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[Col. 231-232]

13. Pioneers of the Yiddish-Hebrew Press

[Col. 231]

Although the people of Suwalk had no role in the development of the Yiddish press in the Old Country, immigrants to the United States from the Suwalk area played a most important pioneering role in the development of the Yiddish and Hebrew press in the United States.

Among the first participants in the publishing of Yiddish journals in America were Katriel Tsevi Sarasohn and Mordekhy Yahlomshteyn (Yahlom-Shteyn), both from Suwalk. Yahlomshteyn was born in Suwalk in 1835, Sarasohn in 1837 in Peyzer, a village not far from Suwalk. They were brothers-in-law. After his marriage, Katriel Tsevi lived in Suwalk for a long time.[1] In 1866, they both came to New York. That same year, M. Yahlomshteyn published “Di Idishe Prese” which did not last long. He later published “Di Nyu Vorker Idishe Tsaytung” which was not much more fortunate than its predecessor and quickly left the scene.[2]

[Col. 232]

M. Yahlomshteyn returned to Europe but came back in 1871. In 1874, together with Katriel Tsevi Sarahsohn, he founded the weekly “Yudishe Gazeten”. It was not very successful but Sarasohn did not give up and a few years later, in 1881[2*], he tried his hand at publishing a daily “Teglikhe Gazeten: the first Yiddish daily periodical in American and in the entire world. But it lasted only two weeks. He tried again in 1883 with the same result as in 1881.[3] For a short time, in 1875, M. Yahlomshteyn published the “Nyu Yorker Izraelit”.[4]

It was only in 1885 that Sarasohn got lucky. In that year, he began to publish the “Idishes Tageblat” which was eventually combined with the “Yudishe Gazeten”.

[Col. 233]

Sarasohn's new Yiddish daily was published with the help of his son Yehezkel and his future son-in-aw, Yehudal Leyb (Leon) Komaiko. Komaiko was born in Suwalk district city Vilkovishk around 1865.[5-6] By the way, Komaiko held an important position in Jewish communal life and during the First World War, he was chairman of the Central Relief Committee for Jewish War Victims.

The “Gazetten-Tageblat” lasted a long time until 1928 when they were taken over by the “Morgn Zshurnal”.

The first Yiddish newspaper in Chicago was also founded in 1877 by a man from Suwalk – Nahman Ber Etelson. He came from Shaki in Suwalk province where he was born in 1828. He came to America in 1857. The name of his newspaper was “Di Izraelitishe Prese” with a Hebrew supplement – “Hekhal Haivriah”. It lasted for three years?[7]

Katriel Tsevi Sarasohn was quite popular in New York and was active in many organizations. One organization – “Gaba'e Mahazike Aniye Erets Yisrael” sent him to Erets Yisrael in 1875 as its emissary to as to settle the controversy between the two hospitals in Jerusalem – the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi one. Sarasohn was not successful in his mission and in a series of articles, he explained reasons why.[8]

He was one of the first organizers and planners of the conference to establish an organization of all Orthodox Jews in the United States.[9]

Sarasohn and Yahalomshteyn founded the first Hebrew society in the world: “Shohare Sefat Ever”, found in 1880. Sarasohn also published the first Yiddish textbook for the study of English: “Der Amerikaner”.[10]

[Col. 234]

During his long and fruitful career in journalism and publishing, Sarasohn was often criticized for “borrowing” material from others for his periodicals. One of the sharpest accusations of plagiarism against him as by the London “Tsukunft”.[11]

M. Schur, the editor-publisher of the Chicago based “Hapisgah”, and one of the most important Hebrew writers of his time, had a very bad opinion of Sarasohn. He wrote about him: “this base man is like a poisonous leprosy…”.[12] One should keep in mind that Schur and Sarasohn had been partners at first in “Hapisgah” and later broke up the partnership. Thus Schur's opinion could not be too objective.

