YANKEV SHTEYNBERG (JACOB STEINBERG) (Elul [= August-September] 1887-June 22, 1947)
He was the author of Hebrew and Yiddish poetry and stories, born in Belotserkov (Bila Tserkva), Ukraine. He received both a traditional Jewish and a general education. In 1901 he moved to Odessa and in 1903 to Warsaw where he published his first Hebrew-language poems in Olam katan (Small world). At the same time, he was publishing poetry in Mortkhe Spektor’s Yudishe folks-tsaytung (Jewish people’s newspaper). For a certain time, he lived in Kiev and Berne and studied at universities there. After returning to Warsaw, he became the technical contributor to Fraynd (Friend) as well as to its literary supplement Vokhenblat (Weekly newspaper). He wrote both poetry and fiction. He also placed work in Avrom Reyzen’s collections: Fraye teg (Free days), Sukes (Sukkot), Dos yohr (The year), and Eyropeyishe literatur (European literature)—all published in Warsaw in 1910. In Di idishe vokh (The Jewish week) (Warsaw) 2-13 (1913), he published the drama Der nisoyen (The temptation). Of Shteyberg’s Yiddish writings, only a small part appeared in book form: Di muter, drame (The mother, a drama) (Warsaw, 1908), 52 pp.; Gezamelte shriftn (Collected writings), several stories, three poems, and longer poem “Di troyerige liebe” (The sad love) (Warsaw: Velt-biblyotek, 1908/1909), 80 pp.—a similar edition from this year had on the other side of the title page the date 1911; Rusland, a poeme (Russia, a poem) (Warsaw, 1913), 68 pp.; In a farvorfn vinkl (In a secluded corner) (Berlin: Klal farlag, 1922), 31 pp.; Bashtanes (Melons) (Berlin: Klal farlag, 1922), 58 pp.
In 1914 he settled in the land of Israel, at which point he turned completely to writing in Hebrew—aside from 1922-1925 when he was in Berlin. In his preface to Rusland, Bal-Makhshoves noted: “The poem Rusland…is in a certain sense something novel in Yiddish literature. In juicy, lucid iambs, following the pattern of Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’ or Pushkin’s Yevgeniy Onegin, the poet describes for us images of Jewish Russia, of Switzerland, and of his own frame of mind…. In this gifted poem a young unspoiled spirit soars before our gaze, a spirit that has left home, because it is not his fatherland, as far as he is concerned, but a stepchild.” Bal-Makhshoves also addressed his stories with respect: “In most of his stories, there hovers an atmosphere of the warm, innovative, Jewish realm in southern Russia…. Shteynberg’s feeling of loneliness…at the same time does not dissociate him from the bright, colorful, living world, and the people in his stories, especially the women, emerge full and complete.” Rusland was translated into Hebrew by Shalom Luria under the title: Hapoema ‘Rusland’ leyaaḳov shteinberg ṿezikoteha el shirao beivrit (The poem “Russia” by Jacob Steinberg and its connections to his poetry in Hebrew) (Tel Aviv, 1971), 64 pp.
Shteynberg rewrote a number of his Hebrew stories and poems into Yiddish, just as he did his Yiddish stories into Hebrew. In his Hebrew poems, one senses reverberations of the Yiddish, and in the Yiddish one hears the echo of his Hebrew verse. He also wrote articles about Sholem Asch, Avrom Reyzen, Yehoash, and Hersh-Dovid Nomberg, which appeared in: Reshimot (Notes) in Tel Aviv (1927/1928); and in Reshimot aḥaronot (Last notes) (Tel Aviv, 1951). Shteynberg’s Yiddish writings were for the most part ignored by Hebrew critics. One of the exceptions was Yisrael Cohen who wrote a book about Shteynberg, and in it he dwells extensively upon Shteynberg’s works in Yiddish, but he nonetheless found it necessary to add that Yiddish is “only a language of the surface, of place and not time, because it has no strata of a past from which every language and every people sustains itself.” He died in Tel Aviv.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Getzel Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit (Handbook of Hebrew literature), vol. 2 (Merḥavya, 1967); Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1929), pp. 109, 149-50; E. Almi, in Proletarisher gedank (New York and Toronto) (April 15, 1946); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tog (July 13, 1947); Yisrael Cohen, Yaakov shteinberg, haish veyetsirato (Jacob Steinberg, the man and his works) (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1972), pp. 414-45; Elye (Elias) Shulman, in Forverts (New York) (July 23, 1972); G. Katsenelson, in Moznaim (Tel Aviv) (February 1974); Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), vol. 15.
Elye (Elias) Shulman