Masthead of Yudishes folks-blat: A politish-literarishe tsaytung (Jewish People’s Newspaper: A Literary-Political Newspaper), 1.13 (October 1881), St. Petersburg. (YIVO)

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Most Russian maskilim of the 1860s were no less contemptuous of Yiddish, the noxious zhargon (jargon), than were their Berlin colleagues, yet—against the grain—the maskil  Aleksander Zederbaum (1816–1893) in 1862 issued Kol mevaser (Herald) in Odessa as a Yiddish supplement to the Hebrew weekly Ha-Melits (The Advocate) from 1862 to 1872.

Although this first Yiddish journal in Eastern Europe was preceded by both Hebrew and Russian periodicals, they were written for limited audiences. Kol mevaser was written in a simple, plain, folk idiom, accessible to average men and women. Reader response, especially in small towns, was immediate and palpable. Indeed, the critic Eliezer Raphael Malachi (1895–1980) credited this first Yiddish weekly with creating the modern female reader, who could now complement, if not replace, the Tsene-rene with modern stories (Malachi, 1965). The example of Kol mevaser inspired the creation of a Yiddish press in Galicia, Romania, Great Britain, and the United States. Yitskhok Yoyel Linetski published his highly popular “Dos poylishe yingl” (The Polish Lad) in Kol mevaser; and Avrom Goldfadn (1840–1908) and Mendele Moykher-Sforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, 1835–1917) published their first Yiddish works there. Indeed the latter’s Dos kleyne mentshele (The Tiny Fellow; 1863 [translated into English as The Parasite]) marked the beginning of modern Yiddish literature.

Masthead of Literarishe bleter: Ilustrirte vokhnshrift far literatur, teater, un kunst-fragn (Literary Pages: Illustrated Weekly of Literature, Theater, and Art), no. 5 (6 June 1924), Warsaw. (YIVO)

Zederbaum, Kol mevaser’s energetic editor, moved to Saint Petersburg where, for almost a decade (from 1881), he edited the Yudishes folks-blat: A politish-literarishe tsaytung (Jewish People’s Newspaper: A Literary-Political Newspaper). It was, in some ways, the first modern European periodical in Yiddish and had a notable effect on the development of Yiddish and of Yiddish literature. Sholem Aleichem (Shalom Rabinovitz, 1859–1916), Mordkhe Spektor (1858–1925), David Frishman (1859–1922), and Shimen Shmuel Frug (1860–1916) started their careers as Yiddish writers in its pages.

The most influential and the most widely circulated of all Yiddish literary journals before the twentieth century was Sholem Aleichem’s Di yidishe folks-bibliotek: A bukh fir literatur, kritik, un vissenshaft (The Jewish Popular Library: A Book of Literature, Criticism, and Scholarship). The highly successful Ha-Asif Hebrew yearbooks from 1884 to 1893, edited by Naḥum Sokolow (1859–1936), served as a model for the Yiddish journal. The first of Di yidishe folks-bibliotek’s two volumes appeared in 1888 and included Sholem Aleichem’s essay “Shomers mishpet” (Shomer’s Trial), attacking dime-novel fiction and especially its most successful practitioner Nokhem-Meyer Shaykevitsh, widely known by his acronym Shomer (1849?–1905). Sholem Aleichem lauded the realistic art of Mendele and excoriated shund (“trash”). Outstanding authors responded: Mendele himself with an expanded version of his “Dos vintshfingerl” (The Magic Ring), Y. L. Peretz (1852–1915) with his narrative poem “Monish” (the first complex verse effort in modern Yiddish literature), and Avraham Ber Gottlober (1811–1899) with his intriguing Zikhroynes vegn yudishe shrayber (Remembering Jewish Writers). The journal reviewed recent Yiddish books and periodicals and printed translations—inviting the hostility of maskilim opposed to the use of Yiddish as a literary medium. Under numerous pseudonyms, Sholem Aleichem wrote much of the material himself. His bankruptcy forced him to discontinue the journal, but in 1892 in Odessa he issued his Kol-mevaser tsu der yidisher folks-bibliotek (Herald to the Jewish Popular Library). This Kol-mevaser includes “London,” the first series of letters in the epistolary novel featuring the archetypal Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl.

