Jacob Dinezon – Chapter Nine

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

Chapter Nine
Did Dinezon Produce Little
in His Later Years?
Not true that after Yosele Dinezon didn’t produce any important works. — Why was so little published? — Remaining writings, novels, and translations. — New themes, greater breadth. — The person of dignity who doesn’t want to fall. — Dinezon’s aid to writers and schools. — Thousands of letters, a treasure for the history of Yiddish literature. — Anonymous and hidden deeds in the names of others.

The opinion became widespread that Jacob Dinezon through his friendship with I. L. Peretz became so engaged in community concerns and foreign literary works that he barely had time to devote to his own writing.

In general, Dinezon did not make a living from his pen. Nor was he involved in bookkeeping, nor helping his sister in business, nor was he engaged in collecting announcements for newspapers. Yet the quiet, modest, and private Dinezon was basically an active person.

He loved his writing desk. Writing came easily to him. As busy as he was, he felt the need to express himself on paper. And as bashful as he was—it’s likely that he remained a bachelor due to this bashfulness—he nevertheless had a weakness for giving readings of his writings for friends and even for certain writers with whom he was not yet close.

Therefore, the matter is not that simple regarding Dinezon’s having published little in his later years. That he wrote is a fact. When he died—August 29, 1919—bundles of unpublished writings were found in his room. Among them were two long novels: Am Habonim, or The Beautiful Rokhel with four parts and 750 pages, and Stories of Every Day in two parts and 508 pages.[1]

They were first published in Jacob Dinezon’s eleven-volume edition which was printed in 1937.

Therefore, if Dinezon ceased to publish in the last years of his life, it was not because he ceased to write. The reasons are various. Rather than with Dinezon, they have to be sought in the background, the times, and the attitude toward Yiddish literature in the 20th century.

*    *    *    *    *

There is an accepted idea that Yosele is “Dinezon’s swan song.”

The critic of Yiddish literature who sorted the works and values for our literary history, so warmly acclaimed Yosele and spoke so reservedly about his other novels that the impression was formed that only with Yosele did Dinezon transcend his time.

In regards to the visibility and popularity with the general reader, the impression was formed that the beloved author of The Dark Young Man stopped writing entirely after 1899. If he published any more novels, it must be believed that they only demonstrated Dinezon’s writerly downfall.

However, this is not correct. Just as other opinions about Dinezon are not correct.

*    *    *    *    *

No, Jacob Dinezon didn’t stop at Yosele. In the works that were published later in his lifetime, there are more than a few mature pages that are important and characteristic not only of him, but also of his era.

Two of the books, Falik and His House and The Crisis, speak even more to the hearts of present day readers than Yosele because they are thematically more interesting and fresher for our time. They contain artistic moments of both a higher level and especially of greater scope than Yosele. The sentimental writer comes across differently in them, not only in the travails of the suffering child, but also in the lives of adults who struggle not to fall.

No, it is not correct that Dinezon produced little in his later years. It is even less true that Yosele is “Dinezon’s swan song.”

*    *    *    *    *

Dinezon’s creativity should be appreciated not just on the basis of the works that remained unpublished after his death, but also in those that he reworked after their publication because he considered it important to bring to them such changes that resulted from his development and new attitude toward literature.

Dinezon’s creativity needs to be observed not only in his own work. He had a hand in the overall Yiddish literary atmosphere. He helped mold the attitude toward the Yiddish language, literature, and culture.

Even his translation of Gretz’s Jewish History was not merely a translation. It was a manifestation of a will that could only exist in one who had a strong nationalist attitude toward the Yiddish language and Yiddish culture. Gretz had asked that his work not be “desecrated” by translating it into Yiddish. Therefore, Jacob Dinezon intentionally did not heed him and translated it anyway!

The softhearted Dinezon, as we see, was not some “weak character.” His socio-cultural work in partnership with I. L. Peretz, and later with others after Peretz’s death, especially for the benefit of the children’s homes in Warsaw, was a creative endeavor.

Just as his correspondence was a creative endeavor, as were the thousands upon thousands of letters to writers and social activists spread out over different countries. Dinezon expended an enormous amount of energy in helping and stimulating countless Yiddish writers to continue with their work.

Many of Jacob Dinezon’s thousands of letters contain sparks of creativity. Some of them are as moving as his stories. They describe people and situations which are interesting in and of themselves. In addition, most of these thousands of letters provide an endless fount of history about Yiddish literature, especially in characterizing a large number of writers and the benefit of their many works.

Instead of revealing his creativity before the people and witnesses, Jacob Dinezon used an ocean of creativity in a hidden manner—behind the names of others. But in his literary activities, he also demonstrated that his creativity did not stop at Yosele.


[1]  Zalman Reisen, Lexicon, Vol. 1, p. 707.

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