“Obegeben dos gelt!” by Lipman Levin, 1895. Skit by Lipman Levin, “Obegeben dos gelt!” (Hand over the Money!), 1895. Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F43.3. (YIVO)

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Levin, Lipman

(1877–1946), Yiddish and Hebrew prose writer. Lipman Levin was born in Mogilev (mod. Mahilyow), Belorussia, to a prosperous family. A precocious boy, he studied religious and secular subjects and later worked as a teacher. In 1900, he arrived in Warsaw, where, following his successful debut as a story writer in the newspaper Der yud (The Jew), he contributed to other Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals, including Di yudishe folks-tsaytung (The Jewish People’s Paper), coedited by his brother-in-law Khayim Dovid Hurvits, a prominent journalist and editor.

Levin moved to Saint Petersburg in 1904 and worked as editor of the local news department of the daily Fraynd (Friend). By that time he was already a popular Yiddish and Hebrew prose writer and a translator from Russian. He lived in Vilna from 1908 to 1916, editing various publications, including Yidishe tsaytung (Jewish Paper), Vilner vokhnblat (Vilna Weekly), and the professional paper Der holtshendler (The Dealer in Timber). From about 1915 he was based in Petrograd but frequently traveled as a representative of the Jewish Committee to Aid War Victims in the Mogilev and Smolensk regions.

Levin served in the Russian army in 1916 and 1917. His military unit was stationed in Smolensk, whence he moved to Moscow, where he remained. Initially, he worked as secretary of the Moscow Jewish religious community. Although he had not lived abroad as had such writers as Dovid Bergelson or Perets Markish, it took him some time to find a place in Soviet literary life. Only in the 1930s did he emerge as a writer of novels with a socialist realist style; along these lines he produced Doyres dervakhte (Awakened Generations; 1934) and Dem shturem antkegn (To Meet the Storm; 1939). The latter is based on his unpublished Hebrew trilogy, Be-aviv ha-‘olamot (In the Spring of the World), composed in the period of the revolution.

Both of Levin’s Soviet novels were devoted to the revolutionary movement among the Russian Jewish population. The Jewish social and ideological transformation during the first two decades of the 1900s was the topic of some of his pre-1917 Hebrew and Yiddish writings, which he recycled in the 1930s and 1940s according to the guidelines of official Soviet ideology. Two fragments from Doyres dervakhte were published in 1935 in the series of mass-library pamphlets (nos. 47 and 48) of the Moscow Yiddish publishing house Emes. In Dem shturem antkegn, the two main protagonists, David Blium and Slava Ginzburg, represent Jewish Bolshevik-internationalists, who tower over the caricatured portrayals of Jewish intellectuals affiliated with Jewish political parties. He particularly ridicules the Zionists, Bundists, and Vozrozhdenie group. Interestingly, Levin does not explain the peculiarities of different political currents, apparently presuming that his Soviet reader is familiar with pre-1917 Jewish political history.

Contemporary Soviet critics praised Dem shturem antkegn and the second part of David Bergelson’s novel Bam Dnyeper (At the Dnieper; 1940) as the most significant Yiddish novels devoted to the 1905 Revolution. In 1941, Emes published a selection of Levin’s stories that had been composed between 1900 and 1907, Teg fargangene (Bygone Days). In the 1940s, he contributed to Eynikayt (Unity), the newspaper of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC).

Suggested Reading

Nachman Mayzel (Meisel), Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in Sovetnfarband (New York, 1959); Alexander Pomerantz, Di sovetishe haruge-malkhus: Tsu zeyer tsentn yortsayt; Vegn dem tragishn goyrl fun di yidishe shraybers (Buenos Aires, 1962).