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Rabin, Yoysef

(1900–1987), Yiddish writer. Born in Grodno, Yoysef Rabin moved to Vilna in 1915 and studied at an evening school. As the leader of the underground Vilna Komsomol organization, he fled in 1920 to Moscow, where he worked as a Yiddish typesetter and studied at the Moscow Yiddish Printing School. In 1922, he was among the first recruits to the proletarian literary group lead by Khayim Gildin and Moyshe Taytsh.

Rabin’s poems and stories soon began appearing in periodicals such as the Moscow Komsomol journal Yungvald (Young Forest). His poem “Lenin,” published in 1924 in the Moscow daily Der emes, was written under the influence of Vladimir Maiakovskii’s poem “Vladimir Il’ich Lenin.” That same year, Rabin was among the organizers of the Yiddish section at the Moscow Association of Proletarian Writers.

Rabin studied in the Yiddish department of the Moscow Pedagogical Institute from 1927 to 1933. His prose, influenced by Avrom Reyzen and Dovid Bergelson, mirrored the political trends of his time. Rabin’s first collection of stories, Loyterung (Clarity; 1929), was devoted to the Communist Party purges. His first novel, Shvesterkinder (Cousins; 1930), reflected the atmosphere of the campaign against the “last remains of the Bund,” whereas the fight against Trotskyism became the central topic of his second novel, Buzi Dobin (1932).

Rabin headed the prose department of Der emes between 1933 and 1936. In 1934, he was among the 24 Yiddish delegates to the First Congress of Soviet Writers. On the eve of this Congress, together with Shmuel-Nisn Godiner and Yitskhok Nusinov, he edited the almanac Sovetish (Soviet)—an unnumbered volume that became the de facto first issue of the Moscow almanac Sovetish. The hero of Rabin’s story “Dray bagegenishn un a ferte” (Three Encounters and a Fourth One), published in that collection, had grown up under the ideological influence of a Russian Bolshevik who later helped him to survive a purge.

In 1936, Rabin was sent to Birobidzhan to head the writers’ organization of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Until his arrest in 1937 during the Stalinist purges, he was a member of the editorial boards of the Birobidzhan Yiddish journal Forpost (Outpost) and the Russian journal Dal’nii vostok (Far East). Released from the gulag during World War II, he fought against the Nazis. In his collection of stories Eshelonen geyen (Trains are Coming; 1948), he returned to the Birobidzhan theme: a demobilized Red Army soldier, the protagonist of the story “Mir lebn” (We Live), opts to go to Birobidzhan rather than to his home shtetl in Belorussia. This story, with the Russian title “Nema Liubich,” was later included in Rabin’s 1956 Russian collection, Povesti i rasskazy (Stories)—one of the first books by a Yiddish writer in the post-Stalinist USSR.

From the 1950s, Rabin showed little interest in contemporary themes, concentrating instead on works set before World War II or even in the nineteenth century. His most significant novels written in the post–World War II period are Ikh ze dikh, Vilne (I Can See You, Vilna; 1968), In farsheydene yorn (In Those Years; 1989, his last Yiddish work) and Bam Neman (At the Neman [River]; 1969). The latter two novels are set in pre–World War I Jewish Grodno, which he described (in his In farsheydene yorn) as “Kasrilevke [an epitome of a shtetl from the stories of Sholem Aleichem] in the size of a guberniia town.”

Rabin was spared during the post–World War II repression of Yiddish cultural activists. He lived in Moscow and joined the editorial board of Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland) in 1961, but resigned in 1972 following the journal’s anti-Zionist radicalization in the early 1970s. However, his books continued to appear in Moscow in Yiddish and Russian. In 1988, when Sovetish heymland opened up the hitherto forbidden topic of Stalinist repressions, it published Rabin’s novel In yenem yor (In That Year), set in 1937. Apart from a score of his Yiddish books, eight volumes of Russian translations of his works were published in Moscow, including V raznye gody (In Those Years; 1981), and Izbrannoe (Selected Works; 1984).

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, “Yiddish Literary Life in Soviet Moscow, 1918–1924,” Jews in Eastern Europe 42 [2] (2000): 25–55; Mikhail Krutikov, “Soviet Yiddish Literature of the 1960s–80s and Its Russian Translations,” in Yiddish in the Contemporary World, ed. Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, pp. 73–91 (Oxford, 1999).