Kobrin, Leon

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KOBRIN, LEON (1872–1946), Yiddish dramatist and novelist. Kobrin was born in Vitebsk, Russia, where he began writing in Russian. Only after immigrating to Philadelphia in 1892 did he develop an interest in Yiddish literature. After translating stories from Russian into Yiddish, his first original story was "A Merder Oys Libe" ("A Murderer for Love," 1894) in the Filadelfyer Shtot-Tsaytung. Further sketches published in the Ovntblat won him a permanent position on the newspaper and he moved to New York. His writing was strongly influenced by Jacob *Gordin and Russian and French realism. The majority of his plays and stories depict the social and emotional problems of adaptation to life in urban sweatshops and tenements. Occasionally, with varying degrees of nostalgia, he returned to an East European setting, as in Yankl Boyle (1898) a story in which he portrays the tragic love of a Jewish fisherman for a peasant girl. In this and other works, the innovative presentation of raw eroticism invites comparison with David *Pinski's Yankl der Shmid ("Yankl the Smith," 1906). Kobrin's dramatized version of Yankl Boyle was successfully performed in 1913 in both the U.S. and Europe, and was revived in New York in 1963. His debut as a playwright had come with Mine (1899), which was controversially rewritten and staged by Gordin, the original text appearing, however, later the same year. Kobrin wrote several novels and more than 30 plays, not all of which were published, but most were staged. They deal predominantly with problems of nationalism, assimilation, and inter-generational conflict in the U.S. He also translated and adapted for the stage *Shakespeare's Hamlet, *Goethe's Faust, and Israel *Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto, as well as plays by Tolstoy and Chirikov. Among his major works are Di Imigrantn ("The Immigrants," 1909), Di Dervakhung ("The Awakening," 1920), and Ore di Bord ("Ore the Beard," 1918), a novel dealing with the life of a religious Jew during a real estate boom in New York. His memoirs appeared as Derinerungen fun a Yidishn Dramaturg ("Memories of a Yiddish Playwright," 1925) and Mayne Fuftsik Yor in Amerike ("My Fifty Years in America," 1955, 1966). A collection of short stories, A Lithuanian Village (1928), appeared in English, and further translations have appeared in a number of anthologies. Together with his wife, Pauline Segal, Kobrin translated into Yiddish from Artsibashev, Chekhov, Turgenev, and Zola, as well as the collected works of du Maupassant.


S. Liptzin, The Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1963), 154–5; E. Schulman, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike (1943), 129–33; Rejzen, Leksikon 3 (1929), 359–70; Z. Zilbercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater 4 (1963), 2962–3044; Waxman, Literature 4:2 (19602), 1000–1.

[Elias Schulman /

Hugh Denman (2nd ed.)]