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Mayzel, Nakhmen

(1887–1966), editor, critic, and cultural activist. Born in a village estate near Kiev, Nakhmen Mayzel received a traditional education in his father’s home from private tutors until he was 17. His first story in Hebrew was published in 1905, and in the following years he contributed literary pieces and criticism to a variety of Hebrew periodicals in Eastern Europe. He considered moving to Palestine and taking up agricultural work.

Mayzel’s first article in Yiddish, a critique of Dovid Bergelson, was published in Kiev in 1909. Between 1912 and 1914, Mayzel managed the publishing house Kunst Farlag in Kiev, which published the writings of Yiddish authors, his own pamphlets, and the two-volume literary anthology Fun tsayt tsu tsayt (From Time to Time; 1912). Mayzel was also an editor of the literary journal Di yudishe velt, published in Saint Petersburg and later in Vilna.

During World War I, Mayzel worked in a military factory in Ural and translated Yiddish literature into Russian. Following the February Revolution in 1917, he returned to Kiev and helped to found the publishing house Kiever Farlag, which within four years published at least 100 books in Yiddish. Mayzel was also a key figure in the publishing house of the Kultur-lige, an organization dedicated to Yiddish culture and education, and coeditor of its journal Bikher velt from 1919 to 1920.

Following political changes in Ukraine, Mayzel and some of his colleagues moved to Warsaw, where they reestablished the Kultur-lige in March 1921. When this organization affiliated with the Bund, Mayzel resigned. His action aroused the anger of Bundist leaders, and the conflict between them was never resolved; indeed, he was frequently attacked by Bundist cultural critics. While he had sympathy for Communists, he was attacked by them as well because of his ties to the Zionist daily Haynt.

In April 1924, with I. J. Singer, Perets Markish, and Melech Ravitch, Mayzel founded a new literary and cultural journal, Literarishe bleter, and served as its only editor from 1925 until the journal’s final edition in July 1939. He renewed his partnership with the Vilna publisher Boris Kletskin, who had moved to Warsaw. During the 14 years of its existence, Literarishe bleter became the leading Yiddish literary and cultural journal in Poland. Mayzel steered the journal through repeated crises, including threats of bankruptcy. He also contributed to Haynt and edited its weekly literary supplement from 1928 to 1932. Additionally, he wrote for various other publications, including the New York Forverts. Mayzel promoted the reading of Yiddish books among students and graduates of Jewish educational networks and fought against the increasing linguistic assimilation into Polish. He also championed the artistic standards of Yiddish literature and declared war on the spread of “inferior” entertainment literature known as shund.

Mayzel published a number of important studies of Yiddish writers, including the two-volume Noente un vayte (Familiar and Distant; 1924 and 1926); Peretses briv un redes (Peretz’s Correspondence and Speeches; 1929); Sholem Ash, zayn lebn un shafn (Sholem Asch, His Life and Works; 1931 [2nd ed., 1945]); Der Mendele turem (The Mendele Tower; 1932); Mendele Moykher-Sforim (1936); and Yoysef Opatoshu, zayn lebn un shafn (Yoysef Opatoshu, His Life and Works; 1937).

In 1936, Mayzel visited Palestine and published his impressions, first in Haynt and then in the book Teg un nekht in eymek (Days and Nights in the Valley; 1937). Although he was prevented by Bundist circles from organizing a Yiddish writers’ conference in Poland, the World Jewish Cultural Conference (sponsored by the Communists) convened in Paris in 1937 with his enthusiastic support. Soon after, Mayzel organized a campaign to raise funds for Literarishe bleter in the United States; he himself settled in New York. There he worked with the Yidisher Kultur Farband (Yiddish Culture Association; YKUF), for which he edited the monthly Yidishe kultur and continued to write and publish. In 1964, he moved to Israel, where he joined family members on Kibbutz Alonim.

Suggested Reading

Natan Cohen, Sefer, sofer ve-‘iton: Merkaz ha-tarbut ha-yehudit be-Varshah, 1918–1942 (Jerusalem, 2003); Khayim-Leyb Fuks, “Mayzel, Nakhmen,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 5, cols. 578–584 (New York, 1963); Nachman Mayzel, Geven a mol a lebn (Buenos Aires, 1951).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen