By S. L. Tsitron (Zitron)
From Dray literarishe doyres:
zikhroynes vegn Yidishe shriftshteler
(Three Literary Generations:
Memories of Yiddish Authors)
Shreberk Sales Distribution
Warsaw Central Organization, Poland
Translated from the Yiddish by
Transcribed and Edited by
Robin Bryna Evans
Volume 1: Memories
To the Reader:
Somewhere Goethe had a saying, “Whoever wants to understand the poet must go to that poet’s land.” The object of this is that in order to delve properly into the artistic being of the poet, in order to grasp properly the full meaning of his creative strengths, in order to have a very proper grasp of the inside strength that has driven him to his poetic calling, it is not enough to have only read it, that which he has written, and been versed in his works. In addition to that, you have to exactly learn the environment that the poet lived in and created in. In addition to that, you need to know the circle of people that this poet moved in and which, upon him to a certain degree, consciously or unconsciously, how much the pull of that issue influenced the people of the world, who interested themselves not only in the literature but also the creators.
It has been quite a while since Goethe’s quote. They held Goethe’s maxim as a great truth when single monographs and entire books were written. Not only about books, but about their writers. In addition to that, they used different biographic and memorabilia material through which all sides become illuminated, and the writer, right along with that, also studied the dynamic spiritual strengths, the driving of the pen of their creations. These particular materials get carefully selected and prepared ahead of time for the biography, and after that, for the literary historian.
With us for the time being, that issue is quite different. We have whatever books about literature that we use, we have critical reviews, and also entire works about books from these and those very respected writers, but with us, there are no works, even no bigger or longer monographs about the writers themselves: the creators of our literature. In addition, we don’t even have exact, well-drawn out biographies of our greatest and most meaningful folk writers like Abramovitsh, Peretz, or Sholem Aleichem. That which we do have on this topic is very poor and constricted, and can in no way serve whatever you might call a support mechanism for future literary research.
This particular aspect of historic literary research is virgin territory for us, an untilled field. It’s no longer because of a scarcity of materials due to poverty, or not enough news or issues about the life of our writers, about their various material and spiritual life experiences. We are missing the interest that you see by many respectable people, to collect and gather memoirs about very important and famous writers, and to mark down the conversations, which we had the opportunity to have with them, about various issues and various cases. We don’t seem to take into consideration that at one time in the future, this might be the only key to the critical psychological research from this one or that one of a very important and epoch-making writer—one who had a great influence on the entire developmental path of Yiddish literature.
With this particular publication of my own experiences, I am making, if I am not in error, the first attempt on this memoir plane of Yiddish literature. My experiences have taken in approximately twenty of the greatest and most important Yiddish writers; the majority of them had meaning not only for their own time. The biggest part of the occurrences that I am going to relate I myself experienced, and the rest were related to me by the most appropriate sources upon which I could depend. The majority of my memoirs, especially the dates and the facts, were all completed by my memory that never, up until now, has led me astray.
There might be some readers who think that the drawing out of every detail of my memory for wide-open publication is not interesting. But according to my opinion, the smallest and the seemingly most unimportant fact, add or append the biography for the literary critic, an entirely new and sharply pertinent characteristic to the moral and ethical physiognomy (countenance) of the writer that we are talking about. This was to me, the only criteria for putting together and publishing these memoirs.
Written the end of March 1920.
Jacob Dinezon (b. 1856 – d. 1919)
In the middle 1870s, Jacob Dinezon was the most popular of Yiddish writers. His Der shvartser yungermantshik was on the table book in almost every Jewish house. But three or four years later, Shomer, Bookbinder, and others of their ilk began to flood the Yiddish street with their literary trash. Little by little, Dinezon began to lose his popularity until it almost got to the point that his name might be entirely forgotten.
But at the beginning of the 1890s, Dinezon’s name again swam to the surface among the Jewish populace, but this time, not so much because of himself, but because of Peretz, his most intimate friend. From then on, they didn’t speak about Dinezon by himself, but as the closest friend of Peretz. Peretz became the sun, and Dinezon became the accompanying star. Now even after his death, in the center of all the published necrologies and memoirs, they focus on Peretz. Whoever said anything about Dinezon, concentrated their narratives around the persona of Peretz. The impression wins out that before the nineties, Dinezon was a blank slate, but in truth, that is not the way it was. Even without taking him into account as the first Yiddish novelist, Dinezon was regarded as an interesting man to those who knew him well.
I, who first got acquainted with Dinezon through letters and then personally, found just the opposite. The years before Warsaw, and the first three years that he came to Warsaw, Dinezon was much more interesting, original, and individual in a number of ways. He made a very special impression with the contrast of his personality: on one side, softness and sincerity were the main characteristics of his personality expressed in the forever honey-sweet smile on his lips and, from the other side, a kind of stubborn concentration on himself under a melancholy mood. I must note here that under Peretz’s influence, Dinezon became talkative, lively, and openhearted.
I remember him very well when he was still very stingy with words and listened more than he talked and went into deep thought and then would awake as if from a dream. I particularly remember Dinezon in his normal measure of speech when he got into a conversation about Mohilev. Mohilev was the only subject that he liked to return to at any opportunity and about which he spoke with unique interest and desire. It was within him quite easy to notice that he did not want to forget Mohilev, that it was baked deeply into his heart. And this was not a wonder at all because Mohilev was the cradle and grave of Dinezon’s lost dreams of his youth and his youthful hopes that vanished in a cloud of smoke.
In Mohilev, Dinezon experienced and overcame his deepest loss, which left marks on him alone, when much later, it was smoothed over and almost unnoticed by him. There was a time, rarely, once in a while, when you heard Dinezon talking about Mohilev. In addition, on a smaller scale, a second city of which he often talked about was Kiev. Also, Kiev was rich with experiences, but the life experiences were of a completely different sort and not as tragic as Mohilev. This particular difference in the life experiences was easily recognizable by the tone with which he spoke of these cities and their issues. When he was speaking about Mohilev, he showed a kind of peace or calm. Which, in time, sometimes passed over into a mood of pathos. The Kiev impressions and influences on him resulted in a nervous anger and very strong embitterment. I don’t know if Dinezon’s personal life experiences were marked down anywhere. Even to say that in his writing Zichroynes (Memories), it seems that he didn’t do anything more than a little bit of those experiences of his childhood years that he published in Der Pinkes (The Chronicle) and Der Yud (The Jew). He did not write any more than that.
As I knew Dinezon, he was from that class of people that kept certain special fenced off corners of their past in the “holy of holies,” their inner sanctum where they are not particularly excited about letting in a stranger’s glance. I am not confident or sure in this instance if he even made an exception for Peretz. I figure that now, after Dinezon’s death, while he becomes no longer an individual and goes into the history of our literature and culture, that we can—not only can, but must—lift the curtain, which up until now, was hidden from the world, and reveal that which our folk writer, who was so beloved by the people, carried for his entire life in the depths of his soul.
We need to do this in order to give the future critic/psychologist the key to the understanding of Dinezon as a great powerful moral personality, who certainly had an influence on the very essence and development of the literary activities of his time. In the chapters to follow, I will relate more characteristic episodes of Dinezon’s personal life experiences. These are facts that I heard at various opportunities from people who knew Dinezon very well from his youth or experienced for themselves. In addition to that, I find it necessary to bring forth a couple of very important notes from his biography.
When he was twelve years old, his father died. He was a true scholar, and in the last years, the fallen leader of a household. At that time, his parents lived in Nay Zager in the Kovno Gubernia, which was well known for the people who wrote holy books and were wise and well educated. Dinezon got a very solid orthodox education. He already had gone through a couple of teachers, and he could read very well and interpret the Gemara and commentaries on the Talmud.
Dinezon says himself in his memoirs that he was beginning to develop an interest in writing. After his father’s death, an uncle on his mother’s side, Isaac Eliashev was his name, brought him to Mohilev on the Dnieper River. Eliashev was a God-fearing Jew, but not a stranger to outside wisdom, and especially basic mathematics, and was famous in the city for being a mathematician. For the first time, his talented young nephew was put into a cheder with a severe melamed, famous for his hairsplitting interpretations and a very sharp brain. If there was a place in the city where you could find a child prodigy, he went to this Rav Abba. Dinezon was considered to be one of this teacher’s best students and among the best boys of Mohilev and had a very good reputation for being studious.
When he was seventeen years old, he was studying by himself in Shmerl Zuckerman’s beit midrash (House of Study), who was a scholar of the highest degree. He was also very rich and was famous throughout the entire neighborhood as a very generous man and a man of charity. He especially befriended poverty-stricken scholars and good learners. His house served as a gathering place for prestigious Jews of all kinds. Famous all over Lithuania was his great library for all kinds of Jewish books, which contained very rare and special things.
Zuckerman had the very first say in the community, and he was the first one to administer the beit midrash. He was also the main man in all organizations and social institutions in such a way that without him, nothing got done in the city. Also, as a fine example of a Jewish woman was his wife, Meyrl Hatavetcheh, and that is how she was called by the people after the city of Hatavetch from the Minsker Gubernia, from where she came. Or you could call her Meyrl Sharlatova according to the girl’s family name.
This Shmerl Zuckerman built at his expense a beautiful house of study where the best and brightest of the city sat and learned. These particular young people were his intimates from the people who came into his house, an example of which was his wife. These people always had the easiest entrance to his library. As said before, Dinezon was able to study in Zuckerman’s house of study, and to this rare privilege, his name helped him become known to the city’s scholars.
Dinezon became a frequent visitor to Zuckerman’s house and especially to his library. Being a great lover of books, Dinezon really threw himself into this library with great lust. Not quite seventeen years of age, he had already read the Kosri, Maimonides’ The Guide to the Perplexed, and other philosophical tomes of like vintage. They had a very big impact on him in the sense that he began to think about various life occurrences of the day and before and to dig into the old and new historical problems as much as he was able to do according to that time of rather poor spiritual development and thinking ability. At that time, by happenstance, Dinezon conversed with a young man from Zuckerman’s study house who gave him, for the first time to read quietly, the new Hebrew books about the Haskalah. The works of Mordecai Aaron Ginzburg, Abraham Mapu, Kalman Shulman, and Peretz Smolenskin’s Ha- Shahar (The Dawn).
These particular works made a very large impression on him. The result of this was a total rebellion process of turning upside down the traditional beliefs and all the things he believed before. He began to think about his future and about his goals in life, for which he must prepare.
The first thing he decided to do was leave Zuckerman’s house of study and to remove himself from Zuckerman’s environment in general, and to begin to take in a more worldly education. But not as quickly as you can say it, Dinezon was able to make his decision come to fruition.
He had left his uncle Elishaev long before because he didn’t want to become a burden, and he was making a living from tutoring respectable young men in the Talmud. In addition, he had to remain in Zuckerman’s beit midrash in order not to lose the financial support of his sponsorship. He, however, used the time to make big strides in excelling in the Russian language and other studies.
A short time went by, and Dinezon became a reporter for Ha-Magid about smaller happenings in Mohilev, and a couple of times, he tried to write in Ha-Melitz. From this, he established himself in Mohilev as a very knowledgeable man in Hebrew. This gave him the opening to get students in order to teach them the Hebrew language. At that time, he left Zuckerman’s house of study. He, however, didn’t totally break off the relationship with Zuckerman, a little bit because of the library and a little bit because, even though he was a Maskil with Maskil ideas (a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment), it was difficult to show it openly in public.
In this particular issue, he was in contrast to the other young Maskils of that generation. Before the Maskilim even began to crystallize and form very sharply with a valuable merit, when it was still raw and not fully baked, the other young people put it in front of the respectable citizens as the Russians did. (See my article “The First Socialists of the Hebrew Literature” in Martin Buber’s monthly journal, Der Jude, November/December 1918.)
In order to follow, step-by-step from that time on, at the beginning of 1874, you have to understand the spiritual base of Mohilev at that time.
I once stopped at the very remarkable fact, that in an extremely fanatical and cultural sense, the very backward city of Mohilev, having no train stop and for that reason being cut off from the rest of the world, entered almost before anywhere else saturated by Jews, not only the so-called, Khazones Haskalah, or even the Marxist socialism in its varied streams, the first Jewish Friends of the Revolutionary Party (Naradovolces). They were born in Mohilev, or they finished the Mohilev gymnasium with men such as Zuckerman, Axelrod, and the Leventhal brothers.
At that time, amongst the youth of Mohilev, an epidemic of escapism broke out. Young men and women took sacks and packs at random and ran away from their parents into other cities to study there in order to become independent and to change their lives according to the new modern ideas which were being spread in secret from the Russian Socialist pamphlets which were smuggled into Mohilev mostly from Kiev. Other parents tried to chase after their children, and once in a while, were successful in getting them to return home. Like with (Eliezer) Zuckerman, whose father found him in Hummel and brought him home to Mohilev, but a short time later, he ran away again.
Amongst the Jewish population, there were three or four very rich, intelligent houses who supported with all their strength, all those young people who had run away. In these particular houses, the ones who ran away were given everything they needed for the road: laundry, clothes, documents, and the like. They underwrote this particular escape of the younger folks, which was also supported by the educated Mohilev Gentiles and administrators in the area who knew about this movement and were strongly sympathetic to it.
At that time, there were also in Moheliv, young Jewish people who had already been affected by the new Socialist Materialist ideas of Pisarev and Chernyshevsky. Nevertheless, they remained sitting in their places and did not adhere to socialism. Yes, the new ideas truly influenced them, but the influence was in exactly the opposite sense, they also went amongst the people but not with the latest conclusion of socialism, not in the Russian socialism.
The Yiddish Socialists at that time acted only among the Jewish people. They went amongst the Jewish masses to spread learning and knowledge and make them useful members of society. Because of that task, they became volunteers and free Talmud-Torah teachers in the city where hundreds of children were learning from the poorest people. In this particular darkness, they brought light. They were not only teachers for the children but acted like faithful fathers who took care of their physical and material needs and provided them with food, drink, and a proper place to sleep.
This was not easy for them; they had to wage a very bitter battle with the dark establishment of the elected officials of the Mohilev community council. Such sad famous heroes from Smolenskin’s short stories, these officials didn’t want any kind of a new order installed in the community. The victory was not won by the dark forces, but by the energetic young people who chivalrously fought under the banner of the Haskalah and the spirit of the times.
Amongst the young battlers of that time was Jacob Dinezon. A teacher of the Bible and Hebrew, Dinezon was in the Talmud-Torah of Mohilev. Soft and tender-hearted by nature, his softness and tenderness were translated to the children by his initiative. The Talmud-Torah had a kitchen installed where the children were given daily lunches, instead of having the children go out to people’s houses for charity. The Mohilev community council considered this kitchen a superfluous luxury and didn’t even give a broken “fenig” to it. Dinezon had saved one hundred rubles from his tutoring, and he donated the money to start the kitchen, then he and his friends got donations from others. Amongst Dinezon’s friends who worked together with him as a teacher in the Mohilev Talmud-Torah was one who later joined the Socialist Revolutionaries, the above mentioned Eliezer Zuckerman and the now well-known writer, Mordechai Ben-Hillel Hacohen. These particular facts, Dinezon told me himself, and some of them were related to me even if they were in an embellished form through his friend Eliezer Zuckerman.
From here on is from my own memory:
Of the above mentioned few rich Mohilev intelligent houses that supported the escaped youth, there also belonged the house of the very well known in all of White Russia, the house of the very rich Jewish merchant, Menachem Joshua Hurevitsh, whom all of his days was involved in colossal businesses. Because of these businesses, he often had to be away from home. He was famous for being very conscientious, smart, and practical, and for being good and emotional by nature with a very strong desire to do favors for people and to help the needy and the very oppressed. His wife played a very big role in Mohilev. She was the daughter of a very famous and rich Maskil from Vilna, a son-in-law of the world-famous Gaon, Reb Ysev Harcovey, and the oldest sister of the very well known printer Devorah Romm. She herself was very well educated and managed a very Jewish and aristocratic house.
She gave her children, five sons, and a daughter, a many-sided, modern education. All of them attended the Mohilev high school, and they continued their education at home. Because of Bodana herself, and also because of her highly developed children, her house became a center for all the Mohilev people who thirsted for knowledge. The young, intelligent children used to get together at the Hurevitsh’s house to carry on hot disputes and arguments about various questions of literature and life. They would pour their hearts out to one another, building plans for the future, and amusing themselves by playing, singing, and dancing.
During the time when the Jewish population of Mohilev began the movement for education, many of the former klosnikehs and students from the yeshivas were taken care of by free teachers. A little later, during the time when the escaped children fled from their fanatical parents, the children went to Bodana’s house. They used to meet and talk over the desirability and potential success of their journey, and say their farewells to their friends and acquaintances. In her house, you could get illegal literature, various forbidden socialist books, and brochures like the very popular novel of Chernyshevsky, and so forth.
Little by little, the socialist theories became further entrenched in the Mohilev Yiddish intelligentsia. It happened that between the socialists or novoderotes, they joined with the Russian people. Not only children of the middle class but also the children of the top ten thousand [the upper class] were joining. The children went first, for the most part, young ladies from the rich intelligentsia, where they had previously sympathized and supported the escape movement of the middle classes. But these girls did not go alone, they went with lovers accompanying them, mostly Gentiles, taking with them much in the way of riches and sometimes also jewelry. It was told at that time that a couple of the fathers whose children ran away were already in the position of engagement, and it cost them their fathers’ lives.
The Hurevitsh’s house was spared from this very sad fate. Bodana’s very shrewd awareness and motherly care brought the result that her children did not go away with this stream but remained home. Four of her five sons went into their father’s business, and in time, became big merchant capitalists. Only one remained a Socialist, but he did not remain in Russia and emigrated.
Bodana’s son, Gershon Hurevitsh, became a very well known and talented writer and wrote under the pen name Gershon Bodanas. He settled in Berlin and joined the very first circle of Jewish socialist immigrants. Those immigrants belonged to a circle of the very famous socialist agitator Lieberman, who was the editor for the Ha-Emet (The Truth) newspaper. There he joined the staff and contributed to the socialist papers until he drew suspicion upon himself from the Berlin police, and he was arrested and spent time in prison with the aforementioned Lieberman.
Bodana’s only daughter, who had great talent in music, was sent to Vienna, where she went into the conservatory. Bodana had taken into her house Jacob Dinezon as a Hebrew teacher for her children. From various people, she had heard of his knowledge of the Hebrew language, about his activities and the sacrifice of his own soul in the study of Talmud-Torah, and the respect and love that he enjoyed everywhere he went. Looking for a Hebrew teacher for her children, she immediately settled on him. From their very first conversation, when she invited him to her place, she was deeply impressed by his interest in the education of children.
Dinezon considered it quite a respectable position and anxiously accepted it. With his very mild and modest character, he immediately had them in the palm of his hand. His young, intelligent students began to like him very much. From the interesting conversations with the whole circle of students on various themes, they saw that this former bank kretcher (bench squeezer) from Zuckerman’s beit midrash was very well-read and developed. He had a judgment about everything with a sharp and logical mind and was like someone from somewhere else who had finished his schooling. He was well-versed and well-educated, the ideal, young, intelligent student of Mohilev. So Dinezon became a fully accepted one in the house from the very first minute he arrived.
Both the parents and the children were very trusting of him. Nothing, even the most secret household situations, was hidden from him. Quite often, they would consult with him on many family issues. Bodana’s husband considered Dinezon a deep-thinking man and used to like to talk with him about questions of commerce and things that especially interested him. Not once, but many times, Dinezon was sent by the Hurevitsh family to various cities on business and family affairs.
On one of these trips, Jacob Dinezon became a Yiddish writer. This was at the end of the year 1874. At that time, with the full power of Bodana Hurevitsh, Dinezon went to Vilna to visit her sister Devorah Romm. He remained in Vilna for two weeks and stayed at the Romm’s house. There he was able to meet a few of the most noted Yiddish writers of the day: A. Levinson, Kalman Shulman, Isaac Meir Dik, and others who were at Devorah’s house in constant attendance. Dinezon became friends with Dik, and the two carried on many hour-long conversations about writers and books. Dik told Dinezon about the great distribution of his books among the people and the great respect the people had for him.
At that time, Dik complained that Devorah paid him just groshen (pennies) for his work, and if not for his wife’s outside earnings, he wouldn’t have enough to live on. Dinezon, who was always a lover of literature, and since his letters from Mohilev had been published in Ha-Magid (The Preacher) and Ha- Melitz (The Advocate) newspapers, he had never stopped dreaming of reaching a much higher status of writing. So the entire time when he was returning to Mohilev, he was thinking about writing a special work. And though he was in control of the literary Hebrew style, and was held to that language with a special love, he nevertheless decided to write in Yiddish only.
As Dinezon once explained it to me, he decided on Yiddish for the following reasons: He was influenced by Dik, who had told him many times to write for the multitudes of the people. From the Hurevitsh’s house, where the special good of the people never left the daily agenda, the troubles of the people were brought much closer to his heart. After meeting with the parents of the Talmud-Torah children, he felt compelled to write in Yiddish two scientific nature books for the students, one about thunder and lightning, and the other about snow and rain. At that time, experts told him that they turned out stylish, literary, and in a manner that they could be published.
Thinking about this issue en route, he arrived back in Mohilev with a finished decision to write a Yiddish work of literary fiction in his free time. Dinezon began to look for an appropriate theme for a short story, and rather quickly, a theme came to him.
In Mohilev at that time, a tragic story occurred. In a rich family, an ultra-fanatical father forcibly engaged his daughter to a young, boorish man, who had a good family in the cemetery. This girl was striving for education and had entirely different ideals. She was a frequent visitor to the circles at Bodana’s house and was considered one of the brighter ones with an ability for poetry. Also, in that circle, they knew that she was in love with a female cousin. The cousin was in the local Russian high school. The girl pleaded with her father that he shouldn’t force her to marry this man. When this story came to the circle at Bodana’s house, they advised her to run away, but she was too weak for that. She very much loved her mother, and it was also difficult to separate from her lover, so she couldn’t convince herself to run away. Her father continued to drive her toward the wedding, and life became a real hell for her. Everyone saw how from day to day, she was going out like a light. She would pour out her very heavy mood in Russian songs, and she passed these out among her friends in the circle. No one could help her. Her father was among the very hard Jews; in addition, he was an official in the community, and there were no measures that could be taken against him. Any day they expected that she would take her own life.
One day she came into Bodana’s, and nothing seemed wrong. She even seemed to be happy. Since she didn’t have the necessary strength to fight with her father, she decided to give in to his demands and marry the man he had picked out for her. She hoped that after the wedding, she would be able to have an influence on him and, in her hands, would become an entirely new man. Soon she was under the canopy, got married, and began to remake her husband. She began to put in front of him various subjects to teach him how to keep up appearances and be with people. She also brought him to meet the circle at Bodana’s. However, it appeared that her efforts were for naught for this boorish man remained the same. One time, while she was with him, they went to visit a couple, who were her friends. Her husband made such an unheard-of scandal, that it went all around the city. Coming home after that scandal, the girl went into the stable and hanged herself.
Dinezon used this theme as a story in two parts (For the Sins of the Fathers). When this story was done, he read it to the circle of friends at Bodana’s house, and it made a big impression on everyone. The general feeling was that there were many sparks of artistic talent, and he should not stop in the middle. He immediately sent this story to Vilna, to Devorah Romm. She sent it to the censor, where there was a censor for Yiddish books, named, “Vol,” a former teacher of the Rabbinic School. Coincidentally, it happened that the wife of the censor Vol was a close relative of the cruel father in Mohilev, and she and her husband knew the whole story. Vol forbade the publishing of the novel, even though he edited and amended it.
The same story was later reworked in Hebrew a year and a half later by Dinezon’s former friend, later to be the revolutionary Zuckerman, and was published in the form of a diary, “An Upside Down World” in Smolenskin’s journal Ha-Shahar.
Dinezon took that very badly and was very aggravated and hurt by the censoring of his very first story. Speaking once to him in Warsaw about this, I heard from him the very interesting remark: “People call me today the creator of the Yiddish sentimental novel. If they had read that story, they would not have come to that conclusion. That story was very realistic and a correct copy of reality, which I lived through myself, and in which in a certain measure, I participated. I became sentimental after this. In a later portion of my life, I became sentimental.”
I understood quite well the simplicity of these words. The reader will get this explained in one of the future chapters. Not long after this, Dinezon began his longest novel, The Beloved and the Pleasant, that he finished in less than a month. With such energy and speed, he wrote it. This time he immediately took his novel to Vilna himself to see for himself if the writing would come out intact from the censor’s hand. The novel was allowed to go through, and only where the St. Petersburg jail was mentioned a half-page was erased. Devorah Romm immediately turned it over to be published. On receiving the book back from the censor, he read it in two evenings for two of her acquaintances from the Vilna Yiddish Society, including Dik. Each one in attendance issued their own opinion, and the general impression was that it was very good. Dik came over to him and said, “I would not have been able to do this, such a great book with so many heroes. Where does one get such strength in one’s mind? I have the propensity to deal with one person, two in my writings, once in a blue moon. Further, I find your book somewhat too sad. Certain seasoning is missing that tickles the spleen.”
After Dinezon had published The Beloved and the Pleasant, the novel was very popular with the great masses of people. He couldn’t begin to think that a fifteen-year span would pass before he would publish again. He thought the opposite, that, from now on, he would continuously write and publish and publish and write, and the last time he was in Vilna, he made an agreement with Devorah Romm for that. In reality, only a short time later, when the book was published, he began to write a new novel, Avigdorl.
Dinezon was at this time, like all the literati, still a very big supporter of the Hebrew literature and its writers, and especially of Smolenskin, whom he revered. Because of this, he wanted to show the Maskilim that his occupation, writing in Yiddish, didn’t mean that he had cut himself off from the Haskalah and the holy language, and he wanted to prove this by writing a long article in the periodical, Ha- Shahar. (The article was called “Something You Get Used To,” and the critique was in Ha- Shahar, issues numbers five and six of the sixth year.)
In passing, he elevated to the sky Smolenskin, Lilienblum, Chaim Zelig Slonimski, who was the editor of the newspaper Ha-Tsefirah (The Dawn), and others. He figured that after this article, where he presents himself as an outspoken friend and lover of Hebrew and justifies his being a Maskil, that he would calmly and assuredly continue his Yiddish works without aggravating anyone. But to his surprise, this article brought about exactly the opposite response. His article not only did not straighten him out with his friends but actually estranged him from the Maskilim. He was pushed off from them, and also for a certain amount of time, from Yiddish itself. In response to Dinezon’s article, Smolenskin wrote, “A Maskil who writes Yiddish is the same as being two opposites in one person. In order to write in this corrupt language, you have to have this kind of ability.”
Dinezon told me the impression Smolenskin’s remark had on him, “At that time I was a child of my generation with the perception of a Maskil. I didn’t step up to write Yiddish without some kind of a feeling of fear about what I was doing, and how it might be a threat to the Haskalah, because Yiddish was known for a long time as jargon, and was looked down upon. But I was overcome by the folk instinct, that instinct which is bound and woven into the mother tongue. Still, I couldn’t get away from the thought that my book and my Haskalah would not become the holy thing for which I had fought with such fire against the dark forces when I was a teacher at the Talmud-Torah in Mohilev.
“So at that time, I wanted to smooth things over in that article, and I stood up for the unjust treatment of our best Hebrew writers. Suddenly, no one other than Smolenskin comes along, and any words from him were like sacred words handed down from Mount Sinai. He decrees that it is a shame for a Maskil to write in Yiddish and that anyone can write in Yiddish, and that you don’t have to have any talent whatsoever. True, this remark diminished my desire to write in Yiddish, but on the other hand, I took my revenge on Smolenskin, and I took my Hebrew pen and I tossed it aside for good.
“In general, Smolenskin’s remark was like a bomb. It seemed to me that from the very beginning he was trying to get back at me for writing the book in Yiddish. Not being very courageous at that time, it even unnerved me more. As a result of this, I walked around for a long time as a very mixed up person.”
He threw away the Hebrew pen for good, but in time, he forgot about that, and twenty-five years after this incident, Dinezon published a Hebrew story, “Because of Such Days,” in Nachum Sokolov’s anthology, Sefer ha-Shanah (The Yearbook).
Dinezon was in a very heavy mood and spiritually very beaten down at this time. He had not totally recovered from the very stressful situation of the last three-quarters of a year, the censorship of The Sins of Our Fathers, and he still felt deeply the drama of the girl who was taken from her lover.
Then, on a very beautiful morning, he discovered that he, himself, was in love. He discovered that he was not indifferent to his female student, the only daughter of Bodana Hurevitsh. He was overjoyed during the hours he was teaching her and preferred that these hours should go on and on. If she played on the piano the melody of Michel Gordon, he was in the seventh level of heaven, and he always felt like he wanted to be next to her.
Even though the other young ladies that he met at the Hurevitsh’s house might be prettier or more educated, he found that his heart only tugged for her. With his entire youthful fire, he loved her, but he kept it hidden from the eyes of man. No one noticed. His love for her was very precious, and he tried not to make it common. The most sentimental love phrases from his book were written under the impression of his inner personal experience. Between the lines of this particular novel were, here and there, mirrored the nervous tremblings of his deeply loving soul. Here and there, echoed the vibrating, trembling of his most secret strings, and not one echo came out of his mouth, not even the weakest echo of his feelings, and so he watched over them.
Of course, this couldn’t last long. Like the ripe apple that falls from the tree, there came a time when Dinezon could no longer rule over his feelings and keep them constantly locked up in rooms within rooms. His face began to show signs, and it became obvious that in his student’s presence, she seemed to be very much different, and his attitude took on a different character, much friendlier and more intimate. This was noticed by strangers, and then by the members of the circle. Yet those in the household seemed not to notice, least of all, the young love, herself. This situation went on for about half a year, and Dinezon began to suffer. He suffered day and night, but had no understanding of what was happening within him. After many experiences and wars within himself, he decided to uncover his heartfelt feelings to her.
According to how he knew the Hurevitsh family, he knew well that expressing himself would have real-life consequences. He didn’t want his love to remain a secret and wanted to tell the person to which it belonged. Days and weeks passed, yet he couldn’t bring to life his decision. He was too weak for this and too shy. In the meantime, there was talk about her going to Vienna. This thought awakened because of the following: First of all, Bodana Hurevitsh feared the growth of the naravia movement in Mohilev and feared that her daughter would fall prey to the running away epidemic. Because of that issue, there was a special family advisory meeting to which they asked Dinezon, as always, to attend. It is easy to imagine how Dinezon felt to be involved in this meeting.
The last days before her departure, were days of tantalizing suffering. How many times did he put into his heart his feelings? One time it had already burst out of his mouth. “I have something to confide in you that is important,” he said. And at that time she even got very interested in what he had to say. But he remained silent and didn’t say a word, and his student went off to Vienna, and Dinezon remained with his secret.
In order to continue my notes about Dinezon, it is important to relate a few facts from my own personal life. In the month of May 1876, I had just left the study house of the Volozhin yeshiva, and I came to Vienna to learn, or as it was known then, “study,” according to the advice of Smolenskin, who at that time was the shining star and path-finding leader of many Talmud-educated young people of my age. One of the very rich intelligentsia of Minsk was Wolfe Rappaport, a son of the widely known and famous Zisele Rappaport, who knew me well, and was interested in my secular education abroad and had given me a written recommendation to one of his acquaintances, Rosenstein, who had lived in Mohilev about fifteen years before. At that time, he was a very rich man, but with time, the wheel turned, and he became someone who went downhill and became impoverished. So he went to live with his family in Vienna, and having a reputation from home for being a very honest man, he became a commissioner-mediator between Austrian businesses and the big Jewish trade associations in Russia.
The Rosenstein family, a woman with two already grown daughters and a younger son who was a student, was a very intelligent family. Their house served as a center for the Mohilevers, who were supporting themselves in Vienna, and especially the students. Smolenskin also came to the house, as he was tied to the Rosensteins through partners and memories of when they were in Mohilev. Smolenskin was a young singer, and he would come with the cantor and choirboys to see Rosenstein, who was at that time, one of the trustees, and would perform various melodies in honor of him. Smolenskin loved very much to mention that, and that Rosenstein was very proud of that fact.
The whole first month after my arrival in Vienna, I lived at the Rosenstein’s home, and at that time, I became acquainted with all the Mohilevers who were always visiting the Rosenstein house. Also present at that time was the Hebrew writer and popular Kiev nationalist, Moshe Kamyanski, who was a socialist revolutionary, and Eliezer Zuckerman. Zuckerman was at that time, learning typesetting at Smolenskin’s print shop. Bodana Hurevitsh’s daughter rarely came to the house; however, to this day, the following minor facts have remained in my memory about that young lady Hurevitsh. She was of average size and a brunette, and Zuckerman used to be like a stuffed shirt and never talked to her. Now I understand that he did that at the time due to his built-in hatred of the rich. I remember another fact about her. It was told that at Smolenskin’s wedding about a half a year earlier, her piano accompaniment left the crowd enchanted by her playing, predicting in advance, a glowing musical future. Clearer than everything else, I remember the fact that in the Mohilever circle, whenever they talked about her, they always mentioned Dinezon. At that time, I didn’t know and was also not interested to know what this conversation was about. When I got the facts about Dinezon’s love epic, I understood from Rosenstein’s daughters who were always in contact with their Mohilever friends that they knew about Dinezon’s romance, and that this was not a secret to them.
In the meantime, all the people in the circle knew about this, and it was about this that they were all speaking. I did not forget, and one time, one of the Mohelivers said that Dinezon had asked Smolenskin if he could come to Vienna to settle down. Miss Hurevitsh spent two years in Vienna and then went to finish her musical education in Paris. In the course of that time, Dinezon wrote to her many times, but always on the subject of music, which interested her. There was not found the smallest spark about his feelings in the letters, or anything about his previous, very strong inner conflict.
Three years after that, she returned to Mohilev, and during that time, he frequently thought of leaving his teaching position with the Hurevitsh family and moving away from Mohilev, but he was even too weak for that. He loved the house of Hurevitsh and the whole family. He felt very close to them, and so with all his strength, he drove off any thoughts of leaving.
Not too long after she returned, they began to talk about a marriage proposal for her. Every potential prospect for her was discussed in a family council, to which Dinezon was invited. The young lady knew about this and quite often said to him in jest, “Listen, my teacher, don’t trick me into being with you.” This was during the time he still loved her with all the blood of his soul. Dinezon was destined to get over it after a very difficult temptation.
One day, Hurevitsh’s nephew came to the house, a recently graduated doctor who was the son of Devorah Romm. The guest soon fell in love with his cousin, and quickly thereafter, Dinezon was traveling to Vilna, fully empowered to make all the arrangements for the marriage. When Dinezon returned from Vilna, he became ill and did not leave his bed for three weeks.
In 1877, I left Vienna and traveled to Breslau with the idea of entering the Rabbinic Seminary there. There I became acquainted with a young man from Borisev by the name of Pesach Ruderman. This Ruderman was on the staff of Ha-Shahar and had a very promising publishing talent with the Hebrew reading populace. One time, Ruderman tells me a story that he had received a letter from the author of “The Good and the Pleasant,” asking him about the program of the seminary because he wanted to come to Breslau and study as a rabbi with a doctoral degree. He fulfilled Dinezon’s request and sent the program catalogue. From that time, he began to correspond with Dinezon, and their first letters had an idealistic character, where they both argued about Chasidism.
Ruderman, born a Chasidnik, hotly defended the Rebbe Shneur Zalman against the Goan of Vilna. Dinezon, a fiery Misnagid (anti-Chasid) defender, held fast for the Goan of Vilna. Ruderman got onto the subject after seeing the article in Ha-Shahar, which I previously mentioned, in which Dinezon had given his opinion.
When Ruderman got the first letter about the program, he used the opportunity to enlighten Dinezon about his opinion in relation to Chasidism, and from then on between the two of them, there passed a large and broad correspondence.
With time, their letters became friendlier and more intimate, and they crossed over to more personal themes. Dinezon initiated that, and he began to complain to Ruderman about his dissatisfaction with himself and his melancholy life. Ruderman answered that he didn’t understand, and he wanted to hear clear words. One day, Ruderman came from the seminary to the lodgings we were living in together and said that he had received a letter from Dinezon as long as a Megillah, and Dinezon had poured out his heart to him. In this letter, Dinezon gave Ruderman the entire story of his love from the start and forever about the bride. In our ears, this did not sound like a usual pouring out of feeling from a man in love, but more like a confession.
With Ruderman’s truly Chasidic optimism, he sent a long letter of consolation that was written half humorously, half philosophically, and unceremoniously negating the whole idea of love in general. He finished the letter with a good bit of advice and told him to banish all this foolishness from his head and come to Breslau and begin his studies. This was, from my side, a repair to the tear between us after he had read in the Ha-Magid my correspondence from Breslau in the rabbinic seminary. I remember in my few lines that I added to the letter at that time, that I tried to convince him to toss away Mohilev and come. We soon had an answer that he was going to come to Breslau. We waited and waited, but he never came. It was still too difficult to separate from the Hurevitsh family in which had blossomed the buds of his first and last love. At the beginning of the 1880s, when the family moved to Kiev, he also went with them, no longer as a teacher but as a bookkeeper and treasurer of Hurevitsh’s office.
In Kiev, Dinezon appears to return to himself, and little by little, he tears himself away from his very hard life experiences from Mohilev. He wrote a lot in Yiddish, but he didn’t have anything published. He appeared to have lost all desire to be published. In 1884, a short time after I published my translation of Pinsker’s Automatic Emancipation, I unexpectedly received a letter from Dinezon saying that when he came across my address, he decided to take the opportunity to tell me that he was living in Kiev for three years and was still living with the Hurevitsh family, and incidentally, asking how I was doing and what I had heard from Ruderman.
I was not able to write anything about Ruderman at that time, because both of us had a shortage of means and had to leave Breslau, and life separated us and tossed us into various places, each one of us with our separate interests and concerns, so we didn’t hear one from another. In this letter, Dinezon wrote about the writers in Kiev, and how he cursed the day he came into their circle. With the literary folks of Kiev, amongst which there were such people as Yahalel, Shlasless, Weisberg, and others, Dinezon had not found much favor. I didn’t understand at that time, but it became clearer much later. The editor of Ha-Melitz (The Advocate), A. Zederbaum, exposed for the Yiddish public, the entire literary swamp of Kiev. In this supplement, it showed that the writers and journalists were braided in big nets from all kinds of intrigues, one against the other, and the jealousy and hatred were so great that they would be willing to drown each other in a spoonful of water.
It started with an impractical idler and a scribbler who wrote a couple of pieces about a writer of true talent of whom he was jealous. Around this very small, envious person came together a begrudging group of people, and this started a whole order of intrigues and gossip. For days on end, in league with one another, they thought up all sorts of lies and libels about this talented writer, that were first sent out mouth-to-mouth, and then they took upon themselves to publish, with a very small amount of content and dubious cleanliness, a Hebrew publication. Through this publication, this group from Kiev spread malice against this popular writer and against the editor, who had defended his honor.
Through all kinds of machinations, they brought in Yiddishists and non-Yiddishists without getting their permission and signatures and put them in there under the most disgraceful conditions. One person this literary band pulled in to this particular orgy without his knowledge was Jacob Dinezon. They listed him in the publication, and you can easily presume how such an honest soul morally pure personality as Dinezon suffered from such a deed.
In a conversation that I had with Dinezon about this issue, he said, “A long time after Zederbaum brought to the public this particular literary scandal with its participants and I found my name on the roster there, I couldn’t show my face to anyone. To myself, I felt like I had murdered someone. I sat for a few weeks alone, locked up in my rooms. I didn’t even dare to go out in the streets, and I was worried that someone would run after me with a pointed finger. It was a long time after that before I could take pen in hand again. These people completely desecrated my sacrificial altar, and I became a blood enemy to them all. I no longer gave to any of them and didn’t greet any of them. That which cost me, I will never forgive them.” Those last words he told me in a very nervous rage.
At the end of the year 1885, Dinezon moved from Kiev to Warsaw, where he lived with his sister. She had a business of finely-crafted pens. Just before Passover 1886, I came to Warsaw. Finding out that Dinezon was there, I immediately went to visit him, and on the first day of Passover, our first meeting occurred. I remember, upon my question whether or not he had met the literary people of Warsaw, he said that since he still felt so bad about the experience in Kiev, he didn’t trust himself to get into relationships with the Warsaw writers. I explained that Warsaw was not Kiev, and I proposed to visit along with him, a few literary people in Warsaw whom I knew. On the first day of Passover, we both went to see Smolenski, and the next day we visited Shefer. Dinezon continued visiting other writers on the remaining days.
One day when I was sitting in my room, the door opened, and Pesach Ruderman entered unexpectedly. I didn’t recognize him at first. In the ten years since I had last seen him, his outward appearance had changed a great deal. Still in the middle years, his hair was beginning to gray. On his face lay a kind of fatigue and resignation. With his nervous movements and very poor walk, he made the impression of a man who was persecuted by fate and carried much on his heart. He told me briefly about his life experiences in the span of the past ten years. His dreams about finishing university had gone up in smoke. First, in Breslau and then in Berlin, he wrestled with his lot. He suffered much and experienced much. In the end, poverty overcame him, and he broke down. He left for Lodz and became a tutor. In the beginning, he was still consoling himself thinking that he would be able to save enough from his teaching and then would leave the country to finish his studies. But he sank into the teaching business and couldn’t get out of it. In the meantime, he got married, and today he has a wife and three children. His profession never satisfied him, and in time, it ate at his insides until he could stand it no longer. He finally tossed it aside and came to Warsaw, where he hoped to find literary work.
I immediately left with him to take him to Dinezon. Dinezon, who until that moment did not know Ruderman personally, always imagined him as he saw him in his letters as a very lively young man, who was spry and always in a good mood, and who carried under his shirt a package of jokes and tricks to lift up broken hearts and down-trodden spirits. Seeing Ruderman in front of him in his present state, Dinezon found himself very disappointed and was unable to believe his own eyes. After I explained the situation to him, Dinezon turned to him and asked if he had a place to live yet?
“I stopped off near the train station,” Ruderman said.
“No,” Dinezon replied, “that is no good. It’s too far away over there; you need to be in the city. First of all, we need to get you a place to live.”
At that moment I didn’t have any more time to spend with them and left. The next morning, Ruderman came to me with a brand new suit and a new hat. He told me that on the day before he had gone around with Dinezon for a long time looking for a place to live, and he found a room on Muranov Street, and I then understood that as far as his new outfit was concerned, Dinezon took care of that as well.
While we were sitting at Dinezon’s, we discussed getting literary work for Ruderman. At that time, we decided on two possibilities. One was to get a job in the editorial office of Ha-Tsfirah or from Shefer, who was publishing the anthology, Knesset Yisroel. The first possibility seemed to be a more sure thing because there is more to do in a newspaper and the work is more steady, and secondly, we remembered that Ruderman had studied for three years at the Rabbinical Seminary in Zhitomir when Smolenski was the inspector there, so we thought he must know him quite well. After Ruderman explained that he found it difficult to go looking for work by himself, we decided that Dinezon would go to see Smolenski, and I would go to see Shefer. In one day, we both fulfilled our mission. Dinezon came from Smolenski almost with nothing, and I worked out something with Shefer.
Smolenski said he didn’t have a regular job for him because all the jobs were already taken, but if he wanted to write something and bring it in, he would be very anxious to accept it. Shefer said that right now, he had two or three things to translate from German and Russian, and later on, he would see. We saw that big things weren’t going to happen, but in the meantime, he could get by. We talked it over with Ruderman and advised him that he should step up to work the next day. In addition to whatever Dinezon loaned him for his expenses, he also gave Ruderman twenty or thirty rubles to send to his wife and children.
About ten days passed, and to our regret, the following thing happened. For the Ha-Tsfirah newspaper, Ruderman didn’t write one single line. No matter how hard he tried, his ideas wouldn’t form clay, and nothing appeared on his paper. He thought that this was something temporary because he hadn’t written in a long time, was unused to writing, and had lost his ability to write. He hadn’t been thinking for a long time, and it was a long time since he had even held a book in his hands. But it didn’t matter because this would pass quickly. He already had a theme for an article. Through the display window, he saw yesterday for the first time, Ratkinson’s book, The History of the Pillars of Chabad. He would see about getting a copy and write a critique. For Shefer, the translations were finished, and he had already handed them over. When I went to see Shefer the next day, he looked at me very strangely. And drawing out his words like tar in his usual complaining manner, he said that it seemed to him that Ruderman was no longer Ruderman.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Is this the Ruderman who wrote for Ha-Shahar? The great Hebrew advocate? The one-time defender of Chasidism?”
“Of course he is,” I said. “What are you asking here? This is the same Ruderman. The famous one.”
“If you are such a stubborn man,” said Shefer, “come over here, I want to show you something.”
At those words, he took out a handwritten document and handed it to me with the exclamation, “Take it and read it for yourself.”
Looking at this handwritten document, I was almost overcome with confusion due to the fact that it wasn’t the well-known gem-like handwriting of before but had the appearance of hieroglyphics made up entirely of dots and dashes.
But this was not the only problem. After much effort at recognizing the letters, they tried to put them into words, but they didn’t make sense. It wasn’t Hebrew, just gibberish. I remember standing there for a few minutes, completely confused, not knowing what to say or even how to talk about it. Shefer, however, got ahead of me and said, “If this is, in truth, the real Ruderman, my opinion is that he is no longer normal. And you know what I’m going to say to you? Yesterday, when he brought me that handwritten document, I spoke to him for a little while. It appeared to me that something is not right with him.”
I interrupted him and said that Dinezon and I had been with him every day. That we had spent time with him and never noticed this at all. He is quiet and sad simply because things are not going well with him. I took Ruderman’s handwritten manuscript and showed it to Dinezon. This made an even worse impression on Dinezon. This shook him up badly, and he sat very still for a long time. I related Shefer’s opinion and added that little things could cause a person great trouble.
Dinezon replied that we must take him to a nerve doctor. A few days later, Dinezon went to Ruderman and took him out for a stroll. On the way, he took him to a young doctor whom Dinezon knew. Through various means, Dinezon got Ruderman to accept that he should be examined. After the examination, the doctor told Ruderman that he found him in the best of health. In the meantime, the doctor told Dinezon to come up to his office. When Dinezon arrived that evening, the doctor said, “I found signs of neurosis and psychic disturbance in your friend. He is desperately in need of a cure. First of all, he must not do anything and must get the strictest kind of rest.”
On the next morning, Dinezon and I went to Shefer to decide what to do about Ruderman. There could be no talk of giving him any more literary work at this time. Now we had to see to his cure. But where would we find the necessary means? The children and wife in Lodz can’t be left without. Shefer came up with an idea. He suggested we publish something about the situation in the newspaper, a warm call to the lovers of the Hebrew language and literature. Perhaps this call would have an effect on the Jewish public, and that people would begin to send charity to the editorial offices. Then it would be possible to send Ruderman to a sanitarium and give his wife and children some livelihood.
Upon Dinezon’s request, Shefer took the responsibility to write up this call for the newspaper. At that time, Dinezon remarked that in the call for help, Ruderman’s name should not be mentioned, only that a very well known Hebrew writer was in need. In the evening, along with Dinezon, I visited Ruderman and spent a few hours at his place. This time we both noticed that he was not spiritually well. He was, for the most part, deep in thought and in a very sad mood. Whenever he answered, it was in a single word. He sat motionless with his eyes frozen in one spot. With much sympathy, Dinezon asked him, “How are you today, dear Ruderman? What has become of you? You are a Chabadnik. How did this happen? Do you remember when you used to console me, once upon a time, in your letters from Breslau? Here I have brought you your honorarium for your translations.” While he was speaking, Dinezon gave him two twenty-five ruble notes.
