“Erfahrungen. Prakim fum zikhroynes,” by Avraham Yosef Stybel, n.d. Memoir by Avraham Yosef Stybel, n.d. “Erfahrungen. Prakim fum zikhroynes” (Experiences. Chapters from Memoirs). Typed. Yiddish. English letterhead: Abraham J. Stybel, Warsaw, Poland; Moscow, Russia; Copenhagen, Denmark. Agency: Fred Rueping Leather Co., Fond du Lac, Wis., USA. Established 1854. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F87.11.1. (YIVO)

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Stybel, Avraham Yosef

(1885–1946), Hebrew publisher. Avraham Yosef Stybel was born in Zarki, southwestern Poland, to a Hasidic family with ties to the Kotsk and Radomsk dynasties. Despite his father’s attempts to provide him with a religious education that would qualify him to become a rabbi, he was attracted from childhood to secular Hebrew literature. At the same time, he was graced with a practical business sense, and studied bookkeeping through correspondence learning.

In 1904, Stybel went to Warsaw to start a business career and also to become acquainted with Hebrew literature and its innovators. It was not long before it became clear to him that he was not destined to be a writer, but he found complete satisfaction in the fact that he could identify himself as “a Hebrew reader who loves his language with all his soul and all his might,” as he wrote in a letter to his favorite author, Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, in 1906.

Stybel earned his living by working in a leather-trading house, and thus acquired the know-how and expertise in a line of work that would help him amass a large fortune in the years to come. The more his career thrived, the more his dedication to the service of Hebrew literature grew, to the extent that he eventually became a part of Warsaw’s literary landscape. He was enthusiastically recruited to share his wealth and organizational skills with every new Hebrew journal, which included, for example, Ya‘akov Cahan’s Ha-‘Ivri he-ḥadash (1912), and Yeruḥam Fishel Lachower’s Netivot (1913).

Following the outbreak of World War I, Stybel moved to Moscow. Since commercial links with Germany had been severed, he—importing his leather goods directly from the United States—became the main supplier of shoes and boots to the Russian army. His rapid acquisition of wealth acted as the incentive, at the end of 1916, for realizing his dream of establishing a large-scale Hebrew literary publishing house. He gathered a group of advisers headed by David Frishman and boasting the membership of literary promoters Lachower, Cahan, and Bentsiyon Katz. In 1917, two chief enterprises were set up: The Stybel Publishing Company, whose aim it was to promote and publish Hebrew translations of the best of world literature; and the quarterly journal Ha-Tekufah (The Era; 1918–1950), which intended to publish both original Hebrew literature and Hebrew translations. These enterprises attracted dozens of writers and translators who eagerly joined Stybel and who, in turn, were handsomely rewarded for their efforts.

Because of mounting hardships in Russia in the wake of the October Revolution and the subsequent civil war, in 1919 the publishing company’s printing operations were transferred from Moscow to Warsaw. Stybel spent the rest of his life dividing his time between Copenhagen, Warsaw, and the United States, and he appointed Lachower to take charge of the company’s day-to-day affairs. Between 1919 and 1921, the company operated a New York branch under Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz’s management that published the Miklat (Shelter) monthly, and in 1921 the company opened new branches in Berlin and Palestine. Among Stybel’s larger projects during the 1920s were the expanded editions of works by both Berdyczewski and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, although the main focus remained on translated literature.

The collapse of Stybel’s business ventures and his deteriorating health led the publishing company to a standstill in the mid-1920s. The enterprise later recovered somewhat and continued to operate, primarily in Tel Aviv, until the outbreak of World War II. Over the years 1937–1938, Stybel tried to revive Poland’s dying Hebrew literature, and he reestablished the company’s Warsaw branch. In September 1939, he escaped from Warsaw a few days before the city was occupied, and spent the last years of his life in the United States. He is remembered as the person who, from the end of World War I, made a decisive contribution to the resurgence of Hebrew literature, and as being singularly responsible for enriching the Hebrew bookshelf with translations of the finest works of world literature.

Suggested Reading

Dania Amichay-Michlin, Ahavat Ish: Avraham Yosef Shtibel (Jerusalem, 2000); Nisan Turov, “Kavim li-demuto shel Shtibel,” Ha-Tekufah 32–33 (1947): 26–32; Yoḥanan Twersky, “Avraham Yosef Shtibel,” Ha-Tekufah 32–33 (1947): 11–25.



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler