Portrait of Avrom Reyzen from the frontispiece of Shriftn (Writings), the first volume of his Gezamelte lider (Collected Poems; Kraków: Yosef Fisher, 1908). Reyzen has inscribed the book in Yiddish to Dr. Shmul Ellisberg in New York, “a good friend, a comrade, and lover of Yiddish literature.” (YIVO)

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Reyzen, Avrom

(1876–1953), writer, poet, and editor. Born in Koidanov, eastern Belorussia, Avrom Reyzen received a general and Jewish education. His father, Kalmen Reyzen, was a maskil and a writer, as were Avrom’s brother Zalmen and sister Sore. With the encouragement of Yaknehoz (pseudonym of Yeshaye Nisn Hakoyen Goldberg), Reyzen submitted articles to Dos Yudishes folks-blat in Saint Petersburg at the age of 13 or 14. He began to correspond with Yankev Dinezon and Y. L. Peretz, who published Reyzen’s poem “Ven dos lebn is farbitert” (When Life Is Embittered) in the first volume of Di yudishe bibliotek (The Yiddish Library; 1891).

Yiddish writers at the Czernowitz Conference, 1908: (left to right) Avrom Reyzen, Yitskhok Leybush Peretz, Sholem Asch, Khayim Zhitlovski, Hersh Dovid Nomberg. Postcard (Warsaw: Verlag Jehudia). (YIVO)

Reyzen became a private tutor in his hometown and in surrounding communities, where he grew acquainted with the ideas of the Russian workers’ movement. His collection of poetry, Troyerike motivn gevidmet oreme layt (Sad Motifs Dedicated to the Poor), dealt with social themes and was published at the recommendation of Sholem Aleichem in Philadelphia’s Shtot tsaytung. Reyzen’s first story, “A kapore der noz abi a goldener zeyger mit 300 rubl nadn” (Damn the Nose, As Long As There Is a Dowry of a Watch and 300 Rubles) was printed as a booklet in Vilna in 1892. He published frequently and became known as a master of the simple and memorable poem and short story, excelling in producing concise plots and in focusing on a central theme.

In 1895, Reyzen enlisted in the Russian army and served in a musicians’ unit until 1899. For a brief period he lived in Minsk and then settled in Warsaw. Since he did not identify with the Zionist ideology of Der yud, to which he contributed regularly, he created the literary anthology Dos tsvantsikste yorhundert (The Twentieth Century; 1900), to which Y. L. Peretz, Hersh Dovid Nomberg, Dovid Pinski, and others contributed. As a writer identifying with socialist ideology, Reyzen contributed to the Bund’s legal and illegal publications, often using the pseudonym M. Vilner, during the watershed years of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of his poems were set to music.

In 1902, Reyzen was a founder of the Tsentral publishing house in Warsaw, which published his collection of poetry, Tsayt lider (Period Poems; 1902), and his first collection of stories, Ertseylungen un bilder (Stories and Scenes; 1903). He also regularly contributed to Der fraynd and Der tog in Saint Petersburg. In 1908, he published two textbooks in Yiddish (one with his brother Zalmen) in Warsaw, as well as the first collection of Kunst un lebn (Art and Life; a second collection appeared a year later) to which Bal-Makhshoves, Gershom Shofman, Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, and others contributed. In the same year, Reyzen took a forceful stand in support of Yiddish at the Czernowitz Conference. Following the conference, Reyzen visited the United States, returning to Warsaw in the summer of 1909.

Children and visitors at TOZ summer camp near Wilno, Poland (now Vilnius, Lith.), 1935. Among the visitors are Yiddish poet Avrom Reyzen and Yiddish author and labor leader Jakob Pat, both visitors from America. (Amateur film shot by American Jewish travel agent Gustave Eisner.) (YIVO)

In 1910, Reyzen initiated and edited the new Warsaw literary weekly Eyropeyishe literatur (European Literature), which published translations of world literature. Half a year later, the periodical also printed original works of Yiddish writers; in all, 39 volumes appeared. In 1911, Reyzen edited a similar collection of translations titled Fraye erd (Free Land).

In early 1911, Reyzen moved to New York, where he immediately renewed his activities in publishing literary periodicals. At first, he contributed regularly to the Forverts and Tsukunft. He later contributed to Der tog and the Communist Frayhayt, returning to the Forverts in 1929 following his disappointment with the other newspapers’ reactions to Arab attacks on Jews in Hebron. Most of the editions of his collected works (in 12 or 14 volumes) first appeared in New York. Especially noteworthy are Reyzen’s three volumes of memoirs, titled Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from My Life; 1929 and 1935).

Notwithstanding his mastery of the short story, Reyzen was also known for his flowing language and as the creator of a wide range of characters from all layers of Jewish society, both traditional and rebellious. He also wrote about immigrants who coped with the hardships of absorption in their new homes. In his writings, he attended to the details of daily life and created many characters from the margins of society. His realistic writings, generally composed with a hint of irony and humor, tugged at the hearts of his readers throughout his literary career. The simplicity of his poems and their inherent adaptability to music gained them a broad audience and the affection of readers.

Suggested Reading

Jacob Glatstein, In tokh genumen: Eseyen, 1948–1956 (New York, 1956), pp. 48–63; A. (Abram) Kirzhnits, Di yidishe prese in der gevezener rusisher imperye, 1823–1916 (Moscow, 1930); O. (Y.) Rapoport, Oysgerisene bleter (Melbourne, 1957), pp. 177–186; B. (Boruch) Rivkin, Undzere prozaiker (New York, 1951), pp. 128–139; Elye Shulman, “Reyzen, Avrom,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 8, cols. 458–478 (New York, 1981).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen