David Frishman’s Essay on Jacob Dinezon

From Ale verk fun Dovid Frishman
(All the Work of David Frishman)
By David Frishman
Warsaw and New York: Lili Frishman Publications, 1938
Volume 4, page 72
(First published in the Haynt on 5 September 1919 after Dinezon’s funeral)
Translated from the Yiddish by Tina Lunson

 
The funeral was under way. Ten thousand, thirty thousand, fifty thousand people. Who knows how many? The streets were overflowing. And delegations and corporations without end. Almost the entire Jewish population of Warsaw. Many from outside the city, as well. And they were wearing ribbons: black and white, black and red, with the most various inscriptions.

Rain beat down on our heads from a dreary sky and I was the only one walking close beside the hearse through the mud. And remarkably, if my thoughts strayed and I forgot for a moment whose funeral this was, I looked around to see if I could see Dinezon here too, because I wanted to say something to him.

And again, remarkably, I was struck by the thought: What would happen if Dinezon suddenly came out into the street and encountered such a huge funeral and wondered whose it was, and how he would feel when he realized that it was his own? He would certainly raise his shoulders and be amazed and astounded. No, this is some kind of joke that a bunch of pranksters have pulled off.

He never thought that he was a first-class writer. Anyway he only wrote a few books and maybe they were not so great. And he was not so enthusiastic about his community work, either. He just did what any person who was not totally spoiled must do. According to the familiar style of community activity, he lacked the sensationalism and the overblown gesture, the talking up of his causes, and the pressing himself upon the rich and powerful.

He always spoke quietly, just as he had always written quietly. He was not so much a community activist as a detail activist. That is a type that is so rare and so—quiet.

Oh, poor quiet man! In your quietude you did not know that the world was so shrill and making of tumult, and would also make a tumult of the funeral of such a quiet man. And something else you didn’t know: that a time would come when a man did not go to the eastern wall, but that the eastern wall came to him. It’s happening gradually. The seat of honor is gradually becoming so spare and empty and, willingly or unwillingly, you will one fine morning see how the line has moved and is coming to you. Suddenly you are standing at the front.

I knew him for more than thirty years. Once when I was in Zhager and had only just met him, he hung onto me for dear life. That was his nature. He always had some one to whom he gave his whole mind and thought. He did not take, but he gave. He always had to have someone whom he idolized and sacrificed for. He did not demand, he demanded nothing, he just offered himself.

He had something of the feminine in him, something womanly. Even more: not just womanly but a very special motherly quality. He had to love and to care for. That same soft and tender quality that poured from his womanly face and from his small, transparent, womanly hands, was there in his entire being those thirty-odd years ago. I noticed that trait in him from the beginning. He had the need to attach himself to a person and to coddle him and win his favor and live for him, exactly like a little girl who has the need to play with dolls and so reveals the future mother.

I was first introduced to him by Goldfaden. At the time Goldfaden was the one, the strong man with whom the tender Dinezon was enamored. He showered him with attention. He concerned himself with him and with his troupe like a mother, and he took care of his affairs and rented his apartments and arranged his performances.

At performances Goldfaden would proudly announce: This is the creator of “der shvartser yungermantshik” (The Dark Youngman). To my own shame I must confess that I had not read that book. But Dinezon did not hold it against me. It was not in his nature to hold a grudge. He brought it to me and I read it, but of course it was not to my taste.

At the time I already had much different demands of an author. I looked for the writer, the artist, and the thinker in the work. I had to have intelligence. Morality alone was not enough for me, and a moralist who affected the tear-ducts had no place with me. But Dinezon, the good, sweet Dinezon, did not hold that against me either. It was not in his nature to take offense.

But the love and motherly concern that he poured on my predecessors rubbed off on me too. His approach was like that of a warm-hearted sister. He had to know where I had eaten lunch and where I stayed at night. And if I went away on a short trip, I got letters, eight pages long, regularly every other day. And what did he not want to know in those letters, and in what part of my private life was he not interested!

Literature is for someone of that nature with such a great urge to love, like something essential to life. So essential that he read me, one after another, all his novels. Even negef and Hershele and Yosele were lying ready in his desk. It seems that at the time he had not written anything new except for a few small articles. He was more proud of those recent things than he was of his earlier work.

But was he really a folks-writer (people’s-writer)? I do not believe so. The words “folks-shrayber,” “folks-shtimlekh,” “folks-erhitser” (plain-people’s writer, people’s voice, people’s defender) were not in the dictionaries of the time, and certainly not in Dinezon’s vocabulary. They came about later. And they are beginning to be tossed around here by those who have no concept of what they are.

But the main thing is and remains the beautiful nature of this person: the need to love and to devote oneself to another person. After Goldfaden I took that place, and after me Sholem Aleichem; after Sholem Aleichem, Mendele; after Mendele—Peretz.

Peretz was a too-strong, too outspoken, dominating character—and Dinezon gave himself over completely. He ceased to exist for himself. The river licked out the great fire. Dinezon stopped writing completely. He was satisfied with telling Peretz his stories, and Peretz writing them down. This is psychologically one of the most interesting instances of the feminine nature. And when Peretz was no more, he went and became the father of real children. Better said, he became the mother of them. He established schools and devoted himself entirely to the children. That, too, is psychologically, the most natural and essential of responses.

He was also a kind of mother to our literature, with a big bunch of keys hanging from his apron, a proprietor busy in every corner. He took care of the business side of Peretz’s literary activity, he was Sholem Aleichem’s guardian. He shouldered the business issues of Mendele’s books, he took care of Sholem Asch, of Weissenberg, and hundreds of others, and no one asked him to do it, he took it on himself. It was his nature. He was never happy with me, since he could not be the liaison between me and my publishers. He needed it to be his business.

Did the huge crowds, the tens of thousands that followed his hearse, know what this rare type of person was? The rain, indolent and comfortless, beat down.

Delegations and organizations kept coming. They were wearing ribbons. The huge crowd that gathered round knew that their first-class writer was being taken to his eternal rest.

Akh, no, he was much more than a first-class writer: he was a person who had the need to pour out his woman-like tenderness on others, he would have paid for love, if only people would let him bring forth his merchandise.

His last acts of love were to the poor children in the schools.

(Note: David Frishman (1859–1922) was a popular and prolific Jewish writer, poet, editor, and literary critic during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This essay first appeared in the Yiddish newspaper, Haynt (Today), two days after Jacob Dinezon’s funeral. It was later republished in Frishman’s collected works.)

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