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Silberbusch, David Yesha‘yahu

(1854–1936), Hebrew and Yiddish writer. David Yesha‘yahu Silberbusch was born in Zaleszczyki, in eastern Galicia, and was raised in a Hasidic environment. At the age of 20 while still living in his father-in-law’s well-appointed home in the village, he was given the opportunity to study German. He thus became acquainted with modern European literature and eventually also with the literature of the Hebrew Haskalah. Among those who encouraged him to pursue this path was the playwright Avrom Goldfadn. After becoming a widower in 1876, Silberbusch married his second wife and settled in Kolomea (Pol., Kołomyja).

In 1878, Silberbusch published his first story in Perets Smolenskin’s weekly Ha-Mabit; he later continued to write for Smolenskin’s periodicals, both Ha-Mabit and the monthly Ha-Shaḥar. Silberbusch also helped to edit the newspaper Ha-Tor, whose editor, Avraham Ginzler, had transferred its base of operations to Kolomea.

Silberbusch moved to Vienna in 1881, where he worked with Smolenskin on the editorial board of Ha-Shaḥar—an experience that made a deep impression upon him. In 1882, he left for Romania and lived in Botoşani, where he and Tsevi El‘azar Teller founded the monthly Ha-Or, which relied on the same formula as Ha-Shaḥar and had a pronounced Zionist orientation.

In 1883, Silberbusch returned to Kolomea, where he was appointed an instructor of Jewish religion at the (non-Jewish) government schools. He continued to publish prose works, the most famous of which was the novella Dim‘at ‘ashukim (The Tear of the Oppressed; 1888). Set against a backdrop of antisemitic pressure exerted by the ruling authorities, it describes the economic distress of Romanian Jewry and outlines a Zionist solution. Silberbusch was also a prolific contributor of articles and feuilletons to both the Hebrew and (beginning in 1892) to the Yiddish press in Galicia and Austria.

Silberbusch returned to Vienna in 1893, where, aside from an eight-year period (1906–1914) spent in Lwów, he remained for the next 40 years. While in Vienna, he closely followed Theodor Herzl’s rise to power as leader of the Zionists and regularly took part in the Zionist congresses. In addition to publishing fiction, plays, and reminiscences, he contributed articles to Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers. The most noteworthy of his later works was the novel Ma‘aseh be-ishah aḥat (The Tale of One Woman; 1923). Set during World War I, it describes the wanderings of a brave and remarkable heroine, just one of many Jewish refugees who found temporary shelter in the towns of Galicia.

In 1934, Silberbusch moved to Palestine, where he was warmly received as one of the last remnants of maskilic writers. His book Mi-Pinkas zikhronotai (From the Notebook of My Memoirs; 1936) retraces the experiences of his childhood and of his youth and recounts significant encounters with Goldfadn, Smolenskin, Ahad Ha-Am, and Herzl, among others.

Silberbusch is unique in the sense that he was a continuous presence for so many years, witnessing multiple generations and various literary periods. It would appear that the secret behind his longevity resided in his ability to adapt his tools of expression to the shifting poetical norms of Hebrew literature. For example, one can detect in his stories a gradual shift from a biblical, flowery style to a modern, flexible, more prosaic one, as well as a movement away from the sentimental, melodramatic rhetoric that typified the Haskalah period to a realistic portrayal of events and a more complex psychological approach in his later works.

Suggested Reading

Getsel Kressel, “Zilberbush, David Yesha‘yahu,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 1, cols. 735–736 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1965); Shalom Streit, “David Yesha‘yahu Zilberbush: Shanah li-fetirato,” in Pene ha-sifrut, vol. 1, pp. 110–119 (Tel Aviv, 1938/39).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler