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[Page 120]

Professor Nahum Slouschz

by David Tidhar

Translated by Sara Mages

Was born in Smorgon on 28 Kislev 5633 [28 December 1872] to his father, HaRav David Shlomo (one of the Valozhyn's best students. A rabbi and a preacher, a Hebrew writer and a member of the board of “Hovevei Zion”), and to his mother, Rivka Leah, daughter of HaRav Avraham Moshe Heilprin from Smorgon (according to family tradition he was one of Rasi's descendants). He grew up in Odessa and for a while in Kherson. When he was three, his father began to talk to him in Leshon Hakodesh [Hebrew], and at the age of six his father began teaching him the Bible. He studied Talmud and Poskim [Jewish law] with his mother's father, and general education and languages, Russian, German and French, with private tutors.From childhood he had read many research books, poetry in Hebrew and Hebrew newspapers. Later, he also read foreign literature, especially many travel books. He often visited the library of “Bnei Zion” in Odessa (his father was called to serve as a rabbi there) and read, under the guidance of the library's director, member of “Hovevei Zion,” Pinchas Friedman, who brought him closer to the matters of new settlement in Eretz-Yisrael and to the new literature that had been created there. When he was still a young boy, he started to send letters to Hebrew and Russian newspapers and wrote a detailed entry on the history of the city of Odessa in “Eshcol,” of Shaul Pinchas Rabinowitch. Because of his article, which was published in the monthly “Beit Yisrael” in Vienna, on “The Jews in Russia” (on which he established in 5648, at the age of 15, the hypothesis that the Jews of Russia were partly Khazars and, therefore, had the right to inherit citizenship in that country), the Russian censorship confiscated that monthly. Two years later, it also confiscated the newspaper, “Ha-Chavacelet,” which was published in Jerusalem, because of his article there on the persecution of Jews in Russia.

When he was in Odessa, the center of activity of “Hovevei Zion” and the seaport of immigrants to Eretz Yisrael, he devoted himself to Zionist activity and organized a group for settlement in the country. On the holiday of Shavuot, 5651 (at the age of 18), at the height of the days of glory of the “Tyomkin period,” he arrived to the country on its mission to explore the conditions and prepare the ground. The decrees and failures stopped the immigration, but he remained in the country and tried to settle there as an agricultural laborer, but, for health reasons, he was forced to return to Russia in the winter of 5652. He worked for a living as an assistant in Russian papers, continued to write in Hebrew and make propaganda for the sake of Zion. At the same time he took part in the founding of the society, “Yisrael HaTzair” [Young Israel], the association of Hebrew speakers “Sfateno Itano” [our language with us], and a branch for the society, “Safa Berurah” [clear language]. In 1896, he visited Israel

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for the second time and the news about the publication of “Medinat HaYehudim” [“The Jewish State”], by Herzl, reached him there. He returned to Russia and devoted himself to organizing and propaganda for political Zionism. He participated as a delegate in the Zionist Congress in Warsaw and in the Second Congress of “Bnei Zion” association. After the congress he enrolled to study literature, science and oriental languages, at the University of Geneva. He graduated from the university and the seminary for new French, and continued to study at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the School for Oriental Languages (Arabic and Aramaic with professors Hartwig and Drenberg; Cushitic and Ancient Arabic - with Yosef HaLevi; Assyrian - with Jules Oppert and others).

 

 

In 1903 he was granted a doctorate in literature on the basis of his book, “The revival of Hebrew literature,” which was published in French. The book did a lot of publicity for the revival of the Jewish nation in the circles of scientists and literary figures in the world. It was also published in Hebrew, with the author's translation, by “Tushita” Publishing. In Paris, he participated in the foundation of a National Jewish University with a school for living Hebrew. He served as a teacher at the Teachers' Seminary for Oriental Countries, and lectured on Hebrew literature until the end of the First World War.

During those years he wrote extensively for the Hebrew and general press, and also for the scientific press.

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Participated in Zionist activity and Zionist congresses, wrote books on oriental studies and developed the theory regarding the ancient Hebrew people, that the Israelites and the Phoenicians were part of them, who created the culture and spread it in the Mediterranean Basin. He established his opinion on the study of Phoenician articles and other sources. Participated in research expeditions in North African countries and was especially interested in the study of ancient Jewish settlements in them. He was a member of the Committee for Semitic Sciences and editor of Phoenician articles of the Paris Academy. Was a teacher in the school for higher education in Rabat (Morocco) and received a medal of honor from the Sultan of Morocco. There, he helped to arrange the life of the Jewish communities. During the First World War he devoted himself to Zionist political work in Paris, demanding the establishment of a Jewish state in his meetings with French politicians. At the end of 1916, he traveled to America for the purpose of political action to establish inter-relations between France, America and Zionism. There, he lectured in Hebrew, at R' Yitzchak Elchanan's Yeshiva, on the history of the Jews in the Middle Ages, and was invited to lectures at Columbia University and Dropsie Collage. After the armistice, he returned to Paris on a mission to work alongside the Zionist delegation in the peace conference.

