Moishe Kulbak

Updated: Apr 13

March 20, 2021 marks the 125th anniversary of the Jewish poet, prose writer and playwriter Moishe Kulbak. He was called the prodigy of Jewish literature, a meteor who rapidly burst into Jewish poetry.


He was born in the Belarusian Smorgon, a poor town that became famous for only one thing - the academy for training bears. Kulbak received a traditional Jewish education there, also studied at the famous yeshivas of Volozhin, Mira and Sventsyan, and was a teacher at a Jewish orphanage in Kovno.


In the same place in 1916 he made his debut with his poem "Shterndel" (Star), which overnight turned into a popular folk song. In 1920 he published the first collection of poems in Hebrew "Shirim" (Poems), then moved on to writing in Yiddish.


He moved to Vilna, where he taught Jewish literature at the famous Vilna real gymnasium. There are many testimonies left by his students, who considered Kullbak a legendary and brilliant teacher who turned every piece studied into a solo performance. He attracted, intrigued and delighted the audience so much that not only students fell in love with Jewish literature, but also their parents. Kulback, among other things, organized cultural and educational events for parents in the evenings. These evening circles were incredibly successful.


He went to study in Berlin, but after a couple of years he returned to Vilna, and in 1928 he decided to move to Soviet Belarus, to Minsk, naively believing that it was there that Jewish culture would find its worthy home ...


He proved himself not only as a popular poet, but also as an excellent playwright - especially in plays on historical themes: "Boytre", "Moshiach ben Ephraim", "Jacob Frank".


Critics put his poetry at the highest level, arguing about what is more in it - a simple Jewish nationality or European aestheticism. Another wonderful poet, Shmuel Galkin, eloquently answered this question: "... what was more in him - subtle shrillness or rough Zeelmenian simplicity? What more shone in him - a sparkling brilliance of a diamond or the fire of a torch? I would say that in the light of a torch he polished his diamonds ".


Exactly so - Kulbak managed to combine folk simplicity and naivety with the subtle aestheticism of the poetic style.


The same feature can be traced not only in his poetry, but also in the famous novel "Zelmenians", recognized as one of the best works of literature in Yiddish. The novel depicts a huge family that descended from Zalman's grandfather and Bashi's grandmother. This family, which is called "March 20, 2021 marks the 125th anniversary of the Jewish poet, prose writer and playwright Moishe Kulbak. He was called the prodigy of Jewish literature, a meteor who rapidly burst into Jewish poetry.


He was born in the Belarusian Smorgon, a poor town that became famous for only one thing - the academy for training bears. Kulbak received a traditional Jewish education there, also studied at the famous yeshivas of Volozhin, Mira and Sventsyan, and was a teacher at a Jewish orphanage in Kovno.


In the same place in 1916 he made his debut with his poem "Shterndel" (Star), which overnight turned into a popular folk song. In 1920 he published the first collection of poems in Hebrew "Shirim" (Poems), then moved on to writing in Yiddish.


He moved to Vilna, where he taught Jewish literature at the famous Vilna real gymnasium. There are many testimonies left by his students, who considered Kullbak a legendary and brilliant teacher who turned every piece studied into a solo performance. He attracted, intrigued and delighted the audience so much that not only students fell in love with Jewish literature, but also their parents. Kulback, among other things, organized cultural and educational events for parents in the evenings. These evening circles were incredibly successful.


He went to study in Berlin, but after a couple of years he returned to Vilna, and in 1928 he decided to move to Soviet Belarus, to Minsk, naively believing that it was there that Jewish culture would find its worthy home ...


He proved himself not only as a popular poet, but also as an excellent playwright - especially in plays on historical themes: "Boytre", "Moshiach ben Ephraim", "Jacob Frank".


Critics put his poetry at the highest level, arguing about what is more in it - a simple Jewish nationality or European aestheticism. Another wonderful poet, Shmuel Galkin, eloquently answered this question: "... what was more in him - subtle shrillness or rough Zeelmenian simplicity? What more shone in him - a sparkling brilliance of a diamond or the fire of a torch? I would say that in the light of a torch he polished his diamonds ".


Exactly so - Kulbak managed to combine folk simplicity and naivety with the subtle aestheticism of the poetic style.


The same feature can be traced not only in his poetry, but also in the famous novel "Zelmenians", recognized as one of the best works of literature in Yiddish. The novel depicts a huge family that descended from Zalman's grandfather and Bashi's grandmother. This family, which is called "Zelminianer" throughout the district, lives in an ordinary place with a traditional patriarchal lifestyle. The author traces the changes that have taken place in the life of the family with the advent of Soviet power. The grown-up children are leaving in all directions. Mostly elderly parents stay in the town. One of the "Zelminianer" even becomes a Soviet policeman


... The whole story is imbued with great love for a simple Jewish worker, for his uncomplicated way of life, for simple and understandable human relationships. At the same time, the novel is imbued with sparkling Jewish folk humor. The descriptions, most beautiful in style and richness of language, are replaced by moments that cause a fit of laughter.


Moishe Kulbak fell among Jewish writers in the USSR as one of the first victims of Stalin's political terror. He was arrested in 1937 and shot on espionage charges. By that time, he was 41 years old. He was rehabilitated posthumously in 1956. So tragically left this world, one of the greatest literary talents with which the Jewish people have been blessed." throughout the district, lives in an ordinary place with a traditional patriarchal lifestyle. The author traces the changes that have taken place in the life of the family with the advent of Soviet power. The grown-up children are leaving in all directions. Mostly elderly parents stay in the town. One of the "Zelminianer" even becomes a Soviet policeman ... The whole story is imbued with great love for a simple Jewish worker, for his uncomplicated way of life, for simple and understandable human relationships. At the same time, the novel is imbued with sparkling Jewish folk humor. The descriptions, most beautiful in style and richness of language, are replaced by moments that cause a fit of laughter.


Moishe Kulbak fell among Jewish writers in the USSR as one of the first victims of Stalin's political terror. He was arrested in 1937 and shot on espionage charges. By that time, he was 41 years old. He was rehabilitated posthumously in 1956. So tragically left this world, one of the greatest literary talents with which the Jewish people have been blessed.



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