As publisher of a number of periodicals, K.Sarasohn often made mistakes. One of the most egregious examples of this was his attitude towards his semi-compatriot, the famous writer of Yiddish “folk” poetry, Morris Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld wrote for Sarasohn's “Yudishes Tageblatt”. One day Sarasohn and his son decided to fire Rosenfeld and sent him a note: “Dear Sir, we find it necessary to notify you that from now, you need not write for us anymore. The reason for this is that your writing is lacking in quality and quantity.[13] A nice example of literary expertise!

Generally, however, K.Sarasohn fulfilled a very important role in the development of the Yiddish press in America.

Sarasohn did very well in America, as may be seen from his will in which he allocated $600,000 ($60,000?) to Jewish institutions: two thirds for New York based organizations and one third for Erets Yisrael.[14] Sarasohn died on 12th January 1905 in New York and some 50,000 Jews participated at his funeral.

Mordekhay Yahalomshteyn died in New York in 1897. In 1893, his book “Divre Yeme Artsot habrit” was published.

Even the very first Yiddish periodical in America – “Di Post” – is connected with a man from Suwalk: Tsevi Hirsh Bernshteyn {Zvi Hirsch Bernstein, 1846-1907. EJ} of Nayshtat, son-in-law of the rabbi from Kalverie. Bernstein was the founder of this periodical and M.Y. Yahlomshteyn was its second editor (after Tsevi Gershuni).

[Col. 235]

According to M. Starkman, the oldest Yiddish newspaper in America is not “Di Post”[15] but “Di Idishe Tsaytung”. Be that as it may, the difference between the dates of their beginning is only 6 months.[16]

Immigrants from Suwalk were also the first pioneers of the Hebrew press in America.

The above-mentioned Zvi Hirsch Bernstein was the editor of “Hatsofe Baarets Hahadasha”, which he founded in New York in 1871 and which appeared for five years.[17] Its co-founder was Mordekhay Yahalomshteyn of Suwalk.

Founded by men from Suwalk, “Hatsofe Baarets Hahadashah” also carried news from Suwalk. In n°42, the young man from Suwalk, Yaakov Levit, is sought by a man whom he swindled; in n°43, R'Yisrael Yitshak Haefrati from Suwalk wrote novella; in the same number, Mordekhay Yahalomshteyn of Suwalk announced that he was the agent for a shipping firm in Hamburg, and so on.

In 1881, M.Yahalomshteyn edited the “Hameasef Baarets Hahadashah” which appeared in New York for a short time.

Katriel Tsevi Sarasohn was the founder of the New York “Haivri” (1892). Its editor for almost the entire time, it appeared, was Gerson Rozentsvayg, who had been a teacher in Suwalk. For a short time, “Haivri” was edited by another man from Suwalk – Aryeh Dov Fridman.

Yehudah Leyb Gordon did not have a very lofty opinion of this Hebrew periodical. In one of his letters he wrote the following: “The publishers of “Haivri”, Sarasohn father and son, are calling upon me for help, but I turned them down because, from the few pages they sent me, I saw that the people involved did not know our language {i.e. Hebrew} well, at all.[18] This opinion was based on only a few, possibly unsuccessful, issues; generally, the Hebrew of “Haivri” was no worse than that of the other Hebrew periodicals of that time.

[Col. 236]

Gershon Rozentsvayg {Rosenzweig, Gerson 1861-1914 EJ} was the editor and publisher of Kadimah – a periodical for matters of Jewish life and literature” which first appeared in New York in 1899. In the introductory article “To the readers” it said: “Its spirit will be Forward[1*], the spirit of this time and of the progressive spirit of Judaism, to enlighten this generation… It shall proclaim “Forward” to our brothers who have forgotten their origins”.[2*]

G.Rosenzweg also edited “Hadevorah” and participated in editing the New York edition of “Ner Hamaaravi”.

