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[Page 187]

Important Persons and Characters


[Page 191]

Yitzchak Prybolsky

by Chana Steinberg–Prybolsky

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Karen Shiller

I never got to know my father, for he died when I was still a young girl. I remember a childhood without the supervision or love of a father. When I grew up, I found a memorial in the house to my father, who was a teacher, a scholar, a maskil, and a writer. After his death, books remained in the house – sacred and secular books, in Hebrew, Yiddish and other languages; as well as letters, articles and manuscripts written in Father's “pearly” writing. However, there was no redeemer to publish his writings, and when the house was destroyed at the time of the destruction of the entire House of Israel, his spiritual legacy was also destroyed.

{Photo page 191: Yitzchak Prybolsky.}

The image of my father came to be from Mother's stories and from the articles that Perets Hirshbeyn[1] wrote about him in his books[2].

He was known as a diligent student and a genius already when he was a lad. Grandfather, Rabbi Sandel, hoped for greatness for his son, and aspired for him to inherit the rabbinical seat of Erlau. However, it was the era of the haskalah [enlightenment], and a sudden change took place in his life. He peeked, and was affected. His life was full of contradictions: he delved into the sea of Talmud during the day, and read “Haasif” of Sokolow, Yehuda Leib Gordon, Smolenskin, Heine, and others.

“Indeed, the voice of the diligent student still continued to emanate from the house of the rabbi day and night, but his head was already fully immersed in a different world. The mothers of Erlau still rejoiced with contentment when they heard the sweet voice of the diligent student, but the elders noticed a change in him, and began to complain about him. Nevertheless, his diligence and the fact that he was the son of the rabbi stood for him.”

This is what P. Hirshbeyn, the son of Lipa the grinder of Kleszczele, who used to come to the Beis Midrash of the town of Erlau in those days, wrote. The melody of the Gemara brought the two diligent students together, and they became friends in heart and soul throughout their lives.

[Page 193]

{Photo page 193: Yehudit Prybolsky}

With his desire for knowledge, Father wandered from place to place. Perets would follow after him. The path to enlightenment was not easy. At times, doubts welled up in his heart, and he would dream of the rabbinate and haskalah together. My father contracted typhus in Krasnitsa near Grodno, one of the stops in his travels. When he recovered from his serious illness, he was proposed a match from Suchowola that pleased him. He found contentment with his wife, but the calm was from him and onward, but he remained frozen from both sides. He only went along half a path when he cut himself off from the Beis Midrash. Mother understood his spirit, and encouraged him to travel to Vilna to complete his studies, while she would bear the yoke of livelihood.

Father traveled to Vilna with Perets, where they studied together and even went hungry. With time, the hunger, cold and difficult conditions took their toll on my father, and his body weakened. He fell ill and did not have the strength to continue on the new path. With a subdued spirit, he left Vilna, which he so aspired to, and where he hoped to acquire education. He returned to Suchowola as a Hebrew teacher. “He made Torah his livelihood.” He opened a modern cheder, taught Hebrew with the language of instruction as Hebrew[3], was something novel in town, and his students revered him.

Father did not complete his life within the narrow confines of the town. He was a person who wished to wander around. However, fate was bitter to him. His health declined and his heart weakened. He continued to teach his students with the remainder of his strength.

At that time, he began to write short poems, plays, and feuilletons, filled with wisdom and humor. He wrote in Yiddish, despite his great expertise in Hebrew.

He remained connected in spirit to Perets Hirshbeyn, despite the distance between them. Perets would visit him in Suchowola on occasion. Every visit was an experience for my father. He would tell his friend about his great suffering in the town, and would take interested in what was transpiring in the world of literature. He was alert to all events in both Hebrew and Yiddish literature, even though he preferred Yiddish. He listened with great interest to any news taking place in the two centers of literature, Vilna and Warsaw.

My father wrote a small play, “Kinder” (Children), in 1905, which he was able to see in publication by “Roman–Zeitung” of Warsaw in 1908, a short time before his death. He had other creative plans, but he was destined for a short life. He started suffering from heart attacks. He wrote a great deal at that time to Perets and Dinson. His letters were full of pain and agony, devoid of his natural humor. They had hints to the bogs (blottes) in the town and in the heart, having no remedy. He was bound to the sick bed, cut off from the literary centers that had captivated his entire interest.

With his last strength, in the days between heart attacks, he continued to write. “He wanted to attain that for which he arrived late, for despite his coming close to the haskalah at a very young age, he felt the power to create on his own, even though his heart was already affected and his hands were tied…” write Perets Hirshbeyn regarding his last days.

Even during the difficult times, he had hopes that he would overcome his illness. Suffering and disappointment were the lot of my father, and his agony was great when Perets Hirshbeyn parted from him and set out for the wide world, along the path that my father had shown him – at the time when he himself was very ill, bound to his sick bed from which he was never to arise.

Perets Hirshbeyn writes the following in the “Circle of Life”:

“Had Yitzchak Prybolsky not died at such a young age, he certainly would now have been a member of the family of talented writers.”

My father died in 1908, leaving behind a young widow and four orphans. All the progressive townsfolk mourned for the man who was the symbol of progress and light for them. His students and fans in the Land and the Diaspora revere his name.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Hirshbeyn_Perets Return
  2. There is a footnote in the text here: “Meine Kinder–Yorn” (My Childhood Years), Warsaw, 1932; “In Gang Fun Lebn” (Along the Course of Life), New York, 1948. Return
  3. Known as Ivrit B'Ivrit – Hebrew immersion. Return


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