Jacob Dinezon – Chapter Eight

JACOB DINEZON
The Mother Among Our Classic Yiddish Writers
By Shmuel Rozshanski
Translated from the Yiddish by
Miri Koral

Chapter Eight
Dinezon’s Arrangements to Resettle
in Argentina With I. L. Peretz
The new rhythm in Dinezon’s life. — Between Warsaw and Kiev: without a home. — Dinezon persuades Peretz to settle in the capital of Poland. — The plan to travel to Argentina. — The arrangements with Baron Hirsch’s representative, David Feinberg. — With the ICA (Jewish Colonization Association). — The idea of establishing a newspaper in Argentina to protect the immigrants. — Why did nothing come of it? — Dinezon’s plan in 1890 and 1892. — The letter to Goldfaden. — The long-established resident who wanted to travel the world. — When Yiddish newspapers ceased being published in Russia, Dinezon and Peretz want to publish a Yiddish newspaper in the young and small Argentina.

In the last decade of the 19th century, in the years when he created his most important novels, Hershele and Yosele, the placid Jacob Dinezon led an intensive life. For the sentimental romantic who had the reputation for being a bashful person, the horizons of his private life broadened more quickly than those of his social life. By distancing himself from Sholem Aleichem and drawing closer to Peretz, his life achieved another rhythm, fresh problems, new interests, and a more elevated creativity.

In 1889, he began to correspond with Peretz. In 1890, he published Familiar Images of Leon Peretz. In 1891, in partnership with Peretz, he published two volumes of Jewish Library, which occupied an important place in the development of Yiddish literature. And in 1892, they both had in mind to “actually” leave together  for Argentina.

During this time, Dinezon didn’t have his own home; he remained a bachelor, and couldn’t manage to settle down anywhere. He traveled from Kiev to Warsaw and from Warsaw to Kiev. But as a result of befriending Peretz, he obtained a brother in spirit. Each oriented the other even from afar, and each obeyed the other more and more.

Although Dinezon couldn’t yet decide in which city to reside, he convinced Peretz to leave his native town of Zamość and resettle in the capital of Poland. And Peretz “eventually allowed himself to be persuaded by Dinezon.”[1] This was in the beginning of 1890. Dinezon was then living in Warsaw until 1892.

In these two years, their friendship established deep roots. And, of course, it was difficult for them to part. Dinezon, however, had to live in Kiev from 1892 to 1896; their wretched incomes forced them to be far apart from one another. This was truly so difficult for them to endure that as soon as they parted, they immediately began formulating a plan on how to meet again; not just to be together, but also to work together on a mutual idea. This mutual idea was Argentina. Together they would resettle in Argentina!

Argentina at that time was on the agenda of Jewish public opinion.[2] Though in Peretz’s collected writings there is no larger work about Argentina, one can accept as certain that the brochure “Argentina” that appeared anonymously in 1891 and drew a sharp critique in the journal Voskhod, was written by Peretz, who revealed this in a letter to a fellow townsperson in Zamość.[3] As we don’t yet have Dinezon’s letters to Peretz in 1892, we must be satisfied at least with a collection of Peretz’s letters to Dinezon, which address the plan about moving to Argentina.

That was a time when Dinezon didn’t have any livelihood in Kiev, and Peretz had only a partial livelihood in Warsaw. Dinezon was probably the one who suggested the “Argentina plan.” Peretz replied to his letters (after describing how badly distributed was the Jewish Library and “The Little Books”):

“If you have in Kiev a lot of acquaintances and they want to help you, then they should do one of these two things: either give you letters of recommendation to Mr. Feinberg who is at the helm of the committee in Petersburg asking him to give you a position, or encouraging them to send you to Argentina along with a publisher or a newspaper. For it’s very important to have an influence on those who arrive there in order that ‘people on the side’ not lead them astray.”[4]

David Feinberg was Baron Hirsch’s man in Russia. He represented the colonizing work in Argentina. Therefore, when Peretz referred to a “position” through Feinberg, the position was also associated with the idea of leaving for Argentina. The ICA (Jewish Colonization Association) was then only a venture preparing to undertake new plans for Argentina. Peretz understood that having “a position” that was associated with the ICA would be of value to Dinezon, especially if the ICA “sends him to Argentina along with a publisher or a newspaper,” because Peretz had in mind a great societal goal: “It is after all very important to have an influence on those who come there in order that ‘people on the side’ not lead them astray.”

Peretz was talking about “you,” Dinezon, that is, but is also referring to himself. “Two paupers are we,” he writes in a subsequent letter to Dinezon, “and we help each other, as much as we’re able.” And he clarifies:

“You say in your letter that I need to make an effort in this matter of Argentina and not you. So believe me, my friend, that I can accomplish nothing. You don’t believe me that in a matter that relates to me alone, my own self, I can accomplish nothing and am a helpless person in budging myself. Since childhood I learned to do things for others, and I didn’t tend to my own garden and can’t tend to it now. Understandably, if you happen to get a position, as I wrote, then we both depart and we work together; I wholeheartedly permit you to speak for the two of us, but don’t hope for advice from me, nor any deeds.[5]

What resulted from these arrangements? Why did nothing come from the plans to leave for Argentina? Who was responsible? All these questions remain unanswerable. Perhaps, if Dinezon’s letters are found, this will be ascertained. It does have importance. It is especially interesting in relation to the history of the Jewish settlement in Argentina.

*    *    *    *    *

It turns out that Dinezon had the idea even earlier of emigrating. This was at the start of 1890. We know this from Goldfaden’s letter to Dinezon from Paris:

“When I read your letter,” wrote Abraham Goldfaden on May 12, 1890, “I was frightened at first. I thought that you’re leaving already, but when I read further that it will yet take a few months, I was able to relax. What ‘breeze might still blow’ until then can’t be known, and if until then we will still see Paris. You will certainly have to travel through Paris, first of all to visit with us beforehand, which will be very important for you; secondly, from Havre it’s closer, and the passage by ship is shorter to America; thirdly, one can manage to obtain a free ticket here.”[6]

Regarding this letter, Nachman Meizel observed: “J. Dinezon at that time planned to travel to Argentina. Accompanying him would have been I. L. Peretz.”

Here Meizel is certainly making a mistake. Dinezon’s decision in 1890 to leave for America was known to be associated with the United States and not with Argentina. And certainly I. L. Peretz had no connection to Dinezon’s plan. This can be ascertained through several facts:

Firstly, the beginning of the Jewish settlement in Argentina is considered to be August 14, 1889, when the first group of Jews arrived in Buenos Aires with the ship “Yuezer” bound for agricultural settlements.[7] And secondly, David Feinberg only later became Baron Hirsch’s representative in Russia where the ICA received permission from the Tsarist government to work officially in 1893. And there are other moments of not as much note which give the basis for being certain that Dinezon in 1890 couldn’t have been thinking of emigrating along with I. L. Peretz, let alone to Argentina. Why would they have needed at that time to establish a Yiddish newspaper in Argentina when there weren’t any Jews there yet?

The idea of journeying into the wide world was generally a familiar one for Dinezon, though he lived his entire life in Russia and left only for short periods. But he did do a lot of planning. First, he wanted to travel to Breslov to study to be a Rabiner (a rabbi), then he wanted to travel to Vienna to be close to his beloved student; and then in 1892, he considered leaving for Argentina with Peretz with the help of the ICA to publish a Yiddish newspaper for the new immigrants. It wasn’t coincidental that Dinezon wrote many pamphlets about distant lands and peoples—he wanted to know them and help others know them as well.

This was a period when in all of Russia no Yiddish newspaper had been published for two years, while in the United States the initiative to produce Yiddish publications had been actively adopted. During this time, Dinezon and Peretz had the ambition to travel to Argentina with the stated objective of publishing a Yiddish newspaper.

Had their plan come to fruition, one can imagine that I. L. Peretz wouldn’t have played the colossal role he did for Yiddish literature living in the capital of Poland. Buenos Aires, however, would have undoubtedly played a much greater role in the Jewish world, and especially with regards to Yiddish culture.

There was little that prevented their paths from being entirely different.

The placid Jacob Dinezon, even in stillness and modesty, was amazingly active.


[1]  Peretz’s brother, Jonah Joshua, tells about this in his memoir, in the NY Forverts, April 20, 1930, cited in S. Niger’s Yitzhok Leibush Peretz, p. 197.
[2]  Samuel Rozshanski, “I. L. Peretz’s Approach Toward Argentina,” in Argentina IWO-Writings, Vol. 1, 1941, pp. 117-136, also in Spanish, as a brochure, “I. L. Peretz y su inquetud por la Argentina,” published by the Committee for Peretz-Celebrations in 1945, appearing in two printings of 1,000 and 5,000 copies.
[3]  To David Folk, November 19, 1891. In I. L. Peretz’s Letters and Speeches, translations and commentary by Nachman Meizel, Kletski Publishers, Vilna, 1929, pp. 50-55.
[4]  Ibid., pp. 61-70.
[5]  Ibid., pp. 79-84.
[6]  “Abraham Goldaden’s Letters to Jacob Dinezon,” with commentary by Nachman Meizel, in The Jewish World, Warsaw, 1928, Vol. 4, p. 112.
[7]  Fifty anos de colonizacion judia en la Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1939, p. 330.

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