From Leksikon fun der
nayer Yidisher literatur
(Lexicon for the
New Yiddish Literature)
Samuel Niger and Jacob Shatzky, editors
New York: Congress for Jewish Culture,
1956-1981, Pages 514-516
Translated from the Yiddish by
Ruth Fisher Goodman
Yankev (Jacob) Dinezon
(1856 to August 29, 1919; 1859 according to J. E., 1852 according to The Book of Memories.)
He was born in New Zhager (perhaps a newly formed area) near Kovno in Lithuania. He studied in kheyder (Jewish elementary school) and in the yeshiva and was an avid reader. He was greatly influenced by two prominent advocates of the time: Hayyim Zak and Michel Gordin (1823-1890).
When Dinezon was twelve years old his father died. He was raised by his uncle, Isaac Eliashev in Mohilev near the Dnieper River.
His spiritual development was greatly influenced by the wife of the richest merchant in Mohilev, Horowitz, in whose household he taught Hebrew. He was sent to Vilna by the Horowitzes, where he met I. M. Dik who was with the Printers Romm. At that time, he already had articles published in Ha-Melitz (The Fine Talker/The Advocate) and in Smolenskin’s Ha-Shahar (The Dawn), where he assembled brochures: “Thunder and Lightning.”
He had brought the manuscripts of his first two romance novels to Vilna. The Effect of our Ancestors, (or a Play for Jewish Daughters, Storekeepers and Tavern Maids) and The Pleasant and Beloved, or The Dark Young Man. He was able to sell the first manuscript for a large honorarium, but the book was never published, probably because a wealthy Mohilever, who was a relative of the Vilna censor, recognized that the book portrayed his relative in a very negative light.
According to Sh. Niger, The Pleasant and Beloved, or The Dark Young Man was “The first long novel and the first sentimental novel written in Yiddish.”
It was a book with a moral published in 1877 and was so successful that it sold 10,000 copies. It was reprinted many times and was even dramatized on stage.
For a long time thereafter, Dinezon didn’t write. The reason was that he was in love with his student, Horowitz’s daughter. According to another version, the reason given was that Peretz and Smolenskin had come out with negative comments on Yiddish publications. At that time, along with other contemporaries, the view of Yiddish was looked down upon as a jargon suited only for the multitude of the uneducated. It would appear that he could not bring himself to continue to write in Yiddish.
At the end of 1885, after a short time in Kiev, Dinezon went to Warsaw where he met I.L. Peretz. This was an important date and a watershed date in his life. It is an important date in the history of Yiddish literature. The acquaintanceship developed into an intimate lifelong friendship.
Jewish writers in Warsaw at that time congregated in Dinezon’s apartment and he once again became active in writing. His article entitled, “An Answer to Professor Graetz—of Whom We Should Be Ashamed” appeared in Dos yudishes folks-blat (The Jewish People’s Paper). Since the negative perception of the Yiddish language was changing, this was a respected response to Professor Graetz’s attack on the Yiddish language.
He printed sketches and stories such as “You Should Eat Kreplekh (Dumplings)” in Sholem Aleichem’s Di yidishe folks-bibliotek (The Jewish People’s Library), “Yom Kippur,” and a long novel (390 pages) published in Vilna in 1890 entitled, A Stumbling Block in the Path, republished in Warsaw in 1902 and 1926 (492 pages), and in Moscow in 1938. Also a children’s book entitled, Little Avidor.
His third novel soon followed: Hershele in 1891 in Warsaw (200 pages) in 1895 and 1903, and in New York in 1905, and translated into Hebrew by S. Herberg in 1937.
His children’s book: Yosele was published in Warsaw in 1899 (188 pages); in New York in 1903, 1923, 1926, 1949, and in Warsaw in 1951. It was translated into Hebrew by H. D. Shachar for Mitspah publishing company.
Yosele was also included in the work Five Corpses [possibly Five Ghosts; the literal translation is: “the dead”] in Der Kvahl (The Well), a story in one part published in Vienna in 1920.
“Prologue (Supplement) to a Friend,” 1904; “Tuvele, A Story about Shavuoth”; “Kindersheh N’shomos” (“The Souls of Children”); The Crisis: A Story of the Lives of Merchants in Warsaw, 1905 (133 pages); Samson Solomon and His Horses, an allegory, Warsaw, 1909 (64 pages); Babylon in New York, 1909 (167-201 pages); and Egypt in New York (pages 105-166).
He also translated Gretz’s popular Jewish World History except for the first part where he reworked the first supplement, 1900. It was often reprinted.
After his death, Folik and his House published in Warsaw in 1926 (106 pages); Memories and Images published in Warsaw in 1928 (244 pages); All the Works of Jacob Dinezon, Warsaw, 1928-9 (244 pages).
He did not write after 1910. He had several unpublished manuscripts, such as Son of the People, or The Beautiful Rachel, a story in four parts; Stories Day By Day, a novel in two parts; You’re Dreaming, A Critical Analysis of Life Presented in a Dream, To Bless the Candles, Reb Berel The Great: A Story about Elementary School (A Kheyder Mayse), School Boys, A True Story, About Robinson Crusoe—Also My First Work, The Fabric Cutter, Stories, Yom Kippur Motifs, The Clock, The War, Book of Memories.
Also recalled, is a Yiddish work, Miriam, the Hasmonean and A Letter to An Author (in book form, never published.) He also translated sixty-five proverbs and expressions from the series by Chaim Nachman Bialik and Rovnitski’s The Book of Legends.
Jacob Dinezon was not too far ahead of Yiddish fiction writers. The novel was important for the Jewish reader then, and it is still interesting today for those studying the history of psychology of the Jewish public.
In addition he collaborated with others in: Der fraynd (The Friend), Di tsukumft (The Future), and was involved in just about every Yiddish work of that time.
His letters have great historical and cultural value; a small number were printed by Jacob Shatski in Der pinkes (The Record Book), Notebook 4 (pages 377-380, Vol. 2, 1929, No. 1, pages 61-69).
He received a stipend for working as an agent for Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers. In those years, especially after the death of I. L. Peretz during World War I, he stopped writing and spent most of his time working for children’s homes and schools.
His literary style was pure, and above all, it was a return to the enlightened style of writers like I. M. Dik and A. Z. Tsveyful (“Doubt”) (Sh. Niger)
Dinezon died in Warsaw [in 1919] and is buried beside I. L. Peretz.
Z. Reisen, Leksikon fun der yiddisher literatur, prese, un filologie (Lexicon of Yiddish Literature, Press, and Linguistics); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater, Vol. 1; D. Frishman, Tsukumft (Future), 1928; A. Reisen: Episodes in my Life, Vilna, 1929; Thoughts. Collected Works, Warsaw, 1929; S. Dubnow, From Jargon to Yiddish, Vilna (1929); N. Mayzel, Tsukumft, May, 1934; N. B. Minkov, YIVO Pages, June 25, New York, May-June, 1945, pp. 441-465; Sh. Niger, Storytellers and Novelists, NY, 1946; A. Mukduni, I. L. Peretz and the Yiddish Theater, 1949; Y.Y. Trunk, Poland, Vol. 5, 1949; B. Young, My Life in the Theater, 1950; M. Natish, YIVO Pages, Vol. 6, a dissertation on the same topic: YIVO-Archive, NY; S. Slutsky, A. Reisen, A Bibliography, NY, 1956, Nos. 4511, 4623, 4625; Ch. Sh. Kazdan, From Kheyder to TSYSHO (Central Yiddish School Organization), 1956, index; S. Rozshanski, Jacob Dinezon, The Mother Among the Classics, 1856-1919; V-A 1956, 131 pages and the African Jewish Newspaper, December 28th, 1956; N Maizel, The Press, Vol. A, September 5th, 1956; Y. Batashanski, The Press, August 31st, 1956. B. Z. Goldberg, The Day, January 27th, and Feb. 24th, 1957. I. Levine, NY, July 12th, 1957; D. Naimark, The Forverts (The Forward), NY, March 3, 1957; Ch. L. Fox, From the Nearest Limb, Vol. 3, NY, 1957, 200 pages; N. Maizel, Nearest and Dearest, NY, 1957. Dr. A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddisch Literature, p.161-163.