Alter Druyanow (left) with (left to right) writers Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, Odessa (?), ca. 1910. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

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Druyanow, Alter

(1870–1938), Hebrew writer, researcher, editor, and Zionist activist. Alter Druyanow was born in the shtetl of Druja, in the Vilna region, to a rabbinic family. In 1886, he entered the Volozhin yeshiva, where he joined the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement and in 1890 began publishing articles in the Hebrew press. Under the influence of his friend Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, Druyanow went to Breslau in 1891, hoping to enroll at the university. Failing to do so, he returned to Druja.

From 1892 to 1899, Druyanow worked as an iron merchant but continued to write for the Hebrew and Yiddish literary press. His most notable articles from that period included a review of Tolstoy’s works that appeared in the anthology Mi-Mizraḥ umi-ma‘arav, edited by Re’uven Brainin (1894); a piece on the poet Adam ha-Kohen in Ahad Ha-Am’s Ha-Shiloaḥ (1897); and a series of feuilletons published in the Yiddish monthly Der yud.

Yiddish writers (left to right) Mendele Moykher-Sforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh), Alter Druyanow, Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, and Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, Odessa, ca. 1910. (Beit Bialik, Tel Aviv)

Upon the recommendation of Ahad Ha-Am in 1899, Druyanow was appointed secretary of the Va‘ad le-Yishuv Erets Yisra’el (The Council for the Settling of the Land of Israel), based in Odessa. In 1905, he moved to Vilna to set up the Russian Zionist Center, and subsequently served as its secretary. In 1906, he immigrated to Palestine and worked as a bookkeeper for a trading company in Haifa. Returning to Vilna in 1909, Druyanow accepted the post of editor of the Zionist movement’s weekly, Ha-‘Olam, which had relocated from Germany. Under his meticulous direction, the newspaper’s quality and literary sections were upgraded. In 1912, the editorial board moved to Odessa, where Druyanow continued to serve as editor until the outbreak of World War I.

During the war years, Druyanow worked on behalf of an aid committee that had been established in Odessa, providing help for thousands of Jewish refugees who poured into Russia from regions of Galicia, Bessarabia, and Poland that had been occupied by Germany. Following this, he managed the business affairs of an oil company that was based in Ekaterinoslav and Saint Petersburg, while continuing his Zionist activities.

In 1918, while in Odessa with Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, Druyanow founded the ethnological journal Reshumot (1918–1930; after the second volume, it was published in Tel Aviv), chronicling documentary material on the history of East European Jewry. In 1921, he left Russia with a group of writers, who, thanks to the intervention of Bialik, received exit visas. That same year he settled in Jerusalem and was appointed representative of the Devir publishing company in Palestine. In 1923, he moved to Tel Aviv, where he earned his living as a banker.

In Palestine, Druyanow regularly contributed political articles and literary essays to the local press. In 1931, he went to Poland as an emissary of the Jewish National Fund, and upon his return published his book Tsiyonut be-Polanyah (Zionism in Poland; 1932), in which he sternly criticized the patronizing attitude of the Zionist movement toward Polish Jewry; the book, in turn, aroused much controversy. Between 1928 and 1931, he served on the editorial board of the Hebrew–German encyclopedia Eshkol (Cluster), and in 1936 he published Sefer Tel Aviv (The Book on Tel Aviv), a significant portion of which he wrote by himself.

In addition to his other activities, Druyanow invested much energy into two comprehensive research projects, both of which he had started in Odessa. The first, Ketavim le-toldot Ḥibat-Tsiyon ve-yishuv Erets-Yisra’el (Writings on the History of the Ḥibat Tsiyon [Lovers of Zion] Movement and Settling the Land of Israel; 3 volumes, 1919–1932), is a collection of documents tracing the path of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement from 1881 to 1890. The second, Sefer ha-bediḥah veha-ḥidud (The Book of Humor and Witticisms; 3 vols., 1935–1938), an anthology of thousands of Jewish jokes classified according to subject, is presented in elegant Hebrew and was the culmination of Druyanow’s lifelong study of Jewish folklore; it is a treasury of incalculable importance to understanding the traditional environment of the East European Jewish community.

Suggested Reading

Aaron Lita’i, “Alter (Asher Avraham Aba) Druyanov,” in Ketavim nivḥarim, by Alter Druyanow, vol. 1, pp. 1–22 (Tel Aviv, 1942/43); Reuben Rabinowitz, “Morashato ha-sifrutit,” in Yalkut masot, by A. Druyanow, ed. Jacob David Abramasky, pp. 9–22 (Tel Aviv, 1969).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 211, Samuel Rosenfeld, Papers, ca. 1900-1942.



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler