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Tchernowitz, Shemu’el

(1879–1929), journalist and Zionist activist. Shemu’el Tchernowitz was born in Shebez, in the Vitebsk region of Belorussia. While studying at the Kovno yeshiva, he established a close relationship with Shemu’el Ya‘akov Rabinowitz, a rabbi and one of the first religious Zionists. With Rabinowitz’s patronage, Tchernowitz was able to pursue a career as a public activist by serving as secretary of the regional Zionist unions of Vilna and Vitebsk.

In 1897, Tchernowitz began to write for Ha-Melits, and in 1903 he moved to Warsaw, where he was secretary of the ‘Olam katan children’s weekly, published by Tushiyah. At the same time, he became a contributor to Ha-Tsefirah under the pseudonym Sfog (Sponge). Between 1904 and 1906, he worked in Vilna as an editor in Ha-Zeman. He also contributed articles to the Yiddish press, including Di velt (1900–1901), Der tog (1904), Yudishe tsaytung (1909), and Di yudishe vokh (1912). In 1910, he returned to Warsaw and served as an editor of the renewed Ha-Tsefirah newspaper, and in 1914, he published a monograph about the Bene Mosheh (Sons of Moses) society that had been founded by Ahad Ha-Am.

At the outbreak of World War I, Tchernowitz was uprooted from Warsaw and was forced to wander in Russia, including a two-year stay in Siberia. After the 1917 revolution he lived in Moscow, where he coedited the Ha-‘Am newspaper with Mosheh Glickson, Bentsiyon Katz, and Mosheh Kleinman. From there he moved to Kiev, where he edited the Yiddish weekly Dos idishe folk. Returning to Warsaw in 1921, he contributed articles to the Hebrew Ha-Tsefirah and to the Yiddish Haynt and Moment.

At the end of 1921, Tchernowitz immigrated to Palestine, where he served as secretary of the National Council in Jerusalem, contributed to the Ha-Arets newspaper, and dispatched his writings to the Yiddish press in Poland (Moment) and the United States (Tog and other publications). In 1925, he settled in Tel Aviv. In 1927, he released a collection of his essays, ‘Im shaḥar (At Dawn), containing just a small sample of his prolific writings.

Tchernowitz’s journalistic and public activities reflect the two pillars upon which his life was built: Zionism and modern Hebrew literature. He was one of a select group that constructed and maintained Hebrew-language literary centers in Eastern Europe. Testimony to his involvement in this group are his penetrating sketches combined with personal reminiscences of the writers of that generation, including Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Ahad Ha-Am, Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, Uri Nisan Gnessin, Yesha‘yahu Bershadsky, and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner. Additionally, his journalistic pieces reflect his intense Zionist beliefs; he attested (in his introduction to ‘Im shaḥar) that he “had the privilege to be one of the exponents of the concealed emotion, which, after the emergence of Zionism, burst upon the scene with all its might and glory, and left its mark upon the whole generation. From then on, it became for me and my colleagues the focus of our thought and our only savior.” This perspective guided, for example, his criticism of the environment that discouraged the fostering of an artistic aptitude that in turn could reinforce Jewish national culture, and his denunciation of Jews who continued to be spellbound by the Bolshevik Revolution and in so doing abandoned their own distinct nationalist aspirations.

Tchernowitz’s brother was the researcher and writer Ḥayim Tchernowitz (known as Rav Tsa‘ir). Tchernowitz’s daughter was the Hebrew children’s-book writer Yemimah Tchernowitz-Avidar.

Suggested Reading

Getzel Kressel, “Tshernovits, Shemu’el” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, cols. 43–44 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967); “Tshernovitsh, Shmuel,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 4, col. 163 (New York, 1961); Jacob Tsur, Shaḥarit shel etmol (Tel Aviv, 1984), written by Tchernowitz’s son.



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler