Hebrew and Yiddish Poet
Chaim Nachman Bialik was born on January 9, 1873 in the rural Volhynian settlement of Rad’i near Zhytomyr (the settlement no longer exists) and was raised in Zhytomyr.
He began a traditional Jewish education in kheder and bes-medresh, and attended the prestigious yeshiva at Volozhin. It was at yeshiva that Bialik devoted himself to the acquisition of secular education.
He left Volozhin for Odessa in 1891 to join the emerging Jewish (Hebrew and Yiddish) literary scene.
In the early years of the 20th century, Bialik was reaching his creative stride and he published widely in Hebrew and Yiddish. He wrote short lyrical poetry as well as poemas (long-form verse), children’s poetry, essays and criticism, and translated world poetry.
Left: ascending “Har Bialik,” named for the poet. Above: the famed Volozhin yeshiva, where Bialik studied. Right: View of modern-day Volozhin from the top of Har Bialik.
In 1921, Bialik left Soviet Russia and settled briefly in Germany. He moved to Palestine in 1924 and lived in Tel Aviv on a street named for him.
While Bialik was considered the “National Poet” of the Hebrew Renaissance, his everyday spoken language remained Yiddish. He famously remarked: יידיש רעדט זיך, העברעאיש דאַרף מען רעדן [Yiddish speaks itself, but one has to speak Hebrew]!”
Enjoy this classic recording of soprano Mascha Benya (1908–2007) singing Bialik’s poem Unter di grininke beymelekh: