The 150th anniversary of David Pinsky

Updated: May 5

Mordehay Yushkovsky


April 5, 2022 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Jewish writer and playwright David Pinsky.


Pinsky was born in 1872 in Mogilev, Belarus, where he received a traditional Jewish primary education, then lived in Moscow, Vitebsk, Vienna, and Warsaw.

His literary debut was poetry in Yiddish, published in 1893 in the Warsaw Jewish Yearbook. And later, he published satirical stories and feuilletons, after he received the approval of I. L. Peretz.

His early works were interesting because of newness of the subject. Among the topics he touched upon there were: concerns for the fate of women in traditional Jewish society, displaying the staleness and material poverty of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement, and the introduction of enlightenment ideas into Jewish life.


Living in Warsaw, Pinsky together with I.L. Perets published, the journal "Yomtev-Bletlekh", thanks to which he gained fame in the Jewish literary world.


The famous literary critic Shmuel Niger called him "the pioneer of the socialist Jewish story," for the early period of Pinsky's work that represented a special kind of proletarian educational fiction. It is important to note that Pinsky's social protest is not of a collective nature, it is usually the protest of an individual. His heroes were just beginning to acquire public consciousness, their protest is spontaneous and does not have an organized form.

In 1899, David Pinsky settled in New York. There his name was already fairly well known in Jewish literary surrounding. He became the literary editor of the newspaper "Abendblat" (evening sheet). It was there that he developed himself as a playwright. After several one-act plays, he published the first major 3-act drama "Aizik Sheftl", which became very popular. The hero of the drama Aizik works in the workshop of Note Goldin, who exploits his inventive talent, cashing in on his creative ideas, on his innovative discoveries. Aizik, despite all the material hardships, is completely immersed in his ideas. When the thought of improving the machine comes to him, he does not go to work for three days. He does not even heed the lamentations of his wife Beila: "He arranged a holiday for himself and does not go to the workshop for three days! He wants to invent cars! We have great earnings from these machines ... He wants to enrich Goldin!"


Aizik's personal drama consists in the eternal conflict between a creative person who is always alone in his search, and a grey crowd of people busy with their daily worries, as Sholom Aleichem described them as "kleine menchelech mit kleine asoges" (little people with small objections). In this work, just as in the early stories of Pinsky, the protesting individual is in the center, someone who is not understood, not accepted and exploited by his environment.


In the future, David Pinsky firmly took his place in American Jewish drama. The heyday of his work on the path of drama coincided with the golden age of Jewish theater in the United States. His plays have been staged many times.


In 1901, he wrote the play "Di Muter" (mother), in 1903, following the footsteps of the Kishinev pogrom, the play "Di familie Zvi" (The family Zvi). In 1910, the play "Yankl der Schmid" (Yankl the blacksmith) was released, which gained immense popularity in the Jewish theater. In 1938, the play was also shoot as a film of the same name in the United States, which made this work even more famous, especially considering the fact that the outstanding singer and actor Moishe Oisher starred in the title role.


The play "Der Eibker yid" (The Eternal Jew), written in 1906, gained fame. In 1923 it was staged in Hebrew translation at the “Habima” theater in Moscow. This play, as well as its logical sequel Der Stumer Moshiach (The Silent Messiah), perpetuated the age-old messianic aspirations deeply rooted in the Jewish collective consciousness.


Over the years of his life in America, David Pinsky created dozens of plays, which marked his leading position in American dramaturgy in Yiddish. Many of his works are devoted to the topical problem of the assimilation of American Jewry, in particular, the novel Dos Hoyz fun Noeh Edon (House of Noah Edon) written in 1931. This is a kind of family saga about the life of three generations of Jewish emigrants in America.


In 1941–49 Pinsky was co-editor of one of the leading Yiddish literary and public journals, Tsukunft (the future). In 1948, together with prominent writers: S. Niger, H. Leivik, J. Opatoshu and others, he initiated the creation of the World Jewish Cultural Congress, was also elected the first president of the Jewish PEN Club.


Living in America, he strengthened his Zionist convictions, ideologically approached the Poalei Zion party, and in 1949 made aliyah to Israel and settled in Haifa, where he lived for the last ten years of his life, until his death in 1959. Here he wrote dramas on the biblical theme "Shoel a-melech" (King Saul) and "Shimshn un Dlile" (Samson and Delilah), published a lot in publications in Yiddish, incl. worked closely with the Tel Aviv magazine "Di goldene keyt", which was edited by Avrom Sutzkever.


Pinsky's house in Haifa became a kind of local Union of Yiddish writers. Numerous literary events took place there.


During his life, Pinsky published about seventy books. In 1974, the Haifa city council decided to name one of the streets in the center of Carmel after him. The Haifa city theater award named after D. Pinsky was also established.


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