Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Isaac Joel Linetzky


L. was born on 8 September (30 August, A.S.) 1839 in Vinnitsa, Podolia. His father was the rabbi, a burning Chasid and cabalist-- which had given him a strong, religious upbringing of the Chasidic spirit.

From childhood on L. manifested rare abilities. Already at age four he was renowned in the city as a singer, and at age six he learned with a Gemora religious teacher (melamed). Raised under the supervision of the Kuzner fanatics who tortured him, and there a feeling of protest grew against Hassidism, and through his acquaintance with towns people (or urban people) he secretly began to involve himself with the Enlightenment.

To put an end to his heresy, his father married him at the age of fourteen with a twelve-year-old girl, and soon forced him to get married and marry a devout, half-idiotic woman. These "God help me" states were reached at the age of sixteen years. He made an impression, and he appeared in an open struggle against wild fanaticism to make him [seem] unreasonable, the Chasidim tried to throw him into the river.

1858 -- L. fled to Odessa, where he gives Hebrew dates and teaches in Hebrew for another twelve years, and at the same time he learned German. 1862 -- He joined the Zhitomir rabbinical school, which however he left a year later.

At that time he began his literary activity in Yiddish, which reached the highlight of his work, "Dos poylishe yingl (The Polish Youth)," which really stormed the then-Yiddish world with her sharp satire. "Professor" M. Horowitz dramatized the account and directed it on Passover in 1878 in Bucharest.

Avraham Goldfaden, who is considered a competitor to "Professor" Horowitz, recalls in his memoirs:

"After Pesach [Passover] in the year 1877, when the Yiddish theatre had only survived the first winter in Bucharest, once at a rehearsal for Once upon a time, a problem occurred to me. (The actor) Israel Gradner and just kept telling me a secret, that here is a man who has a new play, and he wants to give it to me, that I would play it on the stage. He offered me this man, and I set him a time when he could come to me to read the play for me. On the second day Gradner really arrived with the man, who read to us a three-act piece with the name, "The Polish Youth." From the beginning, I thought it was an immortal masterpiece by the well-known satirist Yitskhok-Joel Linetsky -- But no, this was some kind of stupid vaudeville in three acts, a kind of place like 'Shmendrik.' I would have been upset at that time, but the secret the author gave me forbade me to take the piece. The author of this piece was a missionary, and as such was known in Bucharest."

Still in 1874 L. had in his book (republished in 1875 in Zhitomir, and 1876 in Warsaw) "Dos mshlkht, Kartines of Jewish life. From Eli Ktsin Htskhkiuli. The author fin'm poylishe yingl," published several sketches in a dialogue form. In particular, however, a theatrical character "Di vibores," in two acts (pp. 81-94).

In 1875 L. went around with Goldfaden across Odessa, Zhitomir, Berdichev and Vinitsye to gather subscribers for a weekly page, and also a great deal of action, for they both went to Lemberg, where they began a publication (23 July 1875), a "newspaper page for the voice of Israel," under the name, "Yisroelik."

M. Greedenberg, L.'s daughter, recalls about him in her memories about her father, that three months later both partners were brought down their families from Lemberg. Goldfaden continued to travel around Russia gathering subscriptions. "Linetzky managed the newspaper, but rapid discussions began between the editors of the literary media. Linetzky often used to sharply criticize the disadvantages of Goldfaden's literary works, abstaining from quite a fierce fight against

From the beginning, I thought that this was the irresistible edit and change Goldfaden's work. The end was that Goldfaden once departed for Russia on the next subscriber tour, and no longer returning to Lemberg. With the assistance of Tsederbaum, who had connections, had Goldfaden, should the prohibition include this "Israelik" in Russia. This led the newspaper to crash, what was listed was almost exclusively on Russia. Linetzky was found in a Christian camp. Without any trouble he climbs back to Odessa."

In Odessa L. continues to be a good friend to Goldfaden, and translates for him -- according to M. Greidenberg -- Lessing's "Natan hakhokhem (Nathan the Wise)."