His “Masekhet Emarika” (New York 1892, Vilne 1894) part of his “Talmud Yankai” (New York 1907) was a biting satire, the most mordant ever published in Hebrew or Yiddish, on the subject of the ignoramuses who were the leaders of the Jewish communities in America.

In 1904, Rosenzweig published a book of “Original aphorisms” under the title “Hamishah VeElef” (New York 1904, part 1) dedicated to Katriel Tsevi Sarasohn. In 1898 he published a small book of poetry: “Mizimrat Haarets” and in 1894, he published his “Shirim, Meshalim, and Vemikhtavim” in New York.

G. Rosenzweig was born in 1861 in Kratoshin. After his marriage in 1880, he opened a Hebrew school in Suwalk. He taught until his departure for America in 1888 {where he} was quite successful.[19] He died in New York in 1914.

Menahem Ribalow writes that thanks to his satires, Gershon Rosenzweig was one of those who occupy an important place in the history of Hebrew poetry in America.[20] A.R. Malachi writes that Rosenzweig was not a gifted poet but he did have many talents.[21]

Nahum Tuvyah London was very active in the Hebrew American press. He was born in Suwalk in 1837. He studied with Rabbi Mordekhay Meltser in Kalvarie. In 1867, he became a teacher in the government school in Vilkovishk, Lithuania. In 1895, he settled in America. London published articles in “Hamodia LeHadashim”; “Haivri”; “Haleom”;” BetVaad Lehakhamim”; “Yalkut Maaravi”. He contributed many articles in the Jewish Encyclopaedia.[22]

[Col. 237]

Thus, we see that people from Suwalk are an integral part of the beginnings of the Yiddish and Hebrew press in America and they may be proud of their contribution to its development.

*

There is another country were emigrants from Suwalk played a part in the development of the Yiddish press, and this is a little known chapter in the history of our press.

Leafing through the pages of old Hebrew periodicals, we came across some correspondence from London in “Hamelits” 1885 n°155 written by “Ger Vatoshav” {a pen name} – a frequent correspondent from Suwalk. This what he wrote:

“The idea of settling Erets Yisrael has also found a way in the hearts of our compatriots who have left our country (Poland) because of unemployment and are now living in the capital London. These people have founded a society to collect funds for the development of Erets Yisrael, and have also begun publishing a Yiddish newspaper (“Hamtsape”) whose goal is to spread the idea of settling Erets Yisrael. Although the newspaper is still in its early stage and its editors do not know how to appeal to the people or inspire them with lofty words, let us hope that with the passage of time, it will mature”.

Thus, we see that people from Suwalk were publishing a Yiddish newspaper – “Hametsape” in 1885 in London. This has never been mentioned in surveys of the Yiddish press. Even in the most comprehensive bibliography of Jewish publications in England by Cecil Roth, there is no word about this.[23]

[Col. 238]

One of the editors of “Hametsape” was Efrayim Ish Kishor. In his multi-volume “Entsiklopedia Lehalutse Hayishuv Vebonav”[24] L. Tidhar writes: “In 1887 (A.A. Kishor) participated in the editing of the newspaper “Hametsape” which appeared in Yiddish and which supported the idea of the Return to Zion”.

Efrayim Ish Kishor was the pen name of Shpindlman, born 20th July 1863, in Panemum, province of Suwalk. His whole family lived in Suwalk for many years. He edited “Di Yudishe Natsional Tsyatun”. Ish Kishor helped Dr. Herzl in his first political steps in London. Dr. Herzl mentioned him in his diaries. He lived in America for many years and then settled in Erets Yisrael where he was an active Revisionist. He died in Jerusalem on 23rd September 1945.[25]

We were unable to find any more details on “Hametsape”, or its editor. We assume that it appeared for only a short time, and that is why so little is known about it.

According to Tidhar, Kishor Shpindlman edited “Hametsape” in 1887. This must be an error. If this is so, it would appear that the newspaper lasted 2-3 years, since “Ger Vetoshav” writes about it in 1885. A Yiddish newspaper so long-lived would never have remained unknown and forgotten.

