Sunday 28 April 2019


AYZIK (ISAAC) RABOY (November 15, 1882-January 10, 1944)
            He was the author of stories and novels, born in Zavallya woods, Kamenetz-Podolsk, Ukraine.  His father, Yoysef-Khayim, a Hassid, was a forestry accountant, but right after Ayzik’s birth, he moved to Rishkan (Rîşcani), Bessarabia, where he leased a crown position.  Until age fourteen Raboy studied with itinerant teachers and later in a synagogue study chamber.  He was soon involved with a circle of followers of the Jewish Enlightenment in his town, and he began studying Russian and acquainted himself with Russian literature.  In Rîşcani’s handwritten weekly newspaper, Di toybnpost (The pigeon post), Raboy published his first story.  He also sent stories to Russian newspapers, but they were not published.  With his friends among the adherents of the Jewish Enlightenment, he established a municipal library and instituted a two-class Jewish school.  In 1904 he emigrated to the United States.  He learned the trade of hat-making and wrote a great deal, but he had no luck getting his work published.  He recounted that, out of great despair, he was planning to take his own life.  Yoyel Entin and Dovid Pinski encouraged him to continue writing.  In 1906 Di varhayt (The truth) published Raboy’s first story, erroneously under the name Rabin.  That year Pinski published several of Raboy’s works in his Der arbayter (The worker), but then disassociated himself from Raboy, because he “is stuck along crazy pathways.”  After getting to know Mani Leyb, Dovid Ignatov, and others, he published his story “Di royte blum” (The red flower) in the collection Yugend (Youth), which was the first organized entry of the “Yunge” (Young) group into Yiddish literature, and for two decades he remained one of them.  In 1908 he decided to become a farmer and later graduated from Baron Hirsch’s Agricultural School in Woodbine, New Jersey.  He received a position on a horse farm in North Dakota.  He worked in the stable with the animals and chickens and with the plow in the fields.  “When I completed the first furrow in farm school,” Raboy later wrote in his memoirs, “and looked it over, I was ashamed on behalf of my teacher [and] for all generations of my antecedents who had been severed from the land.”  Two years later, he moved to his father’s farm in Connecticut.  In 1913 he left for New York, opened a shop with his brother, failed, and once again took up his trade of hat-making.  He died in the Duarte Sanatorium in Los Angeles.
The raw prairie in the West, the harsh nature in its rugged beauty and wildness formed Raboy’s work.  Hence come Mr. Goldenbarg and his wife, the neighbors, the “cowboys,” the wild fields, and the new world, about which Yiddish literature had no previous knowledge.  He also wrote about the metropolis, but his lifelong theme was nonetheless the field—initially the American prairie and later the Bessarabian soil.  He also published in: Varhayt, Tog (Day), Der fihrer (The leader), Di tsayt (The times), Di naye heym (The new home), Yugend, Ist brodvey (East Broadway), Shriften (Writings), Oyfkum (Arise), Inzel (Island), Troymen un virklikhkeyt (Dreams and reality), Literatur un leben (Literature and life), Fun mensh tsu mensh (From person to person), Velt ayn velt oys (World in, world out), Poezye (Poetry), Feder (Pen), In zikh (Introspective), Yidish (Yiddish), Dos vort (The word), Naye velt (New world), Kultur (Culture), and Unzer bukh (Our book).  He often placed work in Tsukunft (Future), in which, among other items, he published his novels Besaraber iden (Bessarabian Jews) (1922-1923) and Iz gekumen a id keyn amerike (A Jew came to America) (1926-1927), and his three-act play Idishe minhogim (Jewish customs) (1, 1926).  Initially, he worked for Frayhayt (Freedom) with interruptions (on one occasion, he left due to the stance of the newspaper toward the Arab pogroms in the land of Israel in 1929).  In 1932 he became a regular contributor here, later to Morgn frayhayt (Morning freedom), Der hamer (The hammer), and Signal (Signal) for which he served as co-editor.  At the time he became a member of the International Labor Order and “Proletpen” (Proletarian pen).  His work also appeared in anthologies and readers: Noyekh Shteynberg, Yung amerike (Young America) (New York, 1917); B. Ostrovski and Sh. Hurvits, Idish, khrestomatye farn dritn un fertn lernyor (Yiddish, a reader for the third and fourth school year) (New York, 1925); Shloyme Bastomski and Zalmen Reyzen, Dos lebedike vort (The living word) (Vilna, 1922); Gershon Yabrov, Literarishe khrestomatye (Literary reader) (Minsk, 1928); Revolutsyonerer deklamator zamlung fun lider, poemes, dertseylungen, eynakters, tsum farleyenen, shipln un zingen bay arbeter-farveylung (Revolutionary declamation, collection of songs, poems, stories, [and] one-act plays to read aloud, enact, and sing for workers’ entertainment) (New York, 1933); Betsalel Fridman, Mayn bukh, lernbukh farn dritn klas (My book, textbook for the third-level class) (New York, 1939); Aisefer (New York, 1943/1944); Y. A. Rontsh, Amerike in der yidisher literatur (America in Yiddish literature) (New York, 1945); and Max Rosenfeld, Pushcarts and Dreamers (New York-London, 1967).