About L.'s connection with the Odessa Jewish Theatre, B. Gorin writes:

"Another visitor was also Yitskhok Joel Linetzky, who several years earlier published a newspaper, together with Goldfaden. They (L. and M.L. Lilienblum) came not only to see how they play Yiddish theatre, but with a real desire to help reform [the Yiddish stage] and make the Yiddish theatre a national institution. ... The Yiddish theatre in Odessa also by Linetzky brought out a desire for the drama. Just as he had a good sense for humor, he had expected a random comedy from him. The fact that in Romania Horowitz had dramatized his "Polish Youth," showed him that he could create originals for the stage, and he indeed began to write a play that was completed when Goldfaden had returned to Odessa. Goldfaden and he entire company came to hear Linetzky's creation. Linetzky read, and Goldfaden nd the actors kept to the sides of laughter. Suddenly Linetzky looked over. He came to a position called in the language of stage,"apart" or "angry." ... It came to light that the words, which were marked in detail, revealed a secret that the other persons on the stage had in no way dared to know, and when they learned of it, the whole further act had no real meaning and gained a face of strength. The absurdity of it made the humorist so short that Linetzky burst out laughing and exclaimed: "To old spirits! This is stupid. In all corners of the theatre you will hear what he says, but those who stand next to him, deaf and blind about the minute, hear nothing and see nothing. Well!" He closed the notebook and refused to read further. And as much as Goldfaden did not realize it, explaining to him that this is not good, that this is the playwright's license, and that nothing else could be done, did not help. What was left of that piece is unknown. It was never published, and later he quieted his desire for drama by translating Lessing's "Nathan the Wise," a dramatic negotiation of faith and religions in five appearances. Composed in German from the well-known philosopher and poet Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Freely translated and adapted in the Yiddish jargon of Yitskhok Joel Linetzky. Odessa 1884." 80 pp. 16o).

According to M. Greidenberg, L. also worked over a small German (Schiller?) comedy, "Der nefe als onkly (The Nephew as an Uncle?)." It is also worth noting that L.'s songs were sung by the Brodersingers at the beginning of the seventies.

Y. Riminik remarks about this:

"It is also not possible to color the entirety of Linetsky's activity as a folk poet. We know him, understand, of course, [there is] no comparison to a Michael Gordon or Velvl Zbarzher. But is is then a fact that a considerable part of his evils were sung in the broad masses of people."

About L.'s musical abilities, L.'s daughter writes; "He was a good declamator, had good hearing, and a beautiful voice. By himself he used to compose melodies for his songs. He learned this way for sixty years. He nevertheless wrote in an album of texts, and the melodies of his songs. The album was under the name, 'Di yidishe lire,' and is preserved in the Odessa Museum of Jewish Culture." And he (L.) read his work artistically. He always used to read with enthusiasm about Goldfaden, and often sang his songs from 'Shulamis,' and that once, talking about it, which talented Yiddish actor sang on the Odessa corners, L. had said, "If you had come to Odessa twenty years earlier, you would have met me in the same cellars and Goldfaden would be singing our best songs. We have both sung in the cellars. Many talents are lost by Jews."

In the age Linetzky was exempt from the bitter material distress: he was held in honor of his son, an architect, and had from time to time published trinkets in the Yiddish newspapers in Odessa, where he passed away on 23 September 1915.

  • Z. Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. II, pp. 165-174.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. I, pp. 147, 231-33.

  • Sh. Niger -- Elements of Sholem Aleichem's Humor by Sholem Aleichem, "Pincus," N.Y., 1927-28, p. 10.

  • R. Granovski -- Yitskhok Joel Linetzky, same, pp. 145-147, 212-216.

  • B. [R.] Granovski -- Yitskhok Joel Linetzky -- Interesting Character Shtrikhen, "Forward," N.Y., 25 Nov. 1928.

  • Sh. Borovsky --An umbakante iberzetsung fun linetzky's "poylishn yingl," "Bibliolagisher Zamlung, Soviet Union, 1930, pp. 520-21.

  • A.R. Melachi -- A hebreishe iberzetsung fun linetzky's "poylishn yingl," "YIVO Bleter," Vilna, 1931, pp. 282-3.

  • Y.Sh. -- Notitsn vegn linetzkin, dort, pp. 270-71.

  • Y. Riminik -- Tsu der geshikhte funem "poylishn yingl," "Tsaytshrift," Minsk, Vol. 5, 1931, pp. 183, 186.

  • M. Greidenberg -- Fartseykhenungen vegn mayn foter, dort, pp. 201-07.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1092.

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