Yiddish writer David Pinski, whose plays brought the lives of urban Jewish workers to the Yiddish stage, died at 87 on this date in 1959. Pinski was a Talmudic wonder-child but became a secular Jew and socialist Zionist in his early adulthood. He was encouraged as a writer by the great I.L. Peretz, with whom he founded both a publishing house and a student literary community in Warsaw. Pinski would remain an important force in Jewish publishing and socialist organizing throughout his life, fifty years of which were spent in New York after 1899. In 1916, he became a member of the central committee of Poale Zion, the labor Zionist movement, for which he edited a journal and two daily newspapers. He also founded the Farband, the Labor Zionist organization, for which he served as president from 1919-22 and 1933-48, and he was the first president of the Yiddish PEN Club. It was Pinski’s plays, however, that were his primary legacy. Many of them “were about the common man and the workers,” writes YIVO, “historical legends and folklore… Biblical characters… [and] messianic figures from different time periods.” Pinski also introduced a sexual frankness to the Yiddish stage (his 1938 play, “The Singing Blacksmith,” became a film starring Moishe Oysher and featured the first film role for Hershel Bernardi). Pinski wrote several plays about Zionist pioneers as well, and moved to Israel in 1949, where he was honored but found no outlet for plays in Yiddish (several of his late plays were never produced).
“For his eightieth birthday, he was made an honorary citizen of Haifa and a street on Mount Carmel was named after him. He was also made the honorary chairman and vice president of the Yiddish Literary Union in Israel. He continued to write and publish in Israel and to send articles to be published in Morgn Zhurnal (Daily Journal) and Tog (Day) in New York but he also believed that Yiddish would eventually become a respected part of the culture of Israel, alongside Hebrew.” —YIVO/Center for Jewish History