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Ben-Zion, S.

BEN-ZION, S.

BEN-ZION, S. (pseudonym of Simhah Alter Gutmann ; 1870–1932), Hebrew and Yiddish author. Ben-Zion, who was born in Teleneshty, Bessarabia, settled in Odessa in 1889. He taught there with Bialik, at the modern elementary school, where modern Hebrew was the language of instruction. With Bialik and *Rawnitzki, he founded the publishing house *Moriah and was editor of its juvenile division. The three also collaborated in the writing of Bible stories for children. Ben-Zion published the widely used reader, Ben Ammi (3 parts, 1905–11). From 1905 until his death he lived in Palestine, where he edited various journals and miscellanies; Ha-Omer (Jaffa, 1907–09); Moledet (1911); Shai (1918–19), the literary supplement of the weekly Ḥadashot me-ha-Areẓ; Ha-Ezraḥ (1919); and, for a short period (1930–31), the weekly Bustanai. Ben-Zion was also active in public life and was one of the founders of the Aḥuzzat Bayit suburb, out of which Tel Aviv developed. Ben-Zion's main achievement was as a short story writer. He began as a realist, influenced by *Mendele Mokher Seforim, but his realism had none of Mendele's social satire. The main theme of his early works is the decline of the Bessarabian small Jewish town at the end of the 19th century. The younger generation longed to escape from the poverty and ignorance of their parents, but found themselves unequipped to do so. Their approach to life was blighted by an excessive leaning toward abstraction and they lacked a realistic approach to everyday problems. Ben-Zion's memories of his own childhood and youth occupy a prominent place in these stories. In Nefesh Reẓuẓah ("A Crushed Soul," 1952), he denounces the anguish inflicted upon the Jewish child, crushed in the stifling atmosphere of the ḥeder. Ben-Zion's emigration to Palestine marked a turning-point in his writing. Sensing that the true essence of Zionism at the time was to be found not in the reality but in the vision, he abandoned his realism for poetic lyricism and visionary symbolism. In this vein, he wrote his prose-poems Raḥel and Leviyyim which, though artistically imperfect, nevertheless represent a milestone in modern Hebrew literature. Toward the end of his life Ben-Zion wrote two lengthy historical novels, Megillat Ḥananyah, set in the period of the Second Temple, and Ma'aseh ha-Nezirah, the story of Judith and Holofernes. He also excelled as a translator and rendered several of the classical works of German poetry into Hebrew: Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea (1917); Schiller's Wilhelm Tell (1924); Ẓelilim, a selection of Heine's poems (1923); Heine's Deutschland,ein Wintermaerchen (1938), published posthumously. In addition, Ben-Zion wrote monographs on the Biluim and the colonies of Nes Ẓiyyonah and Gederah, edited an anthology entitled Ha-Kotel ha-Ma'aravi ("The Western Wall," 1929), and published Zemirot li-Yladim ("Songs for Children") with music by Joel *Engel (1923). His collected writings were first published in 1914 (in two volumes), and were later reissued in a single large volume (1949), with a complete bibliography, and illustrations by his son, Naḥum *Gutmann (1949).

bibliography:

I. Klausner, Yoẓerim u-Vonim, 2 (1929), 183–99; J. Rawnitzki, Dor ve-Soferav, 2 (1937), 106–14.

[Gedalyah Elkoshi]

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