A.R. Malachi, the well-known Hebrew bibliographer, wrote that the editor of “Hametsape” was a German Jew, Dr. Hertsberg.[26] He saw only one issue of the periodical. However, from the correspondence of Ger Vetoshav”, it may be seen that the main contributors to “Hametsape” were from Suwalk.

In London, as well as on a much larger scale in New York and Chicago, immigrants from Suwalk were pioneers in the development of the Yiddish-Hebrew press.


Footnotes

    1. After his wedding, M.Yahalomshteyn lived in Paris and later in Warsaw where he was chief proof-reader for his uncle, R'Abele Markson. He wrote in “Hamelits” under the pen name “Ish Yemini”.
    2. “Poylishe Yidn”. New York 1935, p.31. Return
    2*. First number published June 18 Return
    3. “Zalmbukh lekoved dem 250ten yoyvl fun Yidisher prese”, edited by Dr. Y. Shtazky. New York 1937 p.127 Return
    4. Ibid, p.118, ff. Return
    5-6. “Letoldot Yisrael Beamerika”, Ben Zion Eisenstadt. New York 677{1916-1917] p.47 Return
    7. “Zamlbukh…{op.cit} p.116 and “Pinkas” of YIVO 1927-1928 p.739. Among the subscribers from Suwalk, Y.Sheynhak's “Toldot Haarets” may be found by Shemuel Yitshak Etelsan, probably a member of the same family p.47 Return
    8. “Hatsevi”. Jerusalem n°3,5,6,7,9: “Haivri”. 1875 n°3 Return
    9. “Yahadut Amerikah Behitpathutah”. Moshe Davis. New York 712{1950-1951} p.283 Return
    10. “Ivrim Kehalutse Yidish Beamerika”. M.Starkman. offprint from “Metsudah” 714{1953-1954] Return
    11. “Tsukunft”. London 1885 n°30. Return
    12. “Igrot Sofrim”. A.R. Malachi. New York 692{1931-1932] pp.113,118 Return
    13. “Moris Rozenfelds Briv”. Y.Lifshits. Buenos Aires 1955 p.22 (spelling modernized by publisher) Return
    14. “Hapeles” 665{1904-1905} p.383 Return
    15. First number - August 1st 1870 Return
    16. “Zalmbukh tsu der geshikhte fun der Yidisher Prese in Amerike”, edited by Dr. Y.Shatzky. New York 1934 and S. Tsharnobrada's article in “Poylishe Yidn”, New York 1933 Return
    17. First number - 22 Sivan 631{1870-1871] Return
    18. “Igrot YL”G” by Y.Y. Vaysberg, v.2 part 4. Warsaw 655{1894-1895] p.398 Return
    19. “Hakhme Yisrael Beamerika”. B.Z. Eisenstadt. New York 663{1902-1903] p.94. According to “Hamakhelah”, he was born in Dubrove. - Rosensweig's name is often found in subscription lists from Suwalk Return
    20. “Hashirah Haivrit Beamerikah”. New York 698{1937-1938] p.179 Return
    21. “Masot vereshimot” NY Return
    22. See also “Hakhme Yisrael Beamerikah” p.12. Return
    23. “Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica. London 1937; it is also missing in Z.Reisen's survey of the press in “Leksikon” of 1914 Return
    24. Tel-Aviv. 1942 p.1167 Return
    25. In “Sefer Hakongres”, edited by L. Yafe, Jerusalem 683{1922-1923] p.98, there is an article by Is Kishor Return
    26. “Shikaga. August 1933 p.22 Return


Translator's Footnotes

    1*. Translation of name of periodical Return
    2*. Rosenzweig uses the expression “bale taarovet” to characterize “our brothers” which may mean “assimilationists” Return
    3*. the EJ lists Ish Kishor as (Blumenfeld)

 

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