At the end of 1919, he immigrated to Israel and devoted himself to research and science. He participated in the activities of the Hebrew Society for the exploration of the Land of Israel and its antiquities and edited its files. He conducted excavations in Tiberias, discovered caves in “Yad Avshalom” [Tomb of Absalom], deciphered ancient inscriptions and, from time to time, spoke and wrote about current events. At different times he arranged classes in the Phoenician language at the British School of Antiquities in Jerusalem, and classes about the Jews of Africa in a seminar of the Youth Department of the Jewish Agency. In the last years he served as chairman of the “World Hebrew Alliance.” He published many articles and pamphlets in Hebrew, and other languages, and these are the books he published:

Mah Ya'aseh ha-Adam we-lo Yeheteh” [What will a man do not to get sick]. “Ha-Osher me-Ayin Yimmatzeh“ [Where will happiness be found], both translated from French. “Massa be-Lita” [A journey in Lita] (5649), “Lamentation to R' Moshe Rimos” (with French translation), “Keneset ha-Gedolah” [The Great Assembly] (about the congress and Zionism, Warsaw, 5658), “Emile Zola, his life and books” (5650), “Ha-Kongres ha-Ziyoni ha-Revi'i” [The Fourth Zionist Congress] (Warsaw, 5660), “The stories of Guy de Maupassant” in seven volumes (translation from French), “On the Islands of the Sea” (about the Hebrew Mediterranean Sea, New-York, 5649), “Salammbô” (translation of Flaubert's book), “Cohanim in Djerba,” “The Anusim in Portugal,” “Daya Ult Yenfaq,” “The Book of Travels” volumes A and B (about his travels in Libya), “The treasure of Phoenician articles,” and “The Origin of the Israelites.” Ready for publication: “ Book of the Sea” in 3 volumes, “Book of Travels” (additional chapters), “Canaan and the Past.” Some of his compositions appeared in foreign languages.

(David Tidhar), Tel-Aviv, Encyclopedia of the Founders and Builders of Israel, 1943


[Page 123]

Aharon Avraham Kabak

by T. Z. Weinberg

Translated by Sara Mages

In the days of my youth, as my hand tried to hold a writer's pen, I found myself, on my way to my destination, in his parents' hometown, Veisiejai, in the Suwalki Region, a colorful and spectacular landscape. In the house, where I was staying, was a scholarly girl who was proficient in our ancient literature and spoke Hebrew well. A vision didn't erupt in those days. I arrived there at twilight and had the feeling that I had reached a corner of wonders. In the morning, the girl led me to the rabbi's house, the father of the writer Kabak, and the eyelashes of her shy eyes, which were slightly scorched from the reading of the Torah, added grace to her modesty and her restrained smile when she talked to me about “Levadah.“[1] I thought - “she, she is the reader, the book was created for her.” The street, with its ascents and slopes, the strange little houses with bushes around them, the solid church house that stretched out to the sky, and the synagogue, which was lower and narrower, stood out together at the top of the hill and appeared, by the side of the road, like tall towers where faithful guardians of God gathered, took me out of reality and put me in another world - into a realm of hallucination and dream. That day was a Christian holiday, a clear day. Crowds of gentiles streamed down the hill paths to their house of prayer. The sound of footsteps, the rustling of the leaves of the trees, the game of lights and shadows on the majesty of the day, and the seriousness on the face of the person ascending to the house of God, merged into one revered holiness, full of awe and majesty, and I was completely enchanted.

The old rabbi, with his majestic appearance, welcomed me and called the Rebbetzin, a noble old woman, quick and laborious, to rejoice together with the guest who knows their son, and not to let him go without refreshments. The drink, and the amazing sweets and jams made by the Rebbetzin and seasoned with cordial conversation about the writer son, and their affection and anxiety toward me, in which they surrounded me with simplicity and innocence, pleased me. The smell of the village, and its food, rose from their refreshments, touch, serene manners and speech and I felt the warm atmosphere in which the writer's first book, “Levadah,[1]” grew and developed.

A few years later, when the writer Kabak, a sturdy young man with wild black hair, full of vitality and freshness and wide cloak on his shoulders, visited me in my home, in Suwalki, on his way home from his parents' house. I smelt in him the smell of his parents' home, his kind eyes gleamed his father's sweet smile and the light of grace of the portrait of his mother's face.

Since then, I have not had any contact with him. We moved away from each other, the distance of place and time. He went abroad, to the vastness of the world, and I remained in Poland hoeing within my four walls. Every once in a while I followed him, read his books, checked his creation, its nature and essence, and did not find the man I had known for a long time. His books, which were full with plot, attracted me and

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aroused great participation in me, but the symbolism imbued in them, the external elegance, the sparkle of the tale and its complexity, which had a foreign flavor, blurred his source and muddied his lively spring. It seemed, as if the man had strayed from his way and moved away from himself. He became a multidimensional writer, a conductor on a large scale, but the main point, the central, was far from him.

When I immigrated to Israel for the first time in 5681, I found him living in Jerusalem, and enjoying it, after his wanderings in foreign lands, and I recognized the great change that had taken place in him: he returned to his source and found himself. He was still confused in the country, the pondering was still in his eyes, the longing for what he had abandoned was still strong, but his movement was different, he recovered, his inner strength shook itself and grew stronger.

 

 

The foreign peels split off him and fell, the intranuclear, the fundamental, folded into its natural pouch, in its color and growth, a native of the land and the heritage of home, and the book. “Shelomo Molkho, “ was created. I read this book in the Diaspora, when I was uprooted from Israel unwillingly, and the longings ate me. This man, who restored my soul, has risen in my eyes and his faithful words tied me to him again, and I said to myself, when I return to Israel I would thank him face to face. One of my visits, when I returned to Israel for the second time, was to Kabak

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in Beit HaKerem [Jerusalem], and how great was my anxiety when I saw him lying in a chaise longue, bound and motionless, after his severe illness. I was astonished at what I had seen, but his smile and warm greeting revived me. His lively conversation and vivid eyes, made me forget that before me was a man confined to his seat, weak and in pain, struggling for his life. At his wife's request, I, and his family, raised him and put him in his bed. The weight of his body and painful face, when we carried him, shocked me, but, as soon as he lay down his comfortable and pleasant expression returned. His silver hair, the smile on his lips and the light of his eyes projected before me the noble image of his father's face and his kind smile, a lost figure from many years ago that had now arisen before my eyes.

I read his book, “Ba Mishol ha-Zar,“[2] which came to me after he had recovered and got to his feet, with unsaturated thirst. A supreme human interest, a combination of creation, torments and sufferings emerged from the pages of the book and fascinated me. The man, a weak and mortal creature, struggles with all his might with the difficulties of his life and snares of death, and overcomes them. A deep echo of thanksgiving of a man, who has risen from the realm of death, trembled in his verses and between his lines. It was clear that the man had written his book wholeheartedness and extracted, from the depths of the language, in a strength that wasn't his, the appropriate thought to express his feelings before God and man. Then, I saw him again, as I saw him a few years ago in his bed. A man without physical strength, heavy as a stone, that the light God did not leave him and his confidence in salvation beamed from his honest eyes in the faith of an artist. And like a vision, his birthplace, Veisiejai, from which the man was formed, passed before me with its houses, alleys and narrow paths extending to the houses of God, for a Jew and non-Jew alike. A distant vision was exposed to me from the mists of time, on the efforts of a fair man, a secular, son of a secular, who paves his way to the Supreme God. It is transparent in the plot of his book, in the drawings of the landscape of Israel, in the descriptions of the splendor of the Galilee and its greatness, the final transition from Veisiejai to Kfar-Nahum and wandering in countries and generations. In them, there is a great faith in a man who rises from poverty and believes that God will not abandon him. This time, the man had a hard experience in the struggle for life and the purity of his creation, and came out intact. From now on, he was ready for bold action and new attempts to uncover the layers of the last century, the glow of resurrection and the rebirth of man and nation, and started his book, “Toledot Mishpahah Ahat.“[3] I saw him quite often, alone and in a group, full of energy and strength, believing in his powers and purpose and the gift of his God, and didn't feel the burden he had imposed upon himself and the temptations spread out at his feet. In “Shlomo Molkho,” and especially in, “Ba Mishol ha-Zar,” he managed to free himself from the foreign influence that had plagued him all his life, but it crept up again, a little bit here and there. The road was not smooth for a man who had great momentum and the obstacles in his path were not few. He sailed and strove to the depths and spread his arms to embrace a whole world. At the last meeting at his home, in the last summer, his wife complained bitterly before me that he was wasting his strength and neglecting his health, and he, in his good laugh, bitterly protested her rebuke and, with the stroke of his soft eyes, praised the anger of his loyal guard.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Levaddah” - “By Herself” Return
  2. Ba Mishol ha-Zar” - “the Narrow Path” Return
  3. Toledot Mishpahah Ahat' - “History of One Family” Return


Lines to the image of
Aharon Avraham Kabak (1880-1944)

by David Tidhar

Translated by Sara Mages

Was born on 29 Kislev 5641 (at the end of 1880) in Smorgon, in the Vilna province (White Russia), to his father R' Natan Kalonymus, a great Torah scholar, from the descendants of R' Menashe Me'Iliah. He later served as a rabbi in the community of Veisiejai, in the Suwalki region, composed and published a Jewish law book based on the composition, “Torat HaChatat,” by the “Rema” [Rabbi Moses Isserles].

He studied in Hadarim and Yeshivot until he was attracted in his youth to education. Studied the Russian language and literature privately and moved to Odessa for further studies in general education. After his twentieth year he began writing literary works in Hebrew. His first story, in the Zionist trend, was “Ha-Ma'pil.” It was published in “Ha-Shilo'ah” with a dedication in memory of Herzl who died shortly before, in 5664. A year later, in 5665, his novel, “Levadah,” was published by “Ha-Shilo'ah.” It was not only the first novel of his works, but also the first novel in the Hebrew language. It fascinated its readers in its plot, content and form, not like the novels that educated people, who knew the Bible, read for the mitzvah of reading Hebrew literature. Therefore, his Zionist trend had an enormous positive impact on the younger generation.

After the 1905 revolution in Russia he left for Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which, at that time, also contained the Land of Israel. He wanted to know a different world from the one he grew up in and also to get to know the focal point where the affairs of Eretz-Yisrael were decided. He spent a few years there as a reporter and sent articles to “Ha-Zman” [“The Time”] in Vilna, articles and stories to the Yiddish daily newspaper “Der fraynd” [“The Friend”] and the weekly Zionist “Das Idishe fal?” [“The Jewish people”]. He married Feiga, daughter of R' Alexander Ziskind Tchernovitz, and Leah, daughter of R' Shlomo Drozer (Feiga's brothers are the famous writers - HaRav Chaim Tchernovitz (pseudonym “Rav Za'ir”) and Shmuel (pseudonym “Sphog” Tchernovitz).

He immigrated to Israel in 1911, engaged in teaching (for a while as a teacher of literature at “Herzliya” gymnasium in Tel-Aviv) and continues his literary work. He participated in the

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“Hebrew Writers Association in Israel,” wrote the story “Nano,” several booklets published by Keren HaKayemet [JNF] with the signature of Eliezer ben Nathan, the play “The derailment of a Kingdom,” translated Russian and French literature and edited the book “Sefer Klausner.”

His books: “Levadh” (“By Herself,” Warsaw 1905), “Ha-Ma'pil” (“The Trailblazer,” Odessa 1910), “Me-al ha-Migdal” (“Above the Tower,” Warsaw 1910), “Stories” (Warsaw 1911), “Daniel Shfranov” (Warsaw 1911), “Nizzahon” (Victory), the stories “Yezira” (“Creation,” Warsaw 1923), “Ahava” (“Love,” Jerusalem 1923), “Nano,” “Kol Ba-Afelah” (“Sound in the Dark “), “Ha-Navi” (“The Prophet”), “Stories” (Tel-Aviv 1927), “Shlomo Molkho” (3 volumes, London 1927-29), “Bein Yam u-vein Midbar” (“Between the Sear and the Desert,” 3 volumes, Tel-Aviv 1933), “Ba Mishol ha-Zar” (“In the Narrow Path,” 2 volumes, Tel-Aviv 1937), “Toledot Mishpahah Ahat' (“History of One Family,” volume 1). “Be-Halal ha-Reik” (“The Empty Space” book 2, Tel-Aviv 1943), “Be-Zel Ez ha-Teliyah” (“In the Shadow of the Gallows,” Tel-Aviv 1944).

He also worked as an editor and translator. Published (together with A. Steinman) the “Me'aasef” of “The Hebrew Writers Association for Literature” (1940) and translated a line of novels from Yakov Wassermann, Pierre Loti, Dmitry Merszkowski, Stindal and others. Over the years he was a member of “The Hebrew Writers Association” and received the Bialik Prize of the Tel Aviv Municipality for significant accomplishments in Hebrew literature.

In his last years he was active in a circle of intellectuals who sought ways to revive the religion.

He died suddenly in Jerusalem on Saturday night, 12 Kislev 5705, 18 November 1944, and was buried in Jerusalem. His daughters: Bat-Ami and Edna.

(Tel-Aviv, Encyclopedia of the Founders and Builders of Israel)


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Drawings to the image of A. A. Kabak

by Lea A'mitan

Translated by Sara Mages

You have nothing as difficult as writing the memories of a person whose whole essence was love of life and love of man. It is certainly easier to sit down with Kabak, talk to him and take interest in his impulsive reactions - it is an almost childish naiveté and a daily re-admiration of the act of the Creator - who did not leave him even on the threshold of old age and during the difficult days of illness

I first met A. A. Kabak during the first week of my immigration to Israel (1925). My relatives told me that he would certainly agree to include me on a trip to Jericho and the Dead Sea which was organized by “Ha-Gymnasia ha-Ivrit” in Jerusalem where Kabak worked as a Hebrew and Bible teacher.

I headed towards the school building in the Bukharim Quarter and, when I entered one of the dark rooms and saw Kabak, it seemed to me as if the sun had suddenly rose and lit up the room. I kept this impression to the end of his days, not only because he was already a well-known author and received a shy young woman with warmth and friendly manner, but because there was something abundant and illuminating in him. Although he was not musical he was very fond of singing and in a loud bass voice he sounded, a little off-key, the “Elegy” of Massenet. Incidentally, this love for music, without knowing it, sometimes caused errors in his books. So, for example, in his novel, “Ahava” [“Love”], he described a concert in which a pianist played Tchaikovsky's “Barcaroolle” and her little boy turned the pages. When it was mentioned to Kabak that the “Barcaroolle” was so easy that even a novice student knows it by heart and there's no need for a page turner because it only contains 2-3 pages, Kabak received the comments in good spirits and said with a laugh that in the new publication of the book he would take the “child” off the stage…

On the above mentioned trip with the gymnasia in Jerusalem, I marveled at the social relations between the teacher Kabak and his students. Many of his former students have not forgotten their teacher.

Kabak was among the first builders of the neighborhood Beit-Kerem in the western part of Jerusalem. Their home quickly became the center of the neighborhood and a meeting place for the intelligentsia in the full meaning of the word. Every writer, who came to Jerusalem, must have visited Kabak's home and enjoyed the simple and cordial atmosphere of him and his wife, Sara Feiga of the Tchernovitz family. But this house, built on rocks and later surrounded by a pine grove, caused quite a few troubles and concerns to its owners. Like all the settlers in Beit-Kerem,

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Kabak did not have the money needed for the construction - the loans, interest and the compound interest ate them, and it's possible to say that they shortened his life... and the life of his wife.

During his difficult illness, I believe in 1931 or close to it, he underwent a great transformation, became religious and kept all the practical commandments that he abandoned when he was less than the age of Bar-Mitzvah - the age at which he left his father's house. The residents of Beit-Kerem joked a little, at the expense of the former atheist, and said that “Kabak converted to Judaism.” Then he wrote his great and outstanding creation, “Ba Mishol ha-Zar” [“The Narrow Path”]. However, the Bialik Prize was not given to him for this work but for “Be-Halal Ha-Reik [“The Empty Space”].