Ruderman took the money and said in a melancholy voice that we could barely hear, “Am I still worth something? I haven’t forgotten yet. It seems to me that there was a Ruderman, but he is no longer here. A broken instrument is here. A broken piece of the Ten Commandments.”
With a broken heart, we parted on that evening and said goodbye to Ruderman. Neither of us had a premonition that we would never see him again. On the next morning at seven, I was still lying in bed when Dinezon suddenly rapped on my door. He came in as pale as a white cloth and barely whispered, “Ruderman suddenly died in the middle of the night. The news arrived before dawn from his living quarters.”
Immediately Dinezon and I went over and found him laid out on the ground with a couple of lights in brass candlesticks at his head. The house was empty except for the owner and his wife, who were standing there completely confused. “What do we do here?” they asked us. “This man was lonely as a stone and has no relative. He is without a savior. Who will busy himself with his burial?”
Dinezon and I took it upon ourselves. Dinezon went directly to the community council, and I went to see Shefer. Shefer told me right away that as it concerns Ruderman’s burial, we will have a great aggravation. He told me something I had not known. In Warsaw, there were two Jewish cemeteries, one in the city in Povonzek, and the second in the suburb of Praga. In the first cemetery, they bury the Warsaw-born and some well-respected and aristocratic Poles. In the second cemetery, they put to rest the plain people and especially the Litvaks. I have no doubt, Shefer told me, that the community would want to bury the poor, and, to them, unknown Litvak, in the Praga cemetery.
“We must not allow that,” I said. “It is a blow to the honor of all living Hebrew writers.” I told Shefer that Dinezon had just left to talk to someone at the community council.
“Dinezon is not enough,” said Shefer. “Dinezon himself will not be able to persuade them of anything. He is not well known to them. I’ll try to help. Come with me.”
We took the tram to Gzhibov. At the gate to the community council, we ran into Dinezon. He was already leaving with a document. “Where is Ruderman going to be buried?” Shefer asked.
“What do you mean where?” replied Dinezon. “He is going to be buried in the cemetery.”
“In which one?”
“What do you mean, which one?”
It turned out that Dinezon, just like me, had not heard the story of the two cemeteries and who was generally buried in each one. Shefer read the document and found that Ruderman was going to be buried in the Praga cemetery. Dinezon agreed that such a thing should not be allowed and that we had to apply all our efforts to have Ruderman buried in the Povonzek cemetery.
Shefer left us standing there and went into the community council building. He had a conversation with the manager of the funeral desk, told him who the deceased was, and asked permission for Ruderman to be buried in the city. It didn’t even last twenty minutes, and he achieved nothing. In his opinion, the only one who could help us was old Slonimski.
That minute, Dinezon and I went to see Slonimski. To this day, it has remained in my memory almost word-for-word, the very characteristic conversation that we had at that time with Slonimski.
“We have come with not a very good message,” Dinezon said. “Your one-time student has died.”
“A student of mine?” the old man asked. “Let me know right now, who died?”
“Pesach Ruderman?” Slonimski called out. Without the least sign of surprise or emotion, he said, “He just arrived and died? Blessed be the law of truth.”
“And the community wants to bury him in the Praga Cemetery,” I blurted out.
“So what?” Slonimski asked as cold as ice.
“It seems to us,” said Dinezon, “that this is a great dishonor to the name. Not only for the deceased but also for all Jewish writers.”
“Look here,” he said a bit angrily, “why is this an issue for young writers? So you mean to say that in Povonzek, the worms are not eating? I don’t know what kind of a desecration of honor there is here. What does it really matter if he is buried here or there? No one is buried twice. It really wouldn’t have mattered except that your community council has selected one cemetery for the aristocrats and the other cemetery for lower-class deceased to which are counted, especially the Litvaks. This then becomes, through this process, a great dishonor?”
“But here we are not just talking about a simple ordinary Litvak, but a respected Hebrew writer with a name.”
“Okay, what do you want from me?” asked Slonimski.
“We are requesting that you should be so good as to intercede in front of the community council to have Ruderman laid to rest in Povonzek,” Dinezon replied.
“What? I should go to the community council and intercede,” he now yelled out in anger. “You mean this? You think I have nothing to do? You forget that I have the responsibility of a newspaper. How do you even propose this to me?”
“Maybe it would be enough that you could write a little note to the community council. A few words from you would certainly have an influence. We are very much asking this of you,” said Dinezon.
“I don’t write notes,” said Slonimski in the same angry tone. “I don’t have time to write notes. I haven’t even had a chance to look at the mail today. Look at the amount of mail I have,” and he pointed with his finger at a desk where there lay many unopened letters. Dinezon and I remained standing, completely baffled.
“I tell you again by way of good advice,” Slonimski said a little softer, noticing our perplexity. “Better still, don’t make a big issue out of this. Believe me, to the deceased, it makes no difference where he is buried. The living, they spit on that.”
Seeing that with this old man there was nothing to be arranged, we said goodbye and left.
When we were in the front room, he yelled out, “Let me know when the funeral will be.”
It turned out that our entire trip was unnecessary. Upon returning from the community council, Shefer had met on the way, the lawyer Yisroel Yasenovski, who at that time was the chairman of Warsaw’s Lovers of Zion, and told him the story. Yasenovski was a great devotee of Hebrew literature, and quickly went to the community council and, after a long conversation, convinced them to allow Ruderman to be buried in Povonzik.
Ruderman’s funeral was quite small. Not even ten men were walking after the casket. There were no more than six or seven Hebrew Writers. On Gensia Street, Slonimski arrived. On Dzika Street, Nachum Sokolow joined us. They walked along for a few blocks and then disappeared. At the cemetery, of the literary people, there were only five of us: Shefer, Eliezer Atlas, the writer and book dealer Avrom Zuckerman, Dinezon, and me.
I am reminded of something small here: At the cemetery, Eliezer Atlas approached me and asked: “Of what illness did Ruderman die?” I told him that, according to the doctor, he died of nerves. Atlas, who had quite often the desire to tell a joke and once in a while with a clean aftertaste, called out: “Not for nothing was he known as Ruderman—he lost his way.”
“Not always,” I remarked.
Recovering from his pun, Atlas said, “His name has come to an end; it’s over.”
It was already evening when we returned, and Dinezon and I went into a coffee house where we were served tea. Dinezon took into his hand a newspaper and, while sitting next to him, I noticed that there were tears falling from his eyes. He turned to me and said, “Ruderman was the only man I ever entrusted with a secret. And now he has taken it to the grave with him.” I understood right away what he meant. At the same time, Dinezon did not know, and this remained unknown to him forever, that with me, this was no secret at all.
From that time on, I used to meet with Dinezon quite often, almost every other day and especially in the afternoon hours. At that time, he lived with his sister on Nalewki Street, No. 19, in a little alcove, which in time became a center for the most respected Jewish authors. And not just Warsaw’s literati. In this particular alcove, I met countless times with Frishman, Shefer, Friedberg, Sholem Aleichem, and Goldfaden.
Writers felt at home in Dinezon’s tiny apartment. Everyone sat there on the one and only bed because there wasn’t enough room for chairs. Dinezon had within him a great drawing power. Much of this was due to his good and gentle character, his gem-like nature, his readiness to enter into the problems of his friends, and his desire to help without waiting to be asked. He treated every writer like a faithful friend or brother.
I would be able to tell a lot about what Dinezon did for the good of the older and younger writers during the middle-1880s, except that what he did, he did with a virtuous modesty. In that time, our writers were not torn apart as they are today in warlike camps between the Hebrew and Yiddish literati. The spiritual split between old and young had not so boldly shown at that time. Everyone was friendly, and everyone was drawn to Dinezon.
I remember that almost all of Warsaw’s literary community was at the wedding of Dinezon’s sister’s daughter. On the day after the wedding, the Hebrew newspaper Ha-Tsefirah almost did not get published because the censor, the writer Friedberg, spent the entire night at the wedding. That’s where the Gentile from the editorial office found him before taking him away to do his job.
At that time, Dinezon was a great person who sat in his own tent and only made an exception for a few houses. He mainly became very close to the Friedbergs, and often went to visit the Friedberg’s son-in-law, the well known Yiddish writer, Mordechai Spector, who at the time had for a wife, the talented writer, who was well known under the pseudonym, Isabella [Grinevskaya]. Dinezon only had to enter the house one time to become like a family member, sharing their sufferings and joys.
Dinezon spent his free time writing. Quite often, he would take out pages he had written a long time ago, rework and re-polish them before putting them back into the box. He seemed to have no interest in publishing them. But he did have a weakness: If one of the literati came in, he would take out and read some of his writings. You had to be there to see the kind of feeling and enthusiasm with which he read. He placed himself totally in the manuscript, not even throwing a glance at the listener, as if not wanting to interest himself in whether or not the reading was making an impression. He poured into each and every phrase such a depth of heart as if trying to touch the soul of the person who was face-to-face with him.
I used to get these kinds of honors very often. Once in a while, as he was putting the handwritten manuscript away into his little desk after reading a couple of chapters from one of his stories, he would say to me with his sweet smile, “I aired out my children a little bit. Now they will be able to lie once again in their rest until their day in the sun arrives.”
One time I came in to find Dinezon a little enraged. When I asked him what does this mean, he handed me a newspaper called Ha-Melitz and showed me a letter from Zhitomir which was signed with the name Shlomo Skomorovsky. Skomorovsky had written to the famous historian Professor Graetz with a request to translate his history of the Jews into Yiddish. Professor Graetz refused. Yiddish, Graetz said, was not a language but only a jargon which the Russian-Polish Jews should relegate to the archive as part of history.
Dinezon saw this statement from the famous Jewish professor as a great insult to the Yiddish language and to Yiddish writers. “This cannot and must not be left unanswered,” he said. “On such a thing, we must respond. Given such an insult, we must protest.”
“Maybe you should do this yourself,” I suggested.
Dinezon had some hesitation about this. First of all, other than some fiction, he had not written anything for a long time. Secondly, he didn’t have anyone to write to. He feared that even if he sent it to the Folksblat, [Yisroel] Levi, the crazy editor, would not only corrupt his article but actually put in exactly the opposite of what he wanted to say. And it didn’t make sense to write it for one of the Hebrew publications.
Not long after, Dinezon told me he couldn’t contain himself and sent a sharp protest article to the Folksblat, pointing out the inconsistencies and falsehoods of Professor Graetz’s opinions about the meaning and importance of the Yiddish language and Yiddish literature in the life of the Jewish people. Dinezon said, “I had to satisfy my conscience. If Levi comes along and turns my article upside down, it’s not my fault.”
Dinezon’s article against Graetz was published in about eight days. (Folksblat, Number 2, 1888 supplement.) And it appeared just as he had written it with no change or alteration. It had so much merit that Levi didn’t touch the article. In this manner, thirty years ago, Dinezon was the first to have the nerve to openly fight off the antipathy to Yiddish that was being expressed in Jewish intellectual circles.
During all his days, Dinezon was a great lover of Yiddish and its literature. He met every new talent, even if it wasn’t a great talent, with great enthusiasm. Every new Yiddish book overjoyed him. To this day, I cannot forget his enthusiasm on the day he brought me a collection of Yiddish stories, The Veker (The Waker), which was published in Odessa by the editor Lilienblum, for the Lovers of Zion, even though Dinezon was never a Zionist. The day Shimon Frug began writing in Yiddish was a true holiday for Dinezon. With great spiritual pleasure, he followed the currents of Sholem Aleichem’s blossoming talent. After being silent for fifteen years, Dinezon’s own desire reawakened after the publication of Spector’s Der Hoyz-fraynd (The House Friend) and Sholem Aleichem’s Folksbibliotek.
The life that was rising in the Yiddish literature pulled Dinezon back into the stream. He started with a few pieces that were published in the above anthologies. Afterward, he began to think about publishing his own literary collection. That particular idea remained with him but was never actualized because a short time later, he befriended Peretz, who began publishing his own anthology to which Dinezon provided material help and his short novel Hershele.
After Dinezon’s death, the renowned author Nomberg wrote in Der moment that Dinezon had two great moments in his life: When he first met Peretz and when Peretz died. In the first instance, I introduced Dinezon to Peretz.
I became acquainted with Peretz in 1886 (see my experiences with Peretz in Yiddish World, April–May 1915). Peretz had come to Warsaw for a few days, and I met him by chance at Shefer’s. From then on, we frequently wrote to each other. From Zamosc where he was living, he sent me a notebook with about twelve of his short stories. At that time, he wrote that he was anxious to have the stories published and was ready to give them to a publisher without a penny of royalties if he could obtain a number of printed copies. These particular stories were read in Spector’s quarters to a crowded circle of Warsaw’s literati who proclaimed in one voice that this was a writer of great talent and unanimous agreed the stories should be published. But there was not one publisher who was amenable to printing Peretz’s stories even without a fee. The excuse was that the stories were too short. A one-page story or a half-page story was not considered worth printing, and the publishers were only interested in long stories similar to the works of Shomer and Bukhbinder.
This is when Dinezon, at his own expense, paid to have Peretz’s stories published. He then sent all the printed copies to Zamosc, as Peretz had requested. You could say, this little book that carries the name, Images from Life, was the first ring of the golden chain of Peretz’s literary works.
In the year 1889, Peretz’s financial situation became critical, and he came to Warsaw for a few days to see if he could make arrangements for employment there. At to his request, I took him to meet Dinezon, who was still living in his tiny alcove at Nalewki No. 19. On the way, I prepared Peretz by telling him that Dinezon liked to read to his guests from his own unpublished works. I suggested that Peretz should expect this, and, even if it made him uncomfortable, should accept it with kindness.
In wonderment, Peretz asked, “Out of respect, won’t he at least ask if I’m interested? Does he want to audition for me?”
“No, if he wants to read for you, he won’t ask. That is just the way he works.”
And so it was. A little while after I had introduced them to each other, a discussion began about literature and writers, and in the middle of the conversation, Peretz expressed his appreciation that Dinezon had made such an effort in publishing his small work, Images from Life. He finished with these words, “If it is destined for me to remain in literature, then I have you to thank for it.”
In the meantime, Dinezon opened his desk drawer and took out a thick notebook. “Here,” he said, “ I am giving you an honor,” and began reading. I remember that Dinezon read a long chapter from his story Avigdorl, which he had written many years earlier. For some reason I do not know, this story has remained unpublished to this day.
Avigdorl is the name of a small boy, an orphan, whose mother, a widow, served as a cook for one of the town’s richest families. She kept the boy by her side in the kitchen, and all day long, this little orphan had to experience all kinds of abuse from the rich man’s two sons who used to torment him with all kinds of vexations. They used to beat him black and blue, which he concealed from his mother out of fear that if he opened his mouth, they would be tossed out of the kitchen.
Early each morning before daybreak, lying with his mother in the quiet of the kitchen, he used to ask her why the boss and his entire family should have a good time while they suffer so? And his mother always answered him with one reply: that this was God’s will. But this answer did not satisfy the little boy, and before every dawn, he would tear her from her sleep with more questions always on the same subject.
In the same chapter that Dinezon to Peretz, the little orphan’s sufferings were related. How the rich man’s strong and well-fed sons would toss him back and forth like a ball. At first, the orphan welcomed the game with a forced smile, but soon his smile disappears and, from the pangs in his heart, he pours out bitter tears. When the rich lady of the house finds the orphan crying, she curses and shouts at him in a frightful voice, “Why have you come to annoy me? Take your terrible disturbance back to the kitchen!”
Dinezon read this scene to Peretz in such a deep and tragic way that it seemed to us that he was sobbing along with the orphan.
On our return walk, I asked Peretz, “Well?”
Peretz answered, “It has been a long time since I have seen such deep blue, compassionate eyes.” A minute later he added, “If Dinezon and I become closer, I must discourage his habit of offering unsolicited readings of his stories. A writer who knows his own worth doesn’t need to present his work in that way.”
As is known to everyone, in time, Peretz became not only Dinezon’s closest friend but also much more than that, a brother. But I do not know whether or not he managed to wean him off the habit of reading aloud his unpublished works to his guests.
Meeting with Dinezon on the next day, I also asked him, “Well?”
On this, Dinezon replied, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such black intelligent eyes. He talks, however, very little, and it appears that he thinks more than he speaks.”
Each one made an impression on the other through their expressive eyes.
Peretz spent a few days in Warsaw at that time. Full of assurances for the future from friends and acquaintances, he returned to Zamosc with the intention of moving his family to Warsaw after Passover.
In that same year, a couple of weeks after Pesach, I came to visit Dinezon. As we were sitting there having a discussion, he said to me, “Do you know what day this is?”
“What day should it be?” I asked, not understanding the question.
“Today is Ruderman’s yortsayt.” A minute later he said, “Are you interested in going with me to the cemetery? Let’s go for a walk; it is a beautiful day.”
He told me that in the three years since Ruderman’s death, he had gone to the cemetery each year to visit his grave. I just couldn’t refuse Dinezon, and I went along with him. On the corner of Gensia and Nalewki, we suddenly saw Peretz coming towards us. The night before, he had arrived in Warsaw with his family and, at that moment, was on his way to see Dinezon. For a minute, Dinezon didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, he very much wanted to have Peretz visit him at his home, but on the other hand, he couldn’t persuade himself to break the tradition of visiting the cemetery, a need of the heart.
From this particular perplexity, I took Dinezon out of his discomfort, by saying, “My dear Peretz, you must excuse Dinezon because today is the yortsayt of a very dear friend, a Hebrew writer named Pesach Ruderman. Maybe you have heard of him? We are now walking to the cemetery.”
“Pesach Ruderman? Such a question? Have I heard of him?” Peretz asked. “We were at one time very close literary neighbors. My poem, ‘Sharer of Wisdom’ and Ruderman’s article about Chasidism were published in the same issue of Ha-Shahar. If I’m not in error, in the same issue, we also had for a neighbor, my former father-in-law, Gavriel Yehudah Lichtenfeld.” [Peretz was not in error. See Ha-Shahar, 7th year for the month of Tevet.]
And just as Peretz said this, he also said, “I will go along with you, but only under two conditions: one is that we take a carriage and two, that we go at my expense.”
On this subject, Dinezon answered, “To the first condition, I am in agreement. But to the second, absolutely not.”
“That is no good,” Peretz said, smiling. “If that is the case, I won’t go with you.”
I proposed a compromise. “One of you can pay for the carriage to the cemetery, and the other can pay for the carriage on the way back.”
“On this, I don’t agree either,” said Dinezon. “Today, Peretz is my guest, so I must take him at my expense. In the meantime, let’s take the carriage, and we’ll settle the account after the holiday.”
The three of us got into the carriage and went to the cemetery in Povonzek. As we were traveling, Dinezon told Peretz about Ruderman’s life story, concentrating on his last days. This made a strong impression on Peretz. Immediately he started up a conversation of the fate of writers and especially of the Jewish writers. It’s really not correct to call this a conversation, because except for Peretz, none of us spoke. And these were no ordinary words; this was a treasure of the most beautiful thoughts and original ideas. He crossed over from the Jewish writers to the Jewish people to Jewish life. And for the entire route, he piled on pearls of wisdom. And how beautiful and strong was the basis of his speech. Dinezon and I sat there and swallowed up every word. On the next day, Dinezon told me that Peretz had mesmerized him.
Into the cemetery, Dinezon went out in front to Ruderman’s grave, as Peretz and I followed behind. I figured that Dinezon would like to stand at the grave by himself for a while, and called Peretz aside to walk to an area where it appeared from the very large and artistically made gravestones that several of Warsaw’s rich and prominent people were buried. Peretz placed himself in front of one of the gravestones. I, standing about fifteen paces away, looked over another gravestone. Suddenly Peretz turned to me and said, “Come over here; I want to show you something interesting.”
I walked over, and he pointed with his finger to a gravestone that was standing to the side of the one at which he had stopped and said, “Read Warsaw’s Hebrew.”
This was the gravestone of a woman, and on it was written words of praise in very poor grammar. “How do you like the ignorance of this Hebrew?” Peretz asked.
“I can guarantee that this is only the style in Poland. A Jew from Lithuania would never have written such a thing on a gravestone.”
“I won’t argue with you about this,” Peretz said. “I am also of the opinion that those of you from Lithuania do better with Hebrew than those of us in Poland.”
As we were talking, Dinezon approached us, and Peretz pointed to the gravestone. Dinezon looked over at it and said, “Very sad.”
On the way out, all three of us stopped in front of Ruderman’s grave. Peretz then said as if speaking to himself, “Born in Borisev, took charity meals in Minsk, learned in Zhitomir, studied in Breslau, hungered in Lodz, and came to Warsaw to die.”
On the ride back from the cemetery, Peretz returned to the subject of the ignorant gravestone, and called out, “This is an unheard-of scandal to allow such gravestones to be placed in the cemetery that when you stop near them, you get red in the face.”
At that moment, I was reminded of the gravestone in Minsk with Elikum Tsunzer’s Yiddish text and told Dinezon and Peretz the whole story of the gravestone and how the Minsker burial society didn’t want to allow the Yiddish version but in the end, finally relented.
“What do you mean?” called Peretz. “That is a very good thought. Do you mean that in Yiddish, there is no way you could write out such a disgraceful message? It couldn’t happen in Yiddish?”
“Fundamentally, the Hebrew style lends itself to more lyrical descriptions,” Dinezon remarked. “In general, it seems to me that it cries out that the gravestone of a Jew should only be written in Hebrew.”
“Hebrew,” Peretz said, “contains a different flaw which consists of the fact that almost every word has not only a literal definition but also an interpretation and sometimes several interpretations. So take, for instance, the word that all three of us got so excited about. Who knows? Maybe the writer of this gravestone studied the literal meaning, ‘she was a wife unto him.’ Although it doesn’t seem right, our complaints would subside about this ignorance. Yiddish, as in all other languages where every word has its appointed definition for everyone, there would be no confusion.”
“It also seems,” Dinezon said, “that the conclusion would be to have the community council install a censor over the gravestones.”
In the middle of this conversation, we came into the city.
In this manner, through me, the acquaintance of Peretz and Dinezon began. And it didn’t take long before these two, who up until now were unknown to each other, came together as if drawn by an inner magnetic power. And astonishingly, there have never been two more contrasting people: Dinezon, with his open nature, full of trust and belief in everyone, ready to take each and every person into his arms with his perpetually sweet smile on his lips and his always soft and heartfelt nature. And Peretz, the controlled one, who was always locked inside himself; a hard person who was often bitter. Dinezon, the modest person and Peretz with the always-present elevated pride and aristocratic head. But nevertheless, these two contrasting natures with their sharply distinct opposites became, almost from their first meeting, as if poured out from the same cup.
In time, from this melting and pouring together of two antitheses, a synthesis took place. The great Peretz and his beloved brother, Dinezon. The future psychological critic will have the responsibility to find out and bring to the public those hidden threads that tied these two beloved folk writers together for twenty-six years and even beyond their death.
After the first personal acquaintanceship, I only found myself with them for a short time. My fate took me to the provinces. I did, however, for a few years, continue to correspond with Dinezon. Through these letters, I got the impression that throughout the early 1880s, Peretz became the spiritual center around whom gathered anyone with a spark of talent. Young people from the provinces, who felt inside them an inclination towards artistic expression, began making their pilgrimage to Warsaw to be with Peretz, presenting their writings and hearing his verdict. Peretz was a strict judge. It was already his habit that before he even looked at the writings of these young men, he would advise them against taking up a literary career because it was very responsible work tied to divine inspiration.
This fearful preamble would leave these young provincial writers in despair, but Dinezon would quickly blurt out with his sweet smile and passionate voice, “Take it easy, everything is all right. He will read it. Take out all your writings, give them to me, and I will give them to him.”
Right away, these writings would be laid on Peretz’s desk, and Peretz would begin to read them out loud in front of the writer himself. Peretz would be very happy when he discovered from one of these writers a spark of talent. And Dinezon felt no less pleasure and joy.
In this manner, they divided their roles. Peretz recognized the talent, and Dinezon coddled the newcomer. Of course, the young talents who had the good fortune to receive Peretz’s approval did not want to return to their tiny towns. They wanted to remain in Warsaw to be close to Peretz’s artistic influence. But how does one live in such a big city as Warsaw? This is where the goodhearted Dinezon came in. With a pure, fatherly love, he worried and cared about each one as much as he had in his power. Before you knew it, each one of them got an interest-free loan. This meant that they all agreed that it would be paid back “when the Messiah comes.” And after that, he began helping them find work. For one, he found a teaching position, for another, he found a writing assignment, for a third, he found whatever other type of employment was available. In addition, one must take into consideration that at this time, the Yiddish book market was practically dead. There were no Yiddish newspapers or magazines. A young Yiddish writer in Warsaw was destined to die of hunger. Yet Dinezon carried these writers over the hurdle on his back.
As before in that little alcove at Nalewki No. 19, Dinezon’s little room on Dzielna No. 15 became the center where all the young Yiddish talent came to speak about their worries and life experiences and left feeling encouraged to continue their literary activities. Those young writers only had Dinezon to thank for their existence until the appearance of the weekly Yiddish journal, Der Yud, which they then gathered around. Many of these writers have pages of stories to tell about the fatherly treatment Dinezon showed them during their first literary endeavors.
I could relate another series of characteristic episodes about Dinezon’s life with Peretz. Especially important are his opinions about certain people and books. But for many reasons, I will delay this until there is another opportunity. For now, I want to finish my memories of Dinezon with the following two stories. The first I saw myself in Vilna and the second was related to me by one of Dinezon’s acquaintances.
In the year 1911, Peretz and Dinezon traveled through Vilna, where they stopped for a day or two. Hearing of Peretz’s arrival, a group of young boys who were trying to be poets began to gather at his hotel. They brought along for him, as was the custom, packages of writings to hear his opinion. It just so happened that while I was sitting with Peretz and Dinezon, the door opened, and a young man around seventeen or eighteen entered. He was not very well dressed and had rumpled and unruly hair. He stood by the table where we were sitting and mumbled something that none of the three of us could understand. As it turned out, the young man spoke in a very nasal voice. So Dinezon got up from the table and went over to the young man and said, “Tell me what you want.” While he was talking, Dinezon took him into the neighboring room. A couple of minutes later, he returned with the young man and handed Peretz a couple of pieces of paper and said these were his poems, and this was the poet. “Take these and give your opinion. You, young man, sit down,” Dinezon said, bringing him a chair.
Peretz, with a sharp look at the young man, measured him from head to toe. He put a sour expression on his face, took a look at the first page, and began to read, “To My Bride.” Hastily, Peretz asked the young man, do you already have a bride? The young man flushed red over his ears and was silent. In a couple of minutes, he mustered up some strength and answered, “Not a bride but just someone.”
“What do you mean, ‘Just someone?’ Do you want to say you have a loved one?”
“Yes, a loved one,” he said. Then barely added, “But not mine.”
“What in the world do you mean?” said Peretz sharply. “You mean the loved one belongs to someone else? And you are singing the praises of her golden hair and very charming expressions?”
The young man became redder and redder, so Dinezon interrupted and said, “Look, Peretz, don’t torture him. Read further and just give your opinion. And you, young man, don’t be afraid. If you are meant to be a poet, you will be one.”
Peretz looked at the second page and said with a milder tone, “In the woods? You have been in the woods alone, right?”
“This is not bad. Leave your pages here, and come to see me tomorrow morning.”
This particular young poet is now being printed in all the Yiddish journals and newspapers.
I am now going to tell you about the second and final episode. In a certain city where they once invited Peretz to give a lecture, he took Dinezon along with him. After the lecture, which went over with great success, the local writers of the town put together a banquet in Peretz’s honor. During the banquet, they had toasts, which recounted Peretz’s accomplishments for the Yiddish literature. Dinezon was completely ignored. None of the speakers mentioned one word about him.
When it was time for Peretz to give his speech, he said, “I thank you, friends, for your wonderful words. I must, however, make you aware that on one thing—the most important thing—you have completely forgotten to mention my divine inspiration.” All who were present looked at Peretz in astonishment. “My divine inspiration is this man, this man,” and he pointed at Dinezon.
Dinezon, being the greatly modest person he was, couldn’t bear this. He stood up and shouted, “No, no, my friends, don’t believe him. The divine spirit is in him! Only him. Not in me in any way.”