Zerubavel (Vitkin), Jacob

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ZERUBAVEL (Vitkin), JACOB (1886–1967), leader of *Po'alei Zion; author and journalist. Born in Poltava, Ukraine, Zerubavel at an early age joined Po'alei Zion, which was established at that time by high school students. Together with Izhak *Ben-Zvi, he participated in organizing the self-defense that succeeded in preventing a pogrom in Poltava. In 1906, at the founding convention of Po'alei Zion, he was elected to the central board. He helped Ber *Borochov publish an illegal newspaper and afterward moved to Vilna, with the other members of the central boards. There he was imprisoned for a year and a half, and after he was released Zerubavel left Russia and moved to Austrian Galicia. In Lemberg he was active on the editorial board of the newspaper Der Yidisher Arbeter and also helped Borochov, who was in Vilna, to edit Dos Fraye Vort, which was printed in Galicia, smuggled into Russia, and distributed clandestinely. In 1910 Zerubavel settled in Ereẓ Israel and was a member of the editorial board of Ha-Aḥdut, the Hebrew newspaper of Po'alei Zion (together with Ben-Zvi, David *Ben-Gurion, and Raḥel Yannait *Ben-Zvi). He served as secretary of the central board of Po'alei Zion. Upon the outbreak of World War i, he took on Ottoman citizenship, but because of his sharp criticism in Ha-Aḥdut of the persecution of the yishuv by the Turkish authorities, he was sentenced to prison; he succeeded in escaping, however, and was sentenced in absentia to 15 years of hard labor.

Zerubavel managed to arrive in the United States in 1915 and served on the editorial board of the organ of Po'alei Zion there, Der Yidisher Kemfer. On the outbreak of the Russian Revolution (1917), he returned to Russia and was active in the National Jewish Council of the Ukraine. From 1918 to 1935 he was among the leaders of Po'alei Zion in Poland (from the time of the split in the movement in 1920, he was the head of the central office of Left Po'alei Zion).

He also edited the newspaper Arbeter Tsaytung, and was a member of the Warsaw community council. Zerubavel visited Palestine, but the British authorities would not allow him to remain there permanently. Only in 1935 did he receive an official immigration visa.

In Palestine Zerubavel was active in publishing Yiddish books and journals (such as the newspaper Nayvelt). He served on the Executive of the *Histadrut. During World War ii he was a member of the Rescue Board (Va'ad ha-Haẓẓalah). In 1948 Zerubavel was chosen a member of the Zionist Executive and headed the Department of Mediterranean Jewry. He played a role in the unification of Left Po'alei Zion with *Aḥdut ha-Avodah and their integration with *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir to form *Mapam. He was also among the founders of the Israel-U.S.S.R. Friendship League and edited its literary organ (in Russian). Zerubavel was active in the Yiddish Writers' Union in Israel and demanded an official status for Yiddish in the State of Israel. In 1951 he returned to work in the Histadrut as director of the Labor Archive.

Zerubavel's activities as a publicist and literary critic in Hebrew and Yiddish continued for 60 years. He published a book on Borochov (in Yiddish, 1926). During his final years he published two volumes of memoirs, Alei Ḥayyim ("Leaves of Life," 1960) and Bi-Ymei ha-Milḥamah ("During the War," 1966), impressions of his travels in Poland after the Holocaust, and impressions of his travels in the Soviet Union. In 1961 Sefer Zerubavel was published in honor of his 75th birthday, including appreciations of the author and a bibliography (covering more than 1,600 items).


lnyl, 3 (1960), 673–6; Tidhar, 5 (1952), 2298–301.

[Getzel Kressel]