            His works include: Herr goldenbarg (Mr. Goldenbarg) (New York: Literarisher ferlag, 1916), 100 pp., later editions (New York, 1918; Warsaw, 1923; Buenos Aires, 1964); In der vayter vest (In the far West) (New York: Amerika, 1918), 196 pp.; Nyu ingland, der pas fun yam, roman (New England, the pass from the sea, a novel) (New York: Amerika, 1918), 201 pp.; Ikh dertsehl, shtot noveln (I’ll explain, city stories) (New York: Amerika, 1920), 267 pp.; Eygene erd, roman (One’s own land, a novel) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1928), 284 pp.; Iz gekumen a id keyn amerike (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1929), 394 pp., second edition (New York, 1944); Nayn brider, roman (Nine brothers, a novel) (New York: International Labor Order, 1936), 316 pp.; Fun shtot in dorf arayn (From the city into the village) (Vilna: Naye yidishe folkshul, 1937), 8 pp.; Der yidisher kauboy (The Jewish cowboy) (New York: IKUF, 1942), 311 pp.; Mayn lebn (My life), 2 vols. (New York: IKUF, 1945-1947), 261 pp. and 336 pp., Hebrew translation by Ḥ. Peleg as Pirke ḥayim  (Tel Aviv, 1969); A dorf fun kinder (A village of children) (New York: IKUF, 1953), 268 pp. (published in 1941 in Morgn frayhayt under the title Di kleyne idelekh [The little Jews]).  Aside from the aforementioned Idishe minhogim, he also wrote the play Shtekhik drot (Barbed wire), which he dramatized from Herr goldenbarg and was performed on Yiddish stages in America and Europe.  In 1933 he wrote a play entitled Mitn ponem tsum shap (Oriented toward the workshop).  In 1927-1928, he began publishing a novel entitled Proste mentshn (Ordinary people) in Frayhayt and the novel Ergets in nord-dakota (Somewhere in North Dakota) in Der hamer.  “Generally speaking,” wrote Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, “Raboy is not a novelist, but a storyteller in the conventional sense of the idea….  Raboy’s novels actually have no beginning and no end….  In the history of Yiddish literature, Raboy will without a doubt assume his place among the most important prose writers.  Contemporary readers, though, think of him sooner for his ‘poetry’ than for his prose.  The plots of Raboy’s stories and novels are not so much to be blamed as the warmth, the affable sensibility, that hovers about them.  What remains in one’s memory is not so much what covers the novels as Raboy’s genteel approach, his sensitivity, his picturesque authenticity, his—I would say—poetic refrains to the prose side of his topic….  Raboy doesn’t so much protagonist a hero as he caresses him, cultivates him in his joyous love for people and things….  He is not a master of depicting conflicts.  He is…better at describing the amicable and the routine.”  “The three novels (Herr goldenbarg, A pas fun yam, and Dos vilde land [The wild country]),” wrote Shmuel Niger, “are actually one poem of: fields, people, oxen, prairies, woods, pathways, mountains, homesickness, sorrow, joy, sun, rain, God….  In all of these novels by Raboy, the characters are more lyrically sung than painted: there is here a certain atmosphere surrounding each of them but no ground beneath them….  Raboy, though, interests us for himself alone, with his own imagined and dreamt up world, with his wild, fresh style which possesses within it such (certainly not present-day) naïveté and not an urban naturalness and pictorial satisfaction….  Not with his work itself does he take us in, but with the distinctive (à la Knut Hamsun?—no, Raboy) hazy film thrust over it, and with the unique, light or dark, living blots that we see through the haze….  He is a disguised lyricist and his novels are pieces of hardened lyrics.”  “Raboy is no master of the story,” note Der Lebediker, “…but everywhere he possesses that distinctive Raboy-charm….  He paints his ordinary protagonists with an odd magic, and when you truly see that this or that action is unnatural,…it doesn’t bother you—you are already captivated by the magical simplicity and [you continue] reading and enjoying.”  “One of the most important and original representatives of modern Yiddish prose,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “Raboy introduced into modern Yiddish literature new content—the Jewish farmer, the Jewish nostalgia for the land.  