A Subversive Hebrew Newspaper Published in Czarist Russia, and a Jewish Community That Ceased to Exist

In early summer five years ago, we were sitting shiva for my father, the poet Aryeh Sivan. At 3 P.M., one day midweek, the stream of visitors paying their condolences had thinned out, and my curiosity turned to my family history. I googled the name of my paternal grandfather, Chaim Bomstein, without really knowing what I expected to find. Grandpa died in 1950, long before the invention of the internet. He never even had the opportunity to see television. But who knows? The internet is packed with intriguing bits of information.

The first search results contained information about my older brother, who was named for our grandfather (like our cousin, musician Hemi Rudner). I scrolled down. A surprise awaited me on the third hit: a black-and-white photograph of about 20 men in suits and ties, mustached and bearded, with the caption, “Members of the editorial board and management of the Jewish daily Zeit (Hebrew: Hazman) in Vilna, taken in 1905.” The person standing at the far left of the middle row was captioned “Chaim Bomstein.”

Bingo. Here was a potential story. This part of the family contains many media people, artists, writers and actors. Had I found the source of that inclination? Like many Israelis, I too have read Orenia Yaffe-Yanai’s book “Career Your Passion: On Love, Family, Work and Callingת” which talks about “vocational heritage” and shows how the career tendencies of our parents, which we absorb at home as background noise, influence us subconsciously. Had Grandpa Chaim, whom I never met, led me along a hidden path from the business staff of The Time to the editorship of Haaretz? I looked up from my tablet and asked my aunt Tamar Rudner, my father’s younger sister, “Did Grandpa work on a newspaper? Do you know anything about that?” She couldn’t readily identify him in the photograph, she said. “I knew he lived in Vilna for a yew years, but I never heard about a newspaper.”

Until then I knew little about Grandpa Chaim: that he was born, in or around 1885, near Babruysk, in Belorussia, the heart of the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia; that he arrived in Mandatory Palestine in August 1920 – a century ago – as a pioneer of the Third Aliyah immigration wave; that he lay roads while serving in the socialist Labor Battalion; that he was unemployed for years in Tel Aviv, until his son-in-law, a functionary in Mapai, the dominant party in the Yishuv – the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine – got him an accountancy job in Keren Hayesod, an organization established to underwrite the Zionist movement. He worked there until his sudden death from heart failure.

“My father died more than fifty years ago / suddenly died, and in his death / left me fragmented memories. / I store them up in the hope / that one day they will become / a sequence with meaning. / I store them up zealously / like a gold prospector does the promising deposits / in the hope that while he’s still on the earth / he’ll hit a vein.” So my father wrote about him, in his poem “My Father Died.” But in the fragmented memories he related at home, and in the family stories he scattered in his poems and his stories, not a word was said about journalism or about Vilna. Had I reached the vein of gold my father had searched for and not found?

Fascinated by the mystery, in the months that followed I combined family ties and journalistic skills into a historical investigation. I found distant cousins and descendants of friends of my grandfather from Vilna, scanned copies of The Time that appeared on the Historical Jewish Press website, and forgotten memoirs written by his contemporaries. I discovered that the man at the edge of the photo, my grandfather, had for a decade been employed in the accounts department of The Time in Vilna, that the paper had belonged to his family and that at the beginning of the last century it had the highest circulation of any Hebrew-language newspaper in the world.

Between Minsk and Pinsk

Rivkin was born in 1850 and started his career teaching young children in a heder in one of the towns in Belorussia. “Afterward he got a job with a lumber merchant. Some time later, he leased a section of forest himself and thus grew rich,” wrote Benzion Katz, the founder of The Time, about him in his 1963 memoir. Cutting down forests and selling wood was a booming business in czarist Russia at the end of the 19th century. The railway was the high-tech industry of the time; numerous forests were razed in order to supply railroad ties and fuel for engines, and to make way for the laying of train tracks and construction of stations. Tolstoy immortalized this culture in “Anna Karenina,” in which the train is the driving force behind the plot. The chapter that portrays the lumber merchant buying trees from the bankrupt estate owner, an allegory for the decline of feudal Russia, vividly illustrates the world of Rivkin and his generation with all the narrative prowess of Russia’s greatest writer.

The 1905 photograph of The Time’s editorial and business staffs. Bomstein is in second row, far left; chief editor Benzion Katz is in front row, second from left.

Jews, who under the czar were confined to towns within the Pale of Settlement, which extended across Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belorussia, were prohibited from buying land or registering it in their name. However, they were able to enjoy its economic fruits by buying trees and then felling and selling them. The wealthy families in the town of Babruysk, where Rivkin settled, had made their money from commerce in lumber and were also active in the nascent Zionist movement. A great future lay in store for this combination of planks and Zionism.

The family roots of many of leaders of the Yishuv and of Israel, from the Second Aliyah in the early 20th century up until our very day, are planted in the forests of Belorussia, “between Minsk and Pinsk” – from Chaim Weizmann and Berl Katznelson to Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, the latter’s grandfather, Nathan Milikowsky, was born in that area.

Rivkin was a more daring and more successful entrepreneur than others, and thus, at the beginning of the 20th, happened upon the real estate deal of a lifetime: not only to chop down trees and sell them, but to acquire control over an actual plot of land.

“He knew a Pole named Szymanski, and using his name, he bought a tract of land abutting the Jewish towns, on which Jews were forbidden to live,” Katz wrote in his memoirs. “Following various efforts, the government approved the establishment of a Jewish settlement there, and Rivkin founded a Jewish town called Osipovichi.”

Jews, who under the czar were confined to towns within the Pale of Settlement, were prohibited from buying land. However, they were able to enjoy its economic fruits by buying trees and then felling and selling them.

Known as Osipovich in Yiddish, the town was built around a railway junction on a line running between the Baltic Sea coast and the Russian interior, and within a few years burgeoned from an obscure village in the heart of the forests into a city with a wood-processing factory, a maintenance shop for the train and ancillary businesses. It was a czarist Russian boomtown, which drew many Jewish merchants and craftsmen.

Among those who settled in the growing city were my great-grandfather, Yehuda Leib (Leibe) Bomstein, and his wife, Ita Henia, my great-grandmother, whose sister was married to Rivkin. Leibe was employed in his brother-in-law’s business as a clerk and a manager. The Bomsteins lived in the Rivkins’ family compound and moved with them from town to town.

I found traces of them in personals section of the Hebrew-language newspaper Hamelitz, which functioned as a gossip column for the Jewish community in Russia in the late 19th century. From a congratulatory notice about the “marriage feast” of one of the Rivkin girls in 1897, it was a simple matter to reconstruct the ties of wealth and power in the family. As was the custom, the guests donated to Zionist causes and announced the amount they pledged. Rivkin donated three rubles, while Great-Grandfather Bomstein appeared at the bottom of the list with just a quarter of a ruble.

I read the notice and imagined my grandfather, who was 12 at the time, scurrying around at his cousin’s wedding, which went on for a few days. What were his dreams then? What was his attitude toward his rich uncle, the family patron? What was the gossip around the tables at the feast?

Memoirs written long afterward by contemporaries of Rivkin paint a picture of a controversial personality, as was expected of someone of such wealth and stature. “He was one of the few paritzim, meaning an estate owner, among the Jews in Russia,” wrote Abba Ahimeir, who would become a key ideologue of the Israeli right (and the father of journalist and television personality Yaakov Ahimeir). His family engaged in commerce in lumber with Rivkin and fell out with him over a real estate deal in a different estate near Babruysk. “He also had something of the paritz in his character, in both the negative and positive senses,” Ahimeir recalled.

Market at Novgorod, in the Pale of Settlement in Russia, in the early 20th century.

A less flattering account was provided by Yisrael Ritov – the son of the local rabbi, who later became a senior figure in the Mapai party and Histadrut labor federation in Israel – in a memorial book for the communities of Babruysk and environs that were destroyed in the Holocaust.

“Rivkin became the official owner, and the unofficial governor, of Osipovich,” Ritov wrote. “He built himself a palace of a governor, a ruler and a commander, flaunted his close relations with the authorities, was patronizing and boastfully paraded himself around. He no longer sold parcels of land, or lots, to residents, but leased them and demanded – according to the terms of the contracts he dictated – exorbitantly high rent. People hated him and accepted his authority. There was no choice.”

I read all this and was moved. Yisrael Ritov was my grandfather’s stepbrother, and between the lines I detected evidence of an ancient dispute between two parts of my father’s family – Grandpa’s side and Grandma’s side – in a community that has long since ceased to exist. There was no one left to ask, but the old passions were palpable from the obscure texts. The archives spoke to me.

