Adler, Jacob

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ADLER, JACOB (1872?–1974), Yiddish poet and humorist, often writing as B. Kovner . Adler was born in Dinov, Austria-Hungary (now Dynow, Poland), but in 1894 immigrated to the United States where he worked in sweatshops, agitated for socialism, and wrote nostalgic poems about the "old country" for various journals, especially his mentor David Pinski's Der Arbeter. These poems were collected in his first volume, Zikhroynes fun Mayn Haym ("Memories of My Home," 1907), with an introduction by Pinski. They are full of nostalgia for the Jewish milieu of his childhood, which he views as carefree and idyllic, despite its poverty: the festive Sabbaths and holidays, spent in the sweet comfort of the synagogue; the pure yearnings of first love; the final, sad parting from family and birthplace. The volume ends with a lament for himself, sick and weak though young, his life ebbing away in an alien land. He sought relief from the misery of existence in sardonic humor, contributing under various pseudonyms to the popular humorous periodicals Der Groyse Kundes and Der Kibetser, and co-editing Der Yidisher Gazlen with Moyshe Nadir. In 1911, Abraham Cahan, editor of Forverts, invited him to join his staff and assigned him the pseudonym of B. Kovner, thus enabling him to exchange a former pseudonym "Der Galitsiyaner" for a new identity as a "Litvak." Kovner's humorous feuilletons immediately became a success and his characters, such as the shrewish busybody Yente Telebende, her henpecked husband Mendl, Moyshe Kapoyer, and Peyshe the Farmer soon became household names in American Yiddish homes. His anecdotes and witticisms circulated widely. His characters inspired many songs and stage routines. Many of Adler's humorous sketches were collected in six Yiddish volumes between 1914 and 1933 and two in English translation (Laugh, Jew, Laugh, 1936, and Cheerful Moments, 1940). His Lider ("Poems," 2 vols., 1924), which appeared at the height of his fame, revealed the sadness and loneliness of the humorist. These poems were grouped into cycles with such titles as "Alone" and "Between Gray Walls." Even the few poems designated as humorous were bitterly satiric. He continued to write prolifically until his late nineties.


Rejzen, Leksikon, 1 (1928), 42–44; lnyl, 1 (1956), 24f.; M. Nadir, Teg fun Mayne Teg (1935), 220–273; H. Rogoff, Der Gayst fun "Forverts" (1954), 257–259.

[Sol Liptzin /

Ben Furnish (2nd ed.)]