TASHRAK (January 30, 1872-October 5, 1926)
He authored stories, was a humorist, and translated homiletical material from the Talmud. Tashrak was the pen name of Yisroel-Yoysef Zevin. He came from a wealthy Hassidic family. He received an excellent Jewish education and studied Talmud and commentators as well as Russian and German. In 1889 he made his way to the United States. He worked as a peddler, a shopkeeper, and later devoted himself entirely to journalistic and literary activities. In 1893 he debuted in print with a sketch in Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper), and he remained linked to this newspaper his entire life as one of its principal contributors under various pseudonyms (mainly: Yudkovitsh); in this period, he also worked for a short time in 1894 as editor of the Philadelphia weekly Di yudishe prese (The Jewish press). For Yidishes tageblat, he wrote stories, feuilletons, tales, humorous sketches, and novels—among them, Fun akhtsehn biz draysig (From eighteen to thirty)—as well as journalistic articles. The humorous sketches and stories drew mainly on daily immigrant life, such as the series “Khayim der kostomer peddler” (Khayim the customer peddler), “Dzhou der veiter” (Joe the waiter), “Berl der butsher boy” (Berl the butcher boy), and “Simkhe der shames” (Simkhe the sexton). From 1924 he was also a regular contributor to Morgn zhurnal (Morning journal); in it he published popular articles, mainly in the section “Far hoyz un familye” (For home and family), edited by Dr. A. Adelman and Meyer Zonenshayn. From time to time, he wrote for Warsaw’s daily newspapers Dos leben (The life) [Der fraynd (The friend)] and Der shoyfer (The shofar) (1905), New York’s Minikes yontef bleter (Minikes’ holiday sheets), Minikes yohr-bukh (Minikes’ yearbook), and Di idishe bihne (The Yiddish stage), among others. Tashrak also placed work in Gershon Rozentsvayg’s Haivri (The Jew), Haam (The people) in New York (1907/1908), and English-language newspapers. Over the years 1907-1914, he was a standing contributor to the Anglophone daily New York Herald and in it published some eighty humorous stories of Jewish life in New York. Two of his stories appeared as well in: Helena Frank, Yiddish Tales (Philadelphia, 1912).
His writings include: Fun tashraks tagebukh (From Tashrak’s diary), “reports, observations, impressions, expressions, witty tales, ideas, porridge, and beet leaves” (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., n.d.), 32 pp.; Zevins geklibene shriften (Zevin’s [Tashrak’s] selected writings), part 1, supplement to Minikes’ Yomim-neroim un sukes blatt (Days of Awe and Sukkot newspaper) (New York, 1906), 32 pp.; Geklibene shriften (Selected writings) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1909), newer editions (1917, 1926), 2 vols.; Tashraks beste ertsehlungen I. Dos goldene land (Tashrak’s best stories, 1. The golden land), “stories from Jewish life in America”; II. Shpas un ernst (2. Joking and serious), “stories, fables, and fantasies”; III. Mener un froyen (3. Men and women), “tragedies and comedies of family life”; IV. Af der zayt yam (On this side of the ocean), “images of us yellow and green” (New York, 1910), 4 vols.: 224 pp., 160 pp., 223 pp., 160 pp., second edition (1911), third edition (1912), fourth edition (1919); Etikete, a veg vayzer fun laytishe oyffihrung, helflikhkayt un shehne manyeren far mener un froyen (Etiquette, a guide to proper demeanor, assistance, and beautiful manners for men and women) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1912), 310 pp.; Mayselekh far kinder (Stories for children) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1919), 222 pp., later edition (1928); Ale agodes fun talmud an ayen yankev af idish, ale mayses, agodes, mesholim, alegoryen, anekdoten, historishe un byografishe ertsehlungen, poetishe, moralishe un filozofishe perl fun gants talmud bavli un yerushalmi (All the homiletics from the Talmud, an Ein Yaakov in Yiddish, all the tales, homiletical tales, fables, allegories, anecdotes, historical and biographical stories, [and] poetic, moral, and philosophical pearls from the entire Talmud, Babylonian and Jerusalem [editions]) (New York, 1922), 3 vols., later edition (1925); Ale mesholim fun dubner magid (All the fables of the Dubner preacher) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1925), 2 vols.; Der oytser fun ale medroshim, ale agodes, ertshelungen un mesholim, aroysgenumen fun medresh rabe tankhume,…un fun ale andere medroshim (The treasury of all midrashim, all homiletics, stories, and fables, including Midrash Rabbah Tanḥuma,…and of all other midrashim) (New York, 1926), 4 vols.; Fun akhtsehn biz draysig, a novel (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1929), 586 pp. He died in New York.
“He made a name first and foremost,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “for his humorous stories drawn from Jewish life in the United States…. He was at that time the humorist of Jewish America,...depicting the comical situations and the twisted nature of the community in the new country.”
Among the hundreds of anecdotal stories, noted E. Vohliner, Tashrak also had “truly masterful humorous sketches, stories, and feuilletons with vivid people and with surroundings, drafted…with a proficient hand…. When you peruse Tashrak’s writings, you travel through all the stages of the Jewish American community…and this is an interesting history, if still not so great as literature…. [Even in his best pieces, one senses] the haste, the negligence, and the carelessness of newspaper writing, and the whole suffers from wordiness.”
“Tashrak is still more a journalist and critic of the democratic life of the people,” commented Bal-Makhshoves, “than the purely artistic storyteller.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Ab. Goldberg, Gezamlte shriftn (Selected writings) (New York, 1913), pp. 249-51; Shmuel Niger, in Fraynd (New York) (October-November 1921); Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (Warsaw, 1929), vol. 4, pp. 146-50, vol. 5, p. 140; Yoyel Entin, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 20, 1944); Borekh Rivkin, Grunt-tendentsn fun der yidisher literatur in ameriḳe (Basic tendencies in Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1948), p. 77; Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).