It was interesting to look at Kabak when someone told him about a certain event or a movie. His wide face, his mouth wide with wonder, and his cries of admiration “really,” “what do you say,” reminded a little boy enjoying fairy tales. Indeed, there was something childish about this beautiful aging writer. His willingness to help, advice and encourage novice writers touched the heart. He was even willing to hear criticism from these writers and consider them. He was absent-minded and lacked sense of direction. He, for example, visited Shimoni's home in Tel Aviv many times, and every time he lost his way and had to ask how to get there.

A.A. Kabak preferred the company of women on that of men. In his books he often characterizes women. All his life he was free in his opinions. However, after he had a severe arterial disease (became slightly paralyzed and dragged a leg), he became pious and observant, kept the commandment and was careful with his blessings. He even blessed the tea and prayed three times a day.

It was easy to influence him since he was not familiar with political problems. However, when he was approached after Arlosoroff's murder and asked to sign a leaflet for Stavsky's defense, he signed. That's why he was considered to be revisionist

He had no coherent political views. He was a poet and succumbed to moods. He was an elegant man, pleasant in his ways and meticulously dressed. There was no speck on his clothes.

He lived in poverty, wasn't familiar with accounts, and started to build his house with forty pounds in cash and the rest in loans and mortgages.

In the last years, when he withdrew from teaching, he used to write in the morning and drank a lot of coffee at that time.

He deeply loved his two daughters and accused himself of neglecting their education. He used to say: Bat-Ami should have been a gifted actress. Edna, his youngest, should have been a sculptress.

He was not strict. He gave me his book, “Bein Yam u-vein Midbar” [“Between the Sea and the Desert”], and when he asked for my opinion I answered him: I only liked the name. He smiled and answered: my publisher, Tvresky, gave me the name.

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He was willing to admit his mistakes even in public. He made friends with Bialik, R' Binyamin, and especially with Yehezkel Kaufmann with whom he often walked in the evenings.

His wife, Sara Feiga, was smart and practical. She copied his writings until he purchased a typewriter and leaned to type on it with one figure of his right and left hand.

Sara Feiga used to say jokingly: I made my bathroom from “Ahava,” meaning, she purchased it from the royalties that Kabak received for his book named “Ahava.


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Moyshe Kulback (1896-1937)

by Meir Alef

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym

Moyhse Kulback was born in Smorgon. His father was worked in forestry. His mother came from the “Karke”. Karke is a parcel of land on the outskirts of Smorgon where Jewish farmers tilled the land and harvested crops. Kulback got a religious Jewish education, but not an orthodox upbringing. He only went to the Yeshiva for one year, then, on his own time, he began reading Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian literature.

During the First World War he was a Hebrew teacher in Kovno. He started writing poems. Moshe typically started to write the poem in Hebrew, but then reverted right back to Yiddish as that language was his preference. In 1916, he published his first poem “Little Stars”. The poem became very popular. People liked the poem so much, he set it to music and folks start singing it. It became a very popular tune.

In 1920, in Vilna, he published his book of songs, called “Shirims” (or Poems). He was also a teacher in the Jewish folk school in Vilna. In the fall of the same year, he arrived in Berlin to study and expand his intellectual horizons. He became involved with the Berlin Yiddish Theatre. He read voraciously and had a lust for learning. In 1922, in Warsaw, he published the book “New Poems”. Then in 1923, his drama, Yacov Frank was published in Di-tsukunft (a periodical based in New York). The drama was also released as a book six years later. In a short three years, Moshe Kulback became famous.

In 1923, he returned to Vilna. He obtained the position of a teacher in literature at the Jewish Gymnasium and in the Jewish teacher's seminary. He was involved his students in performing Yiddish plays and general repertoires. He was also a popular public speaker on literary themes and became one of the most popular figures in Yiddish cultural life.

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In 1924, his first prose work “Meshiekh ben Efraim” was published in Berlin.

In 1926, he published the poem “Vilna” and a small novella, “Montag” (Monday). In 1927, the long poem “Bunye and Bere” was published.

 

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In 1928, he left Vilna and moved to Minsk, in Soviet land.

In 1931, he published his work “Zelmanyaner”, about the fate of a traditional Jewish family facing the new conditions of the Soviet Union after the October uprising. Life and ideologies were described as a “crooked mirror”—distorted and personally interpreted. It was written in an antagonistic style. The review of this work was divided between fans and critics. Under the circumstances of Soviet Union (censorship), it was difficult to continue writing, and he almost stopped writing lyrical poetry.

In 1933, he published his satire, a partly autobiographical poem, “Disner Tshayid-Harold, a harsh critique on Germany, in which a Russian Jew (perhaps himself) reflects on his intellectual growth after moving to Berlin from Jewish Lithuania. The satire was written in a mock-epic and self-reflective tone.

In 1935, he published his second volume of “Zelmanyaner”. It got the same mixed reviews as the first part. It concentrated on two generations of Jewish families who undergo profound lifestyle changes. It also contained a passage about the Smorgon leather industry.

In 1935, he writes a comedy “Boytre” in which the robber, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. In that communist era, his writing was published in the newspaper “Staren” (English equivalent is “Stars”) and located within pages 7, 9, 11.

When it was played again for the second time, he was arrested in the theatre and charged. The Bolsheviks probably realized that the satire was about the Russian revolution and the character Boytre was a mocking portrait of Lenin. On the orders of Lenin, the play was ended. Kulback was sent to a concentration lager in the Urals. He died when he was only 41 years old. No one knows of the precise day he died or the exact reason his life was cut short while in his prime. Only his colleagues knew. They are probably afraid to speak about the Stalin regime that is ruled with an iron fist.


