Dinezon the Letter-Writer

Der Moment (The Moment)

Sunday, September 7, 1919
Warsaw, Poland, p. 4
By S. Niger
Translated from the Yiddish by
Mindy Liberman


Dinezon wrote little during his last years and published even less. He occupied himself more with the works of others than with his own works, more with writers than with writing. We were barely able to pry out a chapter of memoirs from him . . .

And indeed, maybe he lost his taste for writing because of this, because people would call upon him only for his memoirs. This was evidence for him that his ability had played out in the eyes of the current generation, and they no longer expected anything other than recollections from him. However, he could not see himself as someone who had already accomplished all he could. He could not devote himself entirely to the past. He was too close to Peretz, to that passionate life force. He breathed too much of his friend’s excited life breath. The restless Peretz’s current caught him up as well, and he could not abandon life. He had to hold in his hand—if not carry—Peretz’s bright banner that had frozen in mid-flutter  . . . He became an activist, a leader, a representative . . . Perhaps he wrote quietly in his free moments, working with his old, leisurely pen that was not in a rush. The reader knew nothing of this. With great fuss at the cemetery, the large crowd accompanied Dinezon the Father of the Children and the Orphanages, Dinezon the addressee of the American funding, and Dinezon the community activist. Not Dinezon the writer, the quiet author of the generously overflowing stories about a child told for children, about the folk-child for folk-children . . . Dinezon’s literary life ended many years before his death. Perhaps in Peretz’s air, he himself felt that he was too grown up to be able to or wish to return to putting on the dear childish clothing from his earlier literary creations.

But within him was the literary energy, the love of the pen, that for him was innate and not snuffed out. It glowed within him like any living force—and sought an outlet, a means of expression.

And it found the outlet, the means of expression that was his salvation, in the letters that Dinezon wrote to his friends and acquaintances. He would sit down to write a letter, and the old zeal for writing, the not-stilled young love would awaken and catch on fire in his fingers—and in his soul. He would be unable to tear himself away from pen and paper. Exactly as in spoken conversation, you could sense his storyteller talent, silenced too soon, and his writer-imagination, unsatisfied because it was not realized. In the same way, in his letters, you could feel the eruption of his unfulfilled desire to write. His letters—they were works that often filled tens of pages, with wide, generous but dense script. His letters—this was his literary output during the last period of his life. If they were collected and published—and they must be collected and published—these thick volumes would become an integral and natural match for his volumes of memoirs and his youthful works.

In his letters lie generosity, leisureliness, spirit, and the naïve folkloric naturalness of his gift for communication with which all of his work is blessed. His letters contain not shallow water but an outpouring of a living spring that has opened. This is the passive surrender to the wish to “pour one’s heart out,” the passive womanly spirit, the “femininity” that is so characteristic of Jacob Dinezon’s whole life and output.

On the basis of his letters, we can characterize his entire output, and in the last stage of his life, when he wrote the letters, they were, I repeat, the essence of his literary works.

They must, therefore, be collected not only out of reverence for the person but also out of interest in the literary activity of the late writer.

But not only for this alone. The content of Dinezon’s novels is by now old-fashioned, exactly like the format. The content of his letters, however, is current because it is connected to the lives and writings of almost all the Yiddish authors, the young just as well as the old. Not only Dinezon’s biography but also the biographies of many other Yiddish writers will be found in Dinezon’s letters. We have unlimited material.

But only then, when they are published, will we be able to evaluate their literary-historical value, which is not less than their pure literary worth.

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