Sugar on every desk

At the end of 1904, Rivkin received an offer from his son-in-law Faivel Margolin to invest in an exciting journalistic endeavor: a Hebrew-language newspaper, to be published in Vilna, that would combine hard news and scoops about Russian politics and the Jewish world with a vibrant literary section, to which leading writers of Hebrew would contribute. Margolin already worked in his father-in-law’s businesses, but sought a more intellectual livelihood and dreamed of publishing a Hebrew-language newspaper.

After marrying Hannah Malka, Rivkin’s eldest daughter, in 1891, Margolin tried to obtain a publication permit from the authorities. “They [her husband and her father] paid a great deal of money as bribery, sometimes a thousand rubles, but nothing came of it, the permit was not issued,” Hannah Malka wrote in her memoirs, adding, “Practically my entire dowry was wasted on that. My husband did not despair of the idea and corresponded with various intellectuals of the period, among them Ben-Avigdor [the pen name of Avraham Leib Shalkovich, a writer and pioneer of Hebrew publishing in Russia], who took an interest in the subject and came to see us in Babruysk several times.” Almost a decade would pass, however, before an opportunity to fulfill their dream arose.

At the time, Benzion Katz was one of the few Jews who was permitted to move about freely in St. Petersburg, the imperial capital, where he managed to obtain a permit to publish a newspaper in Hebrew, The Time, which began to come out in 1903. Katz sought to advance the rights of Jews in the czarist empire and to fight antisemitism. He is considered to have had the first “scoop” in the Hebrew press: He revealed to the world the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev and was the first to publish “In the City of Slaughter” that same year, Haim Nahman Bialik’s epic poem about the event, in a censored version titled “Masa Nemirov.”

At that time, newspaper staffs were required to have a censor on hand who would approve the content of an article ahead of publication, after ascertaining whether it was subversive vis-a-vis the regime or overly permissive. Katz and his generation specialized in publicizing daring items when the censor looked the other way briefly.

But these journalistic achievements and the connections Katz forged in St. Petersburg were not enough to maintain the paper. In 1904, The Time was in dire financial straits. Katz searched for an investor who would agree to bail him out, repay the debts and publish the paper anew in Vilna, which was one of the major cities in the Pale of Settlement. Ben-Avigdor put him in touch with his friend Margolin, who had yearned for a project like this and who recruited his rich father-in-law to the cause.

“Tolstoy is dead!” Front page of the November 1910 edition of The Time, which was devoted in its entirety to the great Russian writer.

“Rivkin was a learned man, loved books and also loved honor,” Katz wrote later. “Accordingly, he agreed to invest money in a Hebrew newspaper.”

For his part, Rivkin, again demonstrating his daring in business affairs, agreed to underwrite a newspaper “on a European scale.” Years later, the poet Zalman Shneour, who wrote for The Time in Vilna, noted Rivkin’s response when asked why his son-in-law had chosen the dubious livelihood of newspaper publishing, which entailed losses. “He chose? I chose! In the forest business he would have lost me 60,000 rubles a year, and in the Hebrew press only 20,000. In other words, it’s a good deal for me,” Shneour quoted Rivkin as saying.

When this account was published in the Israeli newspaper Davar in 1958, Miriam Yeivin – Margolin’s daughter and Rivkin’s granddaughter – fired off an angry letter to the editor in which she accused Shneour of “vulgarity and distortion.” She added, “All this [the newspaper] was not a profitable business; it was an idealistic project. My grandfather, of blessed memory, put 80,000 rubles into it, which according to the currency of the time was a vast sum, and of course my grandfather did not do it out of disdain or mockery for his son-in-law’s caprices, as Shneour describes it, but from an attitude of respect and esteem for Hebrew language and literature.”

Yeivin was the wife of the right-wing ideologue Yehoshua Yeivin, who was Abba Ahimeir’s ally in Brit Habiryonim, a radical underground Revisionist and anti-British organization in the 1930s.

Back then The Time writers were the avant-garde: young Jews writing in Hebrew and dreaming of an open, liberal Russia that would accept them as equals.

“During 1904, excited rumors began to circulate among the circles of Hebrew-language writers in Eastern Europe about a thrilling journalistic-literary project that was taking shape in Vilna,” literary scholar Avner Holtzman, from Tel Aviv University, has written.

According to Holtzman, “It was an intensive and fruitful period not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well. A new generation of writers appeared as