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December 23: H. Leyvik and the Golem

December 23, 2013
220px-H._Leivick_1940Poet and playwright H. Leyvik (Leyvik Halpern), author of The Golem, one of Yiddish literature’s most famous plays, died shortly before his seventy-fourth birthday on this date in 1962. Leivick was a yeshiva bokher (a religious student) before joining the Jewish Labor Bund and participating in the 1905 revolution in Russia, which landed him in Siberia for a year. He then escaped from exile and came to America, where he worked as a wallpaper hanger. Leyvik wrote for several Yiddish newspapers, including Der Tog (The Day) and the communist Morgn Frayhayt, and was a leading light of di yunge, a group of mostly young avant-garde Yiddish poets. He wrote The Golem, “a dramatic poem in eight scenes,” in 1921. Based on the legend of the humanoid that runs amok after being created by Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, the play was read as a veiled critique of the Bolshevik Revolution and led to Leyvik’s condemnation by the communist left. The play was translated into Hebrew and produced by the Habima Theater of Moscow for the first time in 1927. The Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Israel, as well as the H. Leyvik Publishing House and the Israeli Center for Yiddish Culture, are all headquartered in The Leyvik House in Tel Aviv. “Gone is the yesterday/Nor yet has dawned the morrow./Left is a tidbit of to-day,/Betray it not with sorrow.” —H. Leyvik, “Gone Is the Yesterday”