There is expressed in his work an authentic poet with an almost primitive instinct, with healthy senses, with a profound love for nature, for the freedom and quiet of the prairie, with a deeply human connection to the mute creatures.  Raboy’s specific charm derives from that natural mixture of naïveté and refinement which offers such a bizarre zest and sounds so ancient and so fresh in everything that Raboy writes….  [Also] lovely are Raboy’s stories…which excel in their innovative style, in which the border between poetry and prose is obliterated.”  “Raboy draws his figures,” noted Y. Kisin [I. Kissin], “neither bluntly nor suddenly.  He discloses them for you bit by bit over the course of the story, which gradually takes shape and sways and deviates, it seems, without direction and returns unnoticed, and finally comes to a conclusion.  These are stories—dreams….  In his city-novellas, Raboy is altogether different [from in his novels].  His pace is quicker, more nervous, in agreement with the hurried pace of city life….  He produces thus a pathos, a dignified tone, his language leveling off, direct, and the themes unusual, the events significant.”


Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 6 (Mexico City, 1969); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) 3 (1929); Niger, Yidishe shrayber fun tsvantsikstn yorhundert (Yiddish writers of the twentieth century), vol. 2 (New York, 1973), pp. 251-56; Yidish (New York) 15 (1932); A. Pomerants, Proletpen (Kiev, 1935), pp. 239-43; Yidishe kultur (New York) 1-3 (1944); Nakhmen Mayzil, Forgeyer un mittsaytler (Forerunner and contemporary) (New York, 1946); Mayzil, Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, from Yankev Dinezon to Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957); B. Rivkin, Grunt-tendentsn fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (Basic tendencies in Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1948), pp. 184-89; M. Olgin, Kultur un folk, ophandlungen un eseyen vegn kultur and shrayber (Culture and people, treatises and essays about culture and writers) (New York, 1949), pp. 221-42; L. Zhitnitski, A halber yorhundert idishe literatur, makhshoves un eseyistik (A half-century of Yiddish literature, thoughts and essays) (Buenos Aires: Eygns, 1952), pp. 32-33; Y. Kisin, Lid un esey (Poem and essay) (New York, 1953), pp. 240-48; Ruvn Ayzland, Fun undzer friling (From our spring) (Miami Beach and New York, 1954), p. 192; Yoysef Rolnik, Zikhroynes (Memoirs) (New York, 1954), pp. 179-82; Der Lebediker (Khayim Gutman), in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 21, 1954); Dovid Ignatov, Opgerisene bleter, eseyen, farblibene ksovim un fragmentn (Torn off sheets, essays, extant writings, and fragments) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1957), pp. 52-66; H. Leivick, Eseyen un redes (Essays and speeches) (New York, 1963); B. Grin, Yidishe shrayber in amerike (Yiddish writers in America) ( New York, 1963), pp. 113-30; Moyshe kats bukh (Volume for Moyshe Katz) (New York, 1963), pp. 210-13; Y. Yeshurin and Y. Y. Shvarts, A. raboy biblyografye (A. Raboy bibliography) (Buenos Aires, 1963); Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and poetry) (New York, 1965), pp. 432-41; Ber Borokhov, Shprakh-forshung un literatur-geshikhte (Language research and literary history) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1966), pp. 345-47; M. Ohel, in Maariv (Tel Aviv) (February 21, 1969); Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 11 (1972).
Yankev Birnboym


  1. Most extensive article I have seen on this man. I have been trying for years to have his work translated but have since run low on funds. I hope one day, someone will rediscover them. As one translator told me, the work is very valuable as a window into Jewish life as it was and life in general through a Jewish perspective.

    1. I’m interested in translating Raboy: looking to see which of his works have yet to be translated, and can be published. If you have information please get in touch.