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Goldin, Ezra

(1868–1915), Hebrew writer. Ezra Goldin was born in Luna, a town in the Grodno region. In 1886 he moved to Warsaw, and a year later published his first book, Shire no‘ar (Poetry of Youth). This was an anthology of both original and translated poems from Russian, with nationalist themes and emotional tones that were typical of Ḥibat Tsiyon poetry. He soon abandoned poetry and turned his attention to prose, publishing stories and articles in Hebrew and Yiddish in the local press.

In 1893 Goldin moved to Łódź, where he composed most of his literary works. His stories that were published in book form include Shekhol ve-almon (Bereavement and Widowhood; 1893), Em u-vat (Mother and Daughter; 1893), Li-Mekom Torah (To the Place of Torah; 1894), Kereaḥ mi-ka’n umi-ka’n (Bald from Both Sides; 1896), and Demon Yehudi (Jewish Demon; 1900). In 1896, he edited the literary anthology Ha-Zeman (The Time), which contained selections from the most important writers of that generation, including Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, and Y. L. Peretz.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Goldin stopped writing and worked in the weaving industry. After the outbreak of World War I, he fled Łódź before the city came under German occupation, and after a long and tortuous journey he arrived in Riga, where, a year later, he died penniless.

Goldin’s stories faithfully represent the historical and poetic crossroads of the period in which they were written, when the end of the Haskalah era met the budding modernist period of Hebrew literature. On the one hand they stridently criticize the lifestyle of Lithuanian Jews and denounce the idleness, hypocrisy, and also the dullness and cruelty that pervaded this environment. On the other hand, the stories depict rabbis and teachers as spiritual and noble men, and passionately describe beautiful Sabbaths and Jewish festivals that were celebrated in shtetls. A similar ambivalence is apparent in his portrayal of the secular European Enlightenment, whose advantages were weighed up against the dangers posed to the integrity of Jewish society.

Goldin’s writing alternates between the maskilic idiom (for example, he gives biblical names to shtetls) and realism, which would soon be adopted by Hebrew literature, and which manifests itself in his detailed descriptions of reality. His writing also exhibits a romantic and emotional perspective of reality, and shows a penchant for the exotic, the grotesque, and the mysterious (for instance in his story “Demon Yehudi” he illustrates the character of a demon created by Jews in their imagination).

Goldin’s crowning achievement, however, was his portrayal of characters who did not conform to the stereotype of Haskalah literature, and who were at the threshold of unique psychological complexity. A striking example of this type is the protagonist in Kereaḥ mi-ka’n umi-ka’n. The character, who fluctuates between the worlds of Torah scholarship and secular enlightenment, and who is forced at the end to relinquish his desire for true love in favor of a marriage of convenience, is the forerunner for the more complex characters of the “uprooted” school that became an important factor in Hebrew literature of the early twentieth century. Indeed, the most famous pioneers of this school of literature (Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, and Uri Nisan Gnessin) paid close attention to Goldin’s stories and gave him due credit in their critical essays.

Suggested Reading

Joseph Ḥayyim Brenner, “Nekrolog (‘Al Y. L. Kantor ve-‘Ezra’ Goldin),” in Ketavim, vol. 2, pp. 112–113 (Tel Aviv, 1977); Joseph Even, “Mavo’,” in Sipurim, by Ezra Goldin (Jerusalem, 1970), pp. 9–37; Getzel Kressel, “Goldin, ‘Ezra’,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 1, col. 417 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1965).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler