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March 30: Avrom Reyzn

March 29, 2015

ReyznYiddish story writer, poet, novelist, and essayist Avrom Reyzn died at 76 (some say 77) on this date in 1953. After moving to the U.S. in 1911, he contributed a stream of very popular stories to several American Yiddish newspapers. Reyzn was encouraged and promoted by both Sholem Aleichem and Y.L. Peretz, and in turn helped encourage many young Yiddish writers: “For years,” said the Jewish Spectator after his death, “he published and edited, under great sacrifices, Yiddish journals with the primary aim of providing a platform for young, struggling writers.” After 1929, Reyzn broke with di linke, the Jewish communist left (over its endorsement of Arab pogroms in Palestine as anti-imperialist uprisings) and wrote exclusively for the Forverts, one story each week. He also wrote a three-volume autobiography, Episodes from My Life. Much of Reyzn’s writing was politically motivated and included sensitive sketches of poor and working-class Jews. Many of his poems were set to music and became part of Jewish folk culture (including “Tell Me, Marrano,” a Passover song). “The narration... is often reminiscent of Anton Chekhov, another writer whom he translated into Yiddish,” says the Jewish Virtual Library. “His stories are masterpieces of concision and evince his particular gift for catching the essential psychological traits of a character or a situation in a few strokes.” To read a story by Reyzn published in translation in Jewish Currents, click here. To read a portrait of him from 1963 by Henry Goodman, click here.

While “warmth of feeling in Reyzn’s work is never naive or sentimental... Reyzn’s deep feeling and concern for his fellows remains pure and unaltered.” —Henry Goodman