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January 9: H.N. Bialik

Lawrence Bush
February 9, 2010

Hayyim_Nahman_Bialik_1923Modern Israel’s “national poet,” Haim Nahman Bialik, was born in Ukraine on this day in 1873. By his mid-twenties, Bialik was widely acclaimed for his writings in both Yiddish and Hebrew and had translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and other classics of world literature into Hebrew. With his longtime collaborator Yehoshua Ravnitzky, he collected, organized and translated the aggadic (folklore and storytelling) aspects of the Talmud into a single compendium, The Book of Legends, which was republished several times throughout the 20th century. Bialik was involved in the Zionist movement for decades before moving to Tel Aviv in 1924. Three years later he became head of the Hebrew Writers Union, a post he held until his death in 1934. As a writer, editor and publisher, Bialik greatly contributed to the revitalization of Hebrew. His poems have been translated into at least thirty languages, and many are sung as songs throughout Israel.
My dwelling is modest, lacking splendor,
but warm and bright and open to strangers.
A fire’s in the grate, on the table a candle —
my lost brother, stay and get warm.” —Bialik, from “On a Summer’s Day”

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.