Thursday, January 9, 2014

A National Poet

Chaim Nachman Bialik (born January 9, 1873) was an Israeli national icon who came to be recognized as one of Israel’s greatest national poets.

Born in the Russian town of Radi, he was raised by his grandfather in Zhitomir. At 17, Bialik went to study at the yeshiva in Volozhin. At the same time, Bialik began writing his first poems and found himself drawn to the Yiddish/nationalist community. He soon left the yeshiva and traveled to Odessa, home to many of the prominent Jewish writers of the day.

In 1893, Bialik returned to Zhitomir and married Manya Averbuch. He spent the next seven years as a businessman and then a teacher before returning to Odessa in 1900. Throughout his ventures, Bialik continued to write and gain the notice of the literary community. In 1901, his first collection of poetry was published, and in 1904, he became an editor of Hashiloah, a Hebrew periodical founded by Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg, poet and Zionist ideologue: 1856-1927).

One of Bialik’s most important pieces, “City of Slaughter,” was written after he was commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society to report on the Kishinev Pogroms. “City of Slaughter” not only reflected the horror of the pogrom, but also took to task the pitiful self-defense of the Jews. The poem had a profound impact upon the burgeoning Zionist movement.

Over the next two decades, Bialik continued to write and publish. He established the Hebrew publishing house Moriah and translated numerous works of literature into Yiddish, while continuing his own writing in both Yiddish and Hebrew.

In 1921, Bialik moved to Berlin, where he founded the Dvir publishing house, a business that he brought with him when he moved to Tel Aviv in 1924.

From the time he had joined Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) as a youth, Bialik had been an ardent Zionist. By the time he arrived in Palestine, he was already a celebrated literary figure. Although he wrote far less in his later years, his early works had already established him as a “national poet of Israel.”

Bialik died on July 4, 1934, in Vienna, Austria, after a failed surgery. He was buried in Tel Aviv.

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