Baginen (Dawn), no. 1 (June 1919), Kiev. (YIVO)
Di yudishe bibliotek: A zhurnal fir literatur, gezelshaft, un ekonomye (The Jewish Library: A Journal of Literature, Society, and Economics; 1891–1895; 1905)—edited by Peretz and supported at the outset by wealthy Warsaw assimilationists with no abiding interest in Yiddish—served as a center for aspiring young writers. In the same period, Peretz and the young Dovid Pinski (1872–1959) published Yontev-bletlekh: Zhurnal fir literatur, gezelshaft, un ekonomye (Holiday Pages: Journal of Literature, Society, and Economics), also known as Peretses bletlekh (Peretz’s Pages), as 17 individually titled booklets. A stratagem to circumvent the tsarist ban on regular periodicals, it was issued in Warsaw from 1894 to 1896. The series generally reflected both Peretz’s early period and his nascent Jewish radicalism. Using a variety of pseudonyms as well as his true name, Peretz filled most of the issues in a concise, swift modern style.

Modern, too, for its openness and breadth of editorial policy was the new century’s Der yud: Tsaytshrift fir ale yudishe interesen (The Jew: Journal for All Jewish Interests; 1899–1902), published in Vienna and Kraków and edited by Yoysef Lurie (1871–1937), under whose imaginative leadership Der yud attained a hitherto unknown literary level. Lurie sold the journal to Der fraynd (The Friend) of Saint Petersburg and joined the latter—the first Yiddish daily in Russia. Sholem Aleichem and many young and later-to-be-famous writers (for example, Sholem Asch, 1880–1957), were its regular contributors. Mendele’s autobiographical Shloyme Reb Khayims (Khayim’s Son Solomon) appeared there in installments. Though printed outside Russia, Der yud was circulated mainly in Russia. Ahad Ha-Am, in one of his few Yiddish-language articles, remonstrated against using Yiddish for any but the most elementary educational purposes.

Sholem Aleichem, along with Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski (1865–1921), David Frishman, Mendele, Avrom Reyzen (1876–1953), Yehoyesh (Solomon Bloomgarden; 1872–1927), and others, contributed to Hilf: A zamel-bukh fir literatur un kunst (Help: A Miscellany for Literature and Art), issued in Warsaw in 1903 to raise funds for the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Leo Tolstoy’s three stories in Hilf were translated into Yiddish by Sholem Aleichem. The appearance of Literarishe monatsshriften: Fraye bine far literatur un kunst (Literary Monthly Writings: Free Platform for Literature and Art) in Vilna in 1908 marks an intensification of literary and cultural effort in the Yiddish world generally, as expressed in the Czernowitz Conference and in the appearance of the similarly oriented journal Di yugend (Youth) in New York. Warsaw’s mass-circulation daily Haynt (Today) as well as the Lodzer tageblat (Łódź Daily) were also founded in 1908; and two years later, in 1910, Haynt’s chief rival Der moment (Moment) was launched.

Di yidishe gas (The Jewish Street), no. 1 (1993), Moscow. (YIVO)

For all their raucousness and sensationalism, these dailies published pieces by major contemporary Yiddish writers. Few Yiddish writers of note did not write for Haynt, and the list included such figures as Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, Frishman, Hersh Dovid Nomberg (1876–1927), and Sholem Asch. Haynt supported serious writing, including philosophical and religious essays by Hillel Zeitlin (1872–1942), at the same time that it published escapist romantic fiction to buttress its finances. The religious poet Yisroel Shtern (1894–1942) published in both Haynt and Der moment.

Virtually every significant contemporary Yiddish writer contributed to the 1912 Saint Petersburg  Di idishe velt (The Jewish World), which was continued in the Vilna Di yudishe velt (1913–1915). Despite economic distress and governmental hostility, Poland’s Yiddish-language literary elite produced a remarkable body of writing in the 1920s and 1930s, much of it in organs such as the Warsaw  Ringen (Rings) of 1921–1922, edited by Michał Weichert (1890–1967), and published in 1,000 numbered copies. Weichert assisted Nakhmen Mayzel (1887–1966) in editing the Warsaw  Di yidishe velt: Khoydesh-shrift far literatur, kritik, kunst, un kultur (The Jewish World: Monthly of Literature, Criticism, Art, and Culture; 1928). This journal gave prominence to women poets, published some of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s earliest work, featured Marc Chagall (1887–1985) on his work in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, and Ignacy Schiper (1884–1943) on older Yiddish literature. It was an attempt to renew Vilna’s Di yudishe velt at a time when no comparable journal existed in all of Poland.

In its crowded 15-year existence (1924–1939), Warsaw’s Literarishe bleter: Ilustrirte vokhnshrift far literatur, teater, un kunst-fragn (Literary Pages: Illustrated Weekly of Literature, Theater, and Art Issues) was the chief arbiter of Yiddish literary taste. The presence of Mayzel, its energetic editor from 1925 to 1938, is keenly felt in its pages; and the colorful Melech Ravitch (1893–1976) was editor for several years (1924–1926). Lively, popular, but serious, it reported cultural news, reviewed books and plays, and served as a bridge between Yiddish scholars and the general public. Its principal medium was the essay. While reporting on Yiddish throughout the world, it kept abreast of general European and world literature. Warsaw’s Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists issued two rich collections, Varshever almanakh (Warsaw Almanac; 1923) and Varshever shriftn (Warsaw Writings; 1926). In the interwar years, Polish provincial centers also produced notable journals, for example, Tsushtayer (Contribution; 1929–1931) in Lwów.

In 1932, Arn Zeitlin (1899–1973) and Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–1991) founded the outstanding literary journal Globus (Globe), which advertised itself as “the only serious monthly in Poland.” Zeitlin exclaimed, “I do not believe in contemporary Yiddish literature with its juvenile-infantile ‘worldliness’ . . . with its mutual gorging, one little sadist devouring another” (Szeintuch, 2000, pp. 113–114). The editors affirmed the autonomy of literature, a goal that seemed reactionary to the Bundists and Communists. Globus raised funds among small groups of writers and artists who identified with its position, surviving for two years—remarkable in the conditions of Poland at the time.

Khalyastre (The Gang), vol. 2, 1924. The cover is illustrated by Marc Chagall and features a figure (right) holding up a flag that reads, in Yiddish: “Paris.” YIVO. (© 2006 Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York/ADAGP, Paris)

It was in revolt against the commercial or party press that many literary periodicals arose throughout the Yiddish world, but in the Soviet Union party censorship by the late 1920s proved a crushing force. The principal Yiddish centers in the early twentieth century were Poland (with neighboring Lithuania and Romania), the Soviet Union, and North America. The Soviet Union possessed a large pool of talented Yiddish writers that, in the early years following the 1917 Revolution, was bursting with creative energy. The various centers interacted, often polemically; writers moved from one center to another. In the mid-1920s, Berlin (where printing costs were low) flowered for a time, producing Milgroym (Pomegranate; 1922–1924), the finest illustrated journal in Yiddish, boasting authors such as Dovid Bergelson (1884–1952), Der Nister (1884–1950), Dovid Hofshteyn (1889–1952), and Leyb Kvitko (1890–1952). All of these writers returned to the Soviet Union, where the prospects for Yiddish culture seemed promising at the time. Shtrom: Khoydesh heftn (Stream: Monthly Notebooks; 1922–1924), published in Moscow and featuring writers of such caliber as Hofshteyn and Arn Kushnirov (1890–1949), was the most important literary journal of the 1920s and more or less marked the cutting-off point with regard to freedom from party control, yet it too was attacked for its supposedly bourgeois nationalist ideology. In Kiev, Baginen (Dawn; 1919), Oyfgang (Ascent; 1919), and Eygns (One’s Own; 1918–1920) were essentially free organs. Academic, nonbelletristic journals such as Tsaytshrift (Journal; 1926–1931), published in Minsk, and Shriftn (Writings; 1928), published in Kiev, achieved a high level of sophistication. Despite tendentiousness, Soviet academic journals such as Visnshaft un revolutsye (Science and Revolution; 1934–1936) contain valuable studies.

The relatively long-lived and important Minsk journal Shtern (Star; 1924–1941) employed a typical Stalinist rhetoric of abuse: “The Inzikhists preach fascism. They are openly tied to the Zinoviev-Trotskyite bandits. One should relate to them as one once did to the Black Hundreds, as all revolutionary-minded writers relate to Hitler and Goebbels” (1935). (The Inzikhistn [introspectivists] were American Yiddish poets who cultivated imagism and free verse.) Nevertheless, distinguished figures such as Moyshe Kulbak (1896–1937), Hofshteyn, and Shmuel Halkin (1897–1960) appeared in Shtern.

First issue of Sovetish heymland, July–August 1961. (YIVO)

Moscow’s Sovetish: literarisher almanakh (In the Soviet Manner: Literary Almanac; 1934–1941) published the best Soviet Yiddish writers, including the inscrutable Meir Wiener (Meyer Viner; 1893–1941); the second issue (1935) contained a special section on the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. In Kiev, Farmest (Challenge; 1933–1937), edited by the poet Itsik Fefer (1900–1952), was continued in Sovetishe literatur: Literarish-kinstlerisher un kritish-bibliografisher zhurnal (Soviet Literature: Literary-Artistic and Critical-Bibliographical Journal; 1938–1941). Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland; 1961–1991) provided sustenance to those Soviet Yiddish writers who were prepared to compromise to keep the Yiddish word alive and reached a sizable public abroad. Its editor, Arn Vergelis (1918–1999), with the help of friends from abroad, established its successor Di yidishe gas (The Jewish Street; 1993–1997).

The Yiddish press in Eastern Europe included hundreds of provincial weeklies and monthlies with literary supplements, as well as such highly individual productions as the itinerant Getseylte verter (Counted Words; 1929–1930) of Itsik Manger (1901–1969) and the one-man Warsaw biweekly Mayn redndiker film (My Talking Film), edited by Alter Kaczyzne (1885–1941) in the late 1930s. Orthodox papers, such as the Warsaw  Dos yudishe togblat (The Jewish Daily; 1929–1939), published literary essays by Heshl Klepfish (1910–2004); indeed, Orthodox serials promised literary content in their very titles: for example, Łódź’s Ortodoksishe bletlekh: Far ya’ades, literatur un tsayt-frages (Orthodox Pages: For Judaism, Literature and Current Problems; early 1920s). In post–World War II Poland, the literary magazine Yidishe shriftn (Jewish Writings; 1946–1968) lasted for 250 issues—until the crisis year 1968; it was preceded by Dos naye lebn (New Life; 1945–1950) and, like Yidishe shriftn, was merged (after 123 issues) with the eventually bilingual party organ Folks-shtime (People’s Voice; 1945–1991), which in turn became the Polish and Yiddish Dos yidishe vort (The Jewish Word) in 1992. Belles lettres found their way into underground publications, for example, Yitsḥak Katzenelson (1885–1944) was published in Dror (Freedom) in the Warsaw ghetto from summer 1940 to spring 1941, and in the scores of publications in displaced persons camps following liberation, for example, Tsoytn: Belzener bletlekh; zaml-heft far literatur, kritik, un gezelshaftlekhe fragn (Loose Threads: Belsen Pages; Miscellany for Literature, Criticism, and Social Questions; 1947).

Shoybn (Windowpanes), no. 2 (April 1936), Bucharest, special issue dedicated to the works of Eliezer Shteynbarg (pictured on the cover). (YIVO)

Though peripheral to Warsaw and New York in the Yiddish literary landscape, Romania and the Baltics were by no means infertile. The much-romanticized Likht (Light; 1913–1914) and the first Shoybn (Windowpanes; 1924) miscellanies marked starting points for the growth of Yiddish letters in old and new Romania respectively; Manger, the fabulist Eliezer Shteynbarg (1880–1932), and Shloyme Bikl (1896–1969) wrote in the latter.

There was a profusion of dailies, weeklies, and monthlies in Vilna and Riga in the interwar years. Though neither were Litvaks, Moyshe Broderzon (1890–1956) and Uri Tsevi Grinberg (1896–1981) appeared in the miscellany Sambatyen (Sambation; 1922). No journal can better express the creative thrust of Vilna than the short-lived, but seminal, Yung-Vilne (Young Vilna; 1934–1936), which published work by Leyzer Volf (1910–1943), Chaim Grade (1910–1982), and Avrom Sutzkever (1913–2010).

With few exceptions, the best twentieth-century Yiddish writers were born in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. Most of them were schooled in Eastern Europe before migrating to new lands. In a larger sense, all Yiddish literary journals, whether published in Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv, Chicago, or Johannesburg, were indelibly East European even when they strove to integrate into their new environments, as did Yiddish poets in New York singing Whitman-like songs to America in their avant-garde “little magazines.” Even today, the surviving Yiddish press—in Israel and in America—depends largely on writers born and bred in the former Soviet Union (today virtually shorn of Yiddish writers). The pattern of successive waves of native-born Yiddish speakers resuscitating Yiddish in new areas of settlement appears to be nearing its end.

Suggested Reading

Chaim Finkelstein, Haynt: A tsaytung bay yidn, 1908–1939 (Tel Aviv, 1978); Eliezer Raphael Malachi, “Der Kol mevaser un zayn redaktor,” in Pinkes far der forshung fun der yidisher literatur un prese, ed. Shlomo Bickel, New York, 1965, pp. 49–121; Shmuel Niger, Y.-L. Perets: Zayn lebn, zayn firndike perzenlekhkeyt, zayne hebreishe un yidishe shriftn, zayn virkung (Buenos Aires, 1952); Alexander Orbach, New Voices of Russian Jewry: A Study of the Russian-Jewish Press of Odessa in the Era of the Great Reforms, 1860–1871 (Leiden, 1980); Leonard Prager and A. A. Greenbaum, Yiddish Literary and Linguistic Periodicals and Miscellanies (Darby, Pa., and Haifa, 1982); David G. Roski`es, A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling (Cambridge, Mass., 1995); Shmuel Rozhanski, “Der Yud,” in Pinkes far der forshung fun der yidisher literatur un prese, vol. 3, ed. Khayim Bez, pp. 319–333 (New York, 1975); Chone Shmeruk, Sifrut yidish: Perakim le-toldoteha (Tel Aviv, 1978); Yechiel Szeintuch, Preliminary Inventory of Yiddish Dailies and Periodicals Published in Poland between the Two World Wars (Jerusalem, 1986), text in Hebrew, English and Yiddish; Yechiel Szeintuch, Bi-reshut ha-rabim uvi-reshut ha-yaḥid: Aharon Tsaitlin ve-sifrut Yidish (Jerusalem, 2000); Yisroel Tsinberg, Di geshikhte fun der literatur bay yidn, vol. 9, ed. Mikhl Astur, pp. 239–266 (New York, 1966); Samuel Leib Zitron (Tsitron), Di geshikhte fun der yidisher prese, vol.1, Fun yor 1863 biz 1889 (Vilna, 1923).