Letter from Zalman Yitsḥak Aronsohn to Shmuel Niger, ca. 1913. From Zalman Yitsḥak Aronsohn (Anokhi) in Dubbeln (near Riga, Lat.) to Shmuel Niger in Vilna, ca. 1913, saying that he feels isolated, "far from the literary world." Aronsohn was completely preoccupied with the recent trial of Mendel Beilis. He couldn't sleep or work and wondered "what sort of world" he was in. But now he is back at work and hopes to be able to come to Vilna for a couple of days to show Niger what he is writing. He complains that he has not received recent issues of Di yudishe velt and Der pinkes. Yiddish. RG 360, Shmuel Niger Papers, F56. (YIVO)

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Aronsohn, Zalman Yitsḥak

(1878–1947), Hebrew and Yiddish writer. Zalman Aronsohn, known by the pseudonym Anokhi (“I Am”), was born in Liady, Belorussia, where his father served as rabbi and head of a yeshiva. Anokhi studied at the Telz yeshiva and with a circle of Musar scholars in Minsk; he then lived for a period of time in Gomel, dedicating himself to secular studies and associating with Hillel Zeitlin, Uri Nisan Gnessin, and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner. Anokhi then moved to Odessa, where he was arrested and jailed for six months because of his involvement with a group of anarchists. Following his release, he left for Vilna before traveling around Europe, and even spent a year in Palestine (1910–1911).

Anokhi wrote his earliest works in Hebrew. His first story, “Ha-Yenuka’,” was about the son of a Hasidic master who lost his faith and rebelled against his home environment; the piece was published in 1903 in Ha-Shiloaḥ. With its romantic content and ecstatic confessional style, it resembles the type of writing perfected by Y. L. Peretz and Mordekhai Ze’ev Feierberg, but at the same time the text is interlaced with Nietzschean influence. In 1905, Anokhi began to write in Yiddish. He compiled his first collection of stories, Tsvishn himl un erd (Between Heaven and Earth), in 1909, and from then until the outbreak of World War I he produced five additional collections.

From Zalman Yitsḥak Aronsohn (Anokhi) in Warsaw, to Lazar Kahan, Łódź, 26 August, no year, agreeing to give a reading in Łódź for 80 percent of the house. He will be away from Warsaw, in Minsk, and provides an address to which, if Kahan agrees to his terms, a telegram with two words can be sent: "Anokhi [is] coming." He suggests that Kahan book a comfortable hall, "not like the one at his last reading." He closes his letter with some words for "Rozhele," whom he hopes to see soon. Yiddish. RG 422, Lazar Kahan Papers, F Anokhi. (YIVO)

Anokhi’s Hebrew and Yiddish stories, outstanding in their psychological depth and their elegant narrative, feature three archetypal groups of characters. The first, as is evident in “Ha-Yenuka’,” is composed of people who appear to be deeply entrenched in traditional Jewish society, but something in their belief system or grasp of reality is suddenly challenged and they are doomed to live out their lives with irreparably scarred souls. The second group is made up of youngsters who have cut themselves off from the traditional world but have failed to find a place in their adopted worlds, and they therefore live a life of detachment, wandering, isolation, and unresolved mental angst (in this context, Anokhi resembles Brenner, Gnessin, and Gershom Shofman). The third group consists of traditional, simple folk from the Hasidic world who have perfect faith and accept reality with a sober dose of harmonious optimism. The most prominent of these characters is Reb Abba, the protagonist of a series of monologues that proved very popular with both readers and listeners. Anokhi was identified with this character, regularly arranging readings across Eastern Europe and beyond, relying on his considerable gifts as both a narrator and actor.

During World War I, Anokhi lived in the Crimean peninsular town of Simferopol’. In 1921, he arrived in Moscow and worked in the archives of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs. He then left Russia in 1922, and after some time touring South America, settled in Palestine, where he was a clerk at the Tel Aviv municipality. At that point, Anokhi resumed his Hebrew writing career, translating his Yiddish stories and compiling them into two volumes—Rav Aba (Reb Abba; 1927) and Ben shamayim va-arets (Between Heaven and Earth; 1945). He also related the experiences of new pioneers in Palestine in two dramatic works—Ha-Bayit (The House) and Ha-Har (The Mountain)—both of which were set in recently established Galilean kibbutzim. His first play eventually was produced in 1931.

Anokhi was not a central figure in his generation, but his prose is a fine example of solid realistic writing, which preserves the deepest tensions of its era and reflects the spiritual drama of Jewish existence on the threshold of modern times.

Suggested Reading

Abraham Kariv, “Z. Y. Anokhi,” in R. Aba: Sipurim u-maḥazot, by Zalman Yizhak Anokhi, pp. 9–17 (Tel Aviv, 1960); Samuel Niger and Jacob Shatzky, eds., “Anoykhi, Z. Y.,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 1, cols. 126–128 (New York, 1956); Dov Sadan, “Ben ha-rav: ‘Al Z. Y. Anokhi,” in Avne zikhron, pp. 303–313 (Tel Aviv, 1953/54).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler