Today in Yiddishkayt… August 9
Birthday of Morris Winchevsky, Yiddish poet
Morris Winchevsky was born Ben-Zion (later Leopold) Novokhovitch on August 9, 1856 in Jonava, Kovno Province (today in Lithuania). He began an advanced rabbinical training but abandoned religious life after feeling that such an occupation was rife with hypocrisy. He became a bank clerk and in 1874, he was transferred to a post deep inside Russia. There, he came into contact with revolutionists who had come from the universities to spread propaganda among the peasants. In 1877 while posted at a bank in Königsberg, East Prussia, he joined the German socialist movement. Winchevsky began writing in Hebrew, German and Yiddish and editing a newspaper, which published several of his protest poems. Soon after, Winchevsky was arrested and deported. After a short stay in Paris, he settled in London.
In London, for the first time in his life, he saw tens of thousands of Jewish factory workers and realized that in order to reach them he must write in Yiddish. He became closely associated with William Morris and the British Social Democratic Federation.Winchevsky wrote revolutionary tracts and founded and edited the first Yiddish Socialist newspaper, דאָס פּוילישע יידל (The Polish Jew). He also helped found the אַרבעטער פֿרײַנד (Worker’s Companion), the first Yiddish Anarchist newspaper. He wrote songs and poems that he dedicated to the shoemakers, tailors and carpenters. His work from this period described and supported the workers’ struggle for a better life. Alongside Morris Rosenfeld, David Edelstadt and Joseph Bovshover, he was a leading member of the school of “Proletarian Poets,” and became known all over the world as the zayde (grandfather) of Yiddish proletarian poetry.
Winchevsky emigrated to the United States in 1894, where he edited socialist journals in Boston and New York. In New York, he joined with Abraham Cahan and Louis Miller in helping to found the Forward in 1897. Winchevsky was later selected as the representative of the Jewish Socialist Federation (JSF) to the American Jewish Congress when they met to select its delegates to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He was subsequently associated with the Communist Party of the United States and its Yiddish organ, פֿרייהייט (Freedom). On his 70th birthday, the paper published his collected works in 10 volumes. He died on March 18, 1932.
Listen to the Klezmatics performing “און מיר זײַנען אַלע ברידער (For We Are All Brothers),” which evolved from Winchevsky’s poem, “אחדות (Unity).”