustling leaves) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1965), 95 pp.; Bleter in a krants (Leaves in a garland) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1967), 96 pp.; Teg nokh teg (Days after days) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1968), 110 pp.; Trit baym rand (Steps at the edge) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1969), 93 pp.; Balades fun a dor (Ballads of a generation) (Tel Aviv, 1971), 72 pp. His dramatic works include: Baym presser, komedye in eyn akt (At the presser’s, a comedy in one act) (New York: Atlantis, 1922), 31 pp.; Der geler moyer, drama in dray aktn mit prolog un epilog (The yellow wall, a drama in three acts with a prologue and an epilogue) (New York, 1926), 128 pp.; Dos gezang fun der erd (in 9 bilder) (Song of the earth, in nine scenes) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1930), 126 pp.; Narnbund, fantastishe trilogye (Band of fools, fantasy trilogy) (New York: Atlantis, 1931), 224 pp.; Tsvey drames (Two dramas)—1. Tirn hobn an oysgang (Doors have an outlet); and 2. Shteyndlekh af an indzl (Pebbles on an island)—(Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1965), 120 pp. Almost all of Kusman’s plays were staged, some with evident success, but not all of them were published: Der veg tsu frayhayt (The road to freedom); Der laykhtziniker mentsh, oder libe un flikht (The reckless man, or love and duty); Di bank (The bank); Di teg fun meshiekh (The days of the Messiah); and A nakht on a levone (A moonless night). He also published translations of Heinrich Heine, Ivan Krylov, Lafontaine, and Dr. Theodor Herzl’s Tagebikher (Diaries) in Morgn zhurnal (July 24, 1922-October 10, 1923). He even wrote a bit in Hebrew. Several of Kusman’s books were published in Hebrew translations by Shimshon Meltser, such as: Ezra, al adam veal dor (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1973), 208 pp.; Demuyot milita (Lithuanian figures) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1966), 142 pp.; and Amanim uvonim (Artists and builders) (Tel Aviv, 1955), 158 pp. His many pseudonyms included: Ro’e Veeyno Nire, Leon Bezan, L. Izraeli (under this name he edited for several years the theater page of Morgn zhurnal), M. Kriger, Kapriz, and Aladin. “L. Kusman is romantic and sentimental in his poetry” wrote L. Zhitnitski, and “[h]e was not attached to life’s realities, but exclusively to dreams.” What differentiates Kusman’s plays, despite social and current content, is that he “is more interested,” noted B. Ts. Goldberg, “in introducing his own ideas on the issues of the day, than he is in the inner experiences of his protagonists.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 4 (New York, 1963); Y. Mestl, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (November 1948); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (new York) (December 4, 1965); L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (October 1, 1966); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).