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Rosenfeld, Jonah


ROSENFELD, JONAH (1880–1944), Yiddish novelist and short story writer. Born in the Ukraine, he was orphaned at 13, when both parents died during a cholera epidemic. He then wandered from town to town before settling in Odessa, where his older brother arranged an apprenticeship for him with a turner. In 1904, encouraged by Ḥ. N. *Bialik and I.L. *Peretz, he wrote his first short story, Der Lernyingl ("The Apprentice"), based on his own experiences. His stories soon found an audience in Yiddish periodicals. After 1909, they were reprinted in book form, culminating in a six-volume edition of his Gezamlte Shriftn ("Collected Works," 1924), which also included descriptions of his experiences before he left Russia (1920). After his arrival in New York (1921), his story "Konkurentn" ("Competitors," in Howe/Greenberg) was dramatized and successfully staged (1922), followed by his comedy Arayngefaln ("Lapsed," 1924). His significant later works included Er un Zi ("He and She," 1927), "the diary of an ex-writer"; Eyner Aleyn ("All Alone," 1940; Heb. 1964), a vivid autobiographical depiction of Rosenfeld's early apprenticeship, highly praised in the Yiddish press. Rosenfeld was a perceptive portrayer of strange characters and their complex psychic states. He viewed himself as a Yiddish Maxim Gorky whose short stories and autobiographical fiction chronicled the inner life of the Jewish working class in Odessa and the Lower East Side tenements. He is one of the most original Yiddish prose writers of his generation.


Rejzen, Leksikon, 3 (1929), 133–9; B. Rivkin, Undzere Prosaiker (1951), 140–56; G. Sapozhnikov, Fun di Tifenishn (1958), 15–123; Z. Zylbercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater, 4 (1963), 2808–11; I. Howe and E. Greenberg, A Treasury of Yiddish Stories (1953), 386–401. add. bibliography: Y. Varshavski [I.B. Singer], in: Forverts (July 5, 1964), ii/5; J. Schwarz, in: Imagining Lives: Autobiographical Fiction of Yiddish Writers (2005), 79–97.

[Moshe Starkman /

Jan Schwarz (2nd ed.)]

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