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Characters from Karke

by Moyshe Kulback

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1.

Grandmother…
Grandmother was a modest Jewess
A master of children – a child every spring.
Easy, without pain, just as hens lay eggs
She gave birth to twins – a twin and another twin.
Three uncles did grandmother give birth to in the attic,
Two uncles did grandmother give birth to atop the oven.
Grandmother gave birth to my father in a barn
Then her womb was closed forever.
Grandmother sent diapers to the poor.
Grandmother, the dear one, did her thing,
She went around her home
Like a duck among ducklings

2.

Grandmother, of blessed memory, Went Outside

When Grandmother, in her old age, went outside
The birds sang
For with her charity, and with her good heart
The world resonated.

And when Grandmother passed away
Everyone was silent,
And without a sigh, the good old woman
Was laid into the earth.

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Grandfather went into his house
As a dead person,
For he, the old man, had told her
That he would die first.
And when they led the deceased through the town
The townsfolk said
“Niome Niome, the old Shlomoche is no longer here,”
And even Priest Vasily mourned.

And when the beadle took out the knife
To rend the garments[1],
Then, my uncles started to cry out
Like the murderers before a hanging.

3.

Grandfather Dies…
Grey, like a dove, did Grandfather come in from the field in the evening
He quietly made his bed and recited the confession,
In his heart, he made peace with the world
And then closed his eyes, devoid of energy, the weary one.

Then the uncles came to the head of Grandfather's bed,
Bowed down their grown-up heads and were silent.
Something closed up their hearts and did not let them speak.
Sealed hearts – they could not even let out a sigh.

Slowly Grandfather then opened his eyes.
A smile came over his face,
He sat on the bed, barely sitting up straight
And Grandfather then began to talk to his sons:

-- The first one, my firstborn, you are the foundation of the family!
The first in the field and the last to sit at the table.
The ground opens up warmly under your plow,
As the seeds in the earth should be fruitful and fresh.

[Page 137]

Rachmiel, who can compete with you in the meadow!
Your scythe in the grass is like a surge of fire,
You know the snakes in the swamps, the birds in their nests.
Blessing should rest with you in your stall, without bounds!

You Shmulia, the river man, there is nobody as smooth in the world!
Always with a lash over your shoulders, always wet.
The smell of the slime of the rivers sticks with you.
You should be blessed on the land, and you should be blessed – on the water!...

Night fell. The glistening tiles of the cottage
Cast a dark shine upon Grandfather.
My uncles were silent, my father was silent
Not wanting to miss a word of the blessings and speech.

Then Grandfather stopped talking. He brought in his limbs.
And the strong man quietly closed his eyes forever.
Those gathered looked at him, looked at the silent body,
They saw nothing, and not one tear was shed.

Somewhere in the forest, a bird chirped his lament during the night,
The last flickers of light in the hut were sparking
And the uncles stood with bowed heads toward Grandfather
The heavy, adult heads had sunk into the shoulders.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Rendering of garments refers to the Jewish custom of the mourners tearing the garments of the deceased as an expression of grief prior to the funeral service. Return


[Page 138]

Avraham Sutzkever

From a conversation with Yacov Pat

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym

Avraham Sutzkever: A.S.
Yacov Pat: Y.P.
 
Y.P. Let us begin with the childhood years.
A.S. I was born in Smorgon, not far from Vilna, in 1913. I came from a well-known rabbinic family
Y.P. How did your family get from Smorgon to Siberia?
A.S. I'll start around the First World War. A rumour was going around and my family heard from a Jew “gutermacher” who said, “You will more likely be able to survive the war in Siberia”[1]
Y.P. Your father, Hershl, was a scholar and studied the Torah [with you] in Siberia. Hershl was also a fiddle player and brought his fiddle from Smorgon to play.[2]
A.S. The brightness of the Siberian fields was my inspiration. My first poem, called “Siberia” made me famous.
Y.P. I would like to hear more about your father, the scholar from Smorgon and the fiddler from Siberia.
A.S. At age 30, he had a heart attack while playing those Rabbi levi-itzhak's melodies.
Y.P. It was a difficult [time], but also a “bright” Siberia for the Sutzkever family. Your father was still young and was already supporting his family by peddling in the marketplace. After your father's death, your mother with her young family returned to Smorgon. At the time you were only 8 years old. Right before the First World War, your father had a leather factory in Smorgon. As your mother and children came back, they found everything burnt down. And, shortly after, your family left for Vilna.
A.S. My grandfather from my mother's side, was the Michalizker Rabbi, Rabbi, Shabtai Feinberg.[3]

[Page 139]

  I remember from my Vilna years, [a} “yung vilna”— a club of young intellectuals and friends. Beside devouring books [of] Yiddish literature, I loved to wander through the Jewish quarter, the market, the Vilner shulhof—all with very sharp eyes and ears in order to absorb the rhythm of everything Yiddish around me. The group, “young vilna”, which began in the 1930s, made their own impression in the literary circles, one did not envy the other.[4]

 

 

My mother Reinaz'l (Reina), with her holy prayer book in hand, was taken away to Ponar--that's the way it was. Actually, she did go [take] with her holy prayer book (siddur).
Y.P. Let us discuss the events from the Vilna ghetto, your memories and how you survived.
A.S. My entire Yiddish being was revealed to me in the Vilna ghetto. I can honestly say “life and death” were in the hands of the Yiddish language. Without which i could not have warded off death. My Yiddishkeit was my “magic wand”, without which I could not have “warded” off death.

[Page 140]

  I believed, that if I spoke with the purity of words, that death would not take over. It was divine justice.
Y.P. Afterwards came the partisan movement, each day and night [bringing] miracles. When the time came, when one did not have any more hope of survival, a Soviet airplane came to the rescue of the partisans. On this airplane you were saved. Thank G-d!
A.S. This is how it was: On the 12th of September, together with my wife and other partisans, we escaped through the barbed wire that surrounded the ghetto, to the Naroch woods, and to the Jewish partisan organization ”Nekama”.

When the Lithuanian partisan group in Moscow found out, that I was with the partisans, a telegram arrived to the commander of the Vorosilov-Brigade, Feodor Markov, stating that my wife and I should be brought to Moscow. So, in March of 1944, i am greeted by a group of partisans. I arrived in the Hushatsch province by plane, then airlifted again to Moscow. Here I was asked to be a witness in the Nuremburg trials. On the morning of February 27, 1946 my wife and I started our testimony. As I looked over to my right side, several feet from me, I saw those “murderers” sitting in two rows, may their memory be erased. The first one—Goering, like a wounded beast—here is Streicher, looking like a pregnant cow. I spoke for 38 minutes. I came to the land of Israel in September 1947.

 

Abraham Sutzkever[5] is the founder of the “Goldene Keyt', the golden chain, a literary quarterly, remaining its editor in Tel Aviv. To date, he has a collection of 47 works.

His poetic works include:

The Fortress, 1943
The Jewish Street, 1948
My Home Town, 1948
In the Fire Wagon, 1952
From Three Worlds, 1953
Ode to Death, 1955
In the Sinai Desert, 1957
Oasis, 1960
Holy Earth, 1961
[Page 141]
Siberia, with drawing by Marc Chagall, Jerusalem, 1953. In 1962, the poem [Siberia] was translated into English by Yacov Sontag; he was awarded a prize by UNESCO as well as from the International Pen Club[6]. The poem is included in the series of UNESCO works “of our time”.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Gutermacher meaning good man or a mensch. Return
  2. Wikipedia has Abraham's father's name as Hertz, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Sutzkever/ Return
  3. Michalizker is referencing a person from the town of Mikaelishok. Return
  4. Potentially a reference to the traditional or classic writers of Yiddish literature. Return
  5. Abraham Sutzkever smuggled arms into the Vilna ghetto and concealed rare Jewish books and manuscripts of the YIVO collection, which he unearthed after the war. Writing poetry under aggravated conditions, he described several brushes with death: the murder of his mother and his new born son, the cultural underground resistance, and ghetto events and personalities. Admiration for his poems smuggled from the ghetto by a Lithuanian courier prompted the Jewish anti-fascist committee in the USSR to airlift Sutzkever to Moscow. Return
  6. UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Return


[Page 142]

Abraham Sutzkever

by Aharon Rubin

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym

The writer, Abraham Sutzkever, was born and bred in Smorgon, both on his father's side and his mother's side. Abraham Sutzkever's grandfather on his father's side was a “Hassidic” Jew through and through. In this [Hassidism] thinking, the study of the Torah was a great blessing. He was a wealthy leather manufacturer. The factory was situated on Vilner Gas (Street).Every week there were hundreds of clients. He had two sons, Shmuel and Naphtali Zvi–Hershl. When the grandfather died, the two sons inherited the factory. Shmuel, the older son, looked after the factory. Hershel was interested in studying, so he basically made an arrangement to receive an income from his brother from the factory.

This is the story of Zebulon and Issachar[1]:

Abraham Sutzkever's mother came from a Smorgon family deeply devoted to the study of Torah and were extremely religious. In Smorgon there was a Jew by the name of Itzele. He was the richest and most respected Jew in Smorgon, and he owned a row of shops in the market square along with a large home with a large property. And at the edge of Krever Gas, he had a watermill that was called the “Veiter Mill”. (Veiter Mill likely translates into “further mill” so perhaps there was a closer one).

This [Rabbi Itzele] was Abraham Sutzkever's great grandfather. Rabbi Itzele had a son who was a devout Hassidic Jew, and therefore, he was nicknamed, the “Pashut”, Avremele Itzele's. He married his daughter to a Rabbi Shabtai Feinberg. Rabbi Shabtai inherited his father–in–law's leather factory. However, he had very little interest in this enterprise. Rabbi Shabtai gave lessons in the large Synagogue.

[Page 143]

In those days, Smorgon was not only a center for the leather industry, but also a center for Torah study. Smorgon was famous for its Yeshiva. From near and far, students would come to the Synagogue to listen to Rabbi Shabtai's fiery sermons and discussions.

Commerce and Torah study did not go together, and Rabbi Shabtai was invited to preside over the Rabbinate in Mikaelishok. Rabbi Shabtai liquidated the factory and took the position in the Rabbinate. He is the author of “AKIKI – MAGINIM”. His daughter Reina was Abraham Sutzkever's mother.

Translator's Note

  1. Zebulon and Issachar represent two tribes referenced in the Torah where the former represented business and the latter representing study and learning. The two worked out an arrangement conducive to both. Return


[Page 144]

With Grandfather in Smorgon

by Avraham Sutzkewer

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Then, when my grandmother
Was busy with vinegar and honey
So noble,
She sent me for my birthday
A clock –
Then my time was
In the same manner.

It was a wall clock that originated from the moon.
The ink is insufficient to describe its style.
She saved it
(If my memory served me correctly)
At the time of her wedding, from a fire at grandfather's house in Smorgon,
That city, where in a wreath of laurels,
I was born.

It was handicapped
With crooked legs of lead;
With its bitter chains
That dangle from there.
A snowman, an androgynous
From red wood and steel.
With burning eyes
Like stars, twelve in number.

I have my guest, my dear one
Set at the head:
I will shine you and clean you
And there will be your throne.

[Page 145]
And even though it was cleaved
It then never cleave
My time.
It was all mine.
And if my grandmother had a desire
To knock with a blue umbrella
In the Garden of Eden –
The clock would not allow for us to be separated.
Grandmother had become a homey cuckoo.
Every hour she called out from her grave:
Cuckoo!
Yours is the time, and yours, yours:
Cuckoo!
Now, when that clock has been burnt
As well as my time like burnt-up rye,
Only, the blind cuckoo seeks a nest in my memory.

From Midbar Sinai, 1957


[Page 146]

The Sculptor Itkind

by Daniel Charni

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym

The sculptor, Itkind, was not with us during the war. He started as a dyer in women's clothing in Smorgon. From time to time, Itkind would sculpt different forms and figures from “clay”. In Smorgon, it was evident, that there were not many buyers (market) for Itkind's “clay sculptures”. But, Latski-Bertoldi, who was known as a great connoisseur of art, would often come to Smorgon on business. He remembered Itkind and introduced him to a larger world audience.

Folks started to write about him in the newspapers and compared him to a second Antokolski. When the time of war arrived in Smorgon, when the Germans and their helpers descended upon us like a firestorm, Itkind, “naked” and “bare”, immediately went with me and several others to Moscow.

In Moscow, he found us a new home and a new life. One person, a Moscovite countess, began as Itkind's patron. She was involved with him for such a long time, that she eventually fell in love with him. Thanks to her connections and her means—the countess immediately found good clients for Itkinds' sculptures--the little boy from Smorgon became a very eligible bachelor and a “prince like figure” in Moscow.

He started wearing very fashionable and decadent clothing and outerwear and looked very aristocratic. So, Itkind, came visiting to me one day, by himself, and with a hearty welcome, brought me and my wife to his countess where we all were able to greet the New Year according to old Russian customs.

The family villa of this noble family was in a street with other nobles and wealthy folk, where they had their''atavkiakes”. The count's villa was completely “silvered” in the front, and looked like a frozen “ice palace”. Inside the salon, it looked gilded as well. The table was set with old family heirloom silver. Also, the very high candelabras were lit with star-bright candles, and the samovars (tea urns) were from massive silver.

 

 

Even the two steam ovens, from which the steaming samovar emitted its aroma, shone like silver. The four high wall mirrors, which were displayed in all four corners of the room, reflected the entire salon and the table in all its splendor. One imagined to be dreaming of a “thousand and one nights.”

But the New Year of 1917-1918 it seems was the last night of the “thousand and two” nights! It was not only the last night for the nobility, but also for the people in general.

I never in my life saw or heard a new year celebrated in such a lavish style that a samovar was heated, not with water, but with…cognac!!!

I never in my life saw or heard that the new year be welcomed with flaming hats made of sugar and drenched with strong spirits. The blue flames of the flaming sugar hats danced and bounced off the 4 mirrors in all of the corners of the room. One could honestly say, that the new year of 1918 was being born to a sweet-blue new year that would bring only joy and prosperity to the whole world.

I had a sudden thought—that my small son will be born into such a sweet-blue atmosphere.

Our child, Rochel, will also be sweet-blue—I said this, under the steam of the heated samovar and burnt sugar, to my wife.

The sculptor Itkind, who sat next to us, suddenly interrupted us: “You know, Charni, my countess wants to have a child with me. But I suddenly realize, if it's a boy,” she would no longer have use for me.”

“I have already had enough”, Itkind shortly stated, “My father comes to me nightly in my dreams and begs me to bury him in the land of Israel (or a Jewish burial).

It is known, that when Itkind's father “fled” to Minsk from the burning Smorgon, he was captured on the way. Together with other folks and Christians, he was murdered, and his remains lie in a field between Smorgon and Minsk.

So, because of how his Dad died, I feel badly for Itkind. That every night his dead father appears asking that he have a proper burial and every night the love-struck princess comes to him with a “bastard”.

It suddenly becomes clear to me that his last exhibited sculpture was one of a lying female figure, distorted and crude, without feet!

This is “Russia”, the old “Russia”, (Russland it is now called), Itkind was now showing me new ideas for his new work. This is what the Bolsheviks were now preaching: the feet of old Russia will be chopped down—so that it will no longer continue (walk) in the same manner.

Also, his countess, the love-struck prize, suddenly, it seems, also felt that her noble upbringing would soon be over and her “Antokolski” Jew from Smorgon will be gone. She also made a resolution that very night (1917-1918 evening) to preserve her inheritance.

The flaming hats were now a long distant memory. And the samovars with the warm cognac were a memory of days gone by. Together with them, the days of the drunken Russia was no more…..extinguished! “Russia” was no longer, only the new “Soviet Russia”.

 

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