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Ben-Ammi (Rabinowicz), Mordecai


BEN-AMMI (Rabinowicz), MORDECAI (1854–1932), author and journalist writing in Russian. A traditional Jewish education and the harsh circumstances of his life after he lost his father at a young age are reflected in his stories. At Odessa he attended a yeshivah where the curriculum included languages and sciences. Influenced by Perez *Smolenskin, he became a maskil, and entered a Russian secondary school and thereafter the University of Odessa. When pogroms broke out in southern Russia in 1882, Ben-Ammi took part in organizing Jewish self-defense in Odessa. He campaigned against the czarist regime for organizing the pogroms and the Russian press for condoning them, also castigating the Jewish intelligentsia for failing to defend its people. In 1882 he went to Paris to obtain assistance from the Alliance Israélite Universelle for the victims of the pogroms. From there he sent his "Letters from Paris" to the Russian-Jewish monthly Voskhod (signed "Resh Galuta"), which reflect his deep appreciation of Jewish values. The same year Ben-Ammi moved to Geneva, where he began to write stories depicting the joyous spirit of Jewish festivals and the legends associated with them. In 1883 he completed the stories "Priezd Tsadika," and "Ben Yukhid," the latter reflecting the atmosphere of the days of the Cantonists, and in 1884 a long story "Baal Tefila." The stories became popular among Jews who read Russian. In 1887 Ben-Ammi returned to Odessa, where he remained until 1905, and published the autobiographical story Detstvo ("Childhood"), in which he describes the Jewish background of his youth. In articles published in Voskhod, he attacked the czarist authorities for their anti-Jewish discrimination. He also criticized the Jewish intelligentsia for having renounced Jewish values and for leaving their persecuted brethren to suffer an unfortunate fate. He also published a collection of stories for Jewish juvenile readers with illustrations, as well as a series of stories in Yiddish. Ben-Ammi became a member of the committee of Ḥovevei Zion in Odessa upon its formation in 1890, and was a delegate to the First Zionist Congress and other congresses convened by Theodor Herzl. His esteem for Herzl was so great that on his death Ben-Ammi mourned him as though he were a close relative. While living in Odessa, he taught in the Jewish school directed by Mendele Mokher Seforim, whose faithful friend he remained throughout his life. On the outbreak of the Russian revolution of 1905, Ben-Ammi returned to Geneva. In 1923 he settled in Ereẓ Israel. Ben-Ammi's stories portray the traditional Jewish way of life from the inside. Despite a certain sentimentality and romanticization, their pervasive sincerity and spirit of piety give them a unique appeal, especially among the young. Several were translated into Hebrew by Ḥ.N. Bialik.


Aḥad Ha-Am, Al Parashat Derakhim, 3 (1921), 64–65; J. Klausner, Yoẓerei Tekufah u-Mamshikhei Tekufah (1956), 107–17; Haolam, no. 17 (1911), 2–3; lnyl, 1 (1956), 349; I. Klausner, Mi-Katoviẓ ad Basel, 2 (1965).

[Israel Klausner]

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