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Daniel, M.

(1901–1940), Yiddish prose writer and playwright. Born in Dvinsk (mod. Daugavpils), Latvia, M. Daniel (born Mordekhai [Mark] Meyerovitsh) lived in several places as a child, and then was employed as a worker, clerk, and teacher. In 1921 he went to Moscow, where he studied at the Academy of Education and, later, the Yiddish department at the Second Moscow State University, from which he graduated in 1924.

One of the first Soviet Yiddish prose writers, Daniel published his initial works in 1924 in the journal Der shtrom (The Stream) with chapters from his “cinema-novel” (a popular genre of writing in the style of a screenplay) In a tsayt aza (In Such Time; published as a full text in 1929). The protagonist of this text is a Jewish boy from Belorussia who matures among Russian proletarians in the period between 1905 and 1917. In another early story, “Rakhmiel der nakht-shoymer” (Rakhmiel the Night Watchman; 1925), Daniel depicts events on the territory occupied by the Polish army during the civil war in 1918 and 1919. The hero of his book Afn shvel (On the Threshold; 1928) is an artist who volunteers for the Red Army and is killed in action while defending the revolution.

As was the case with other Soviet Yiddish literary figures, Daniel wrote about transformations in Jewish society during the early period of Soviet rule. Under the strong influence of then-popular Russian writer Boris Pil’niak, Daniel experimented with realism. Yekhezkl Dobrushin, who praised him as a writer of short prose, underscored Daniel’s weakness, however, as a novelist. Yet in January 1931, an article in Di royte velt on the circulation of Yiddish books in Kiev revealed that Daniel was the third most popular Soviet Yiddish author, following Dovid Bergelson and Perets Markish.

The heroes of Daniel’s 1934 documentary account “Tsvey vyorst hinter Kharkov” (Two Versts from Kharkov, published in Almanakh fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber) are members of a new agricultural commune, organized on the outskirts of that city. Velvel, one of the characters, decides to join the commune out of fear of losing his children, especially after two of them—pupils at a Yiddish school—have left his home and begged local authorities “to liberate them from their capitalist father.” In this work, non-Jewish characters present difficulties for Daniel. Against the well-crafted backdrop of colorful images of would-be Jewish farmers such as Velvel trying to adjust to a new life, Daniel less successfully depicts Adamov, a Russian functionary; the latter is a clichéd mélange of Communist virtues: hardworking, unpretentious, principled.

Daniel’s 1930 story “Yulis” (named for his son, the future dissident Russian writer Iulii Daniel’), which he reworked into a play called Fir teg (Four Days), made him particularly popular. The play, with Solomon Mikhoels in the main role, was successfully staged in 1931 by the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. Its hero, Yulis Shimeliovitsh, chaired the Vilna Workers Soviet during the short period in 1918 and 1919 when the town had been part of the Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Republic. Besieged by the Polish army, Shimeliovitsh and his comrades committed suicide. Although some critics were disappointed that the tragic finale eclipsed otherwise heroic events, the play became one of the most significant productions of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater and was later staged by other theaters. Daniel’s plays Zyamke Kapatsh (1936) and Johannes Guttenberg (1937) were in the repertoire of Yiddish and Russian troupes. In 1940, Daniel’s final play, Shloyme Maimon (Salomon Maimon), premiered in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater.

Suggested Reading

Yekhezkel Dobrushin, In iberboy (Moscow, 1932); Alexander Pomerantz, Di sovetishe haruge-malkhes (Buenos Aires, 1962); Jeffrey Veidlinger, The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (Bloomington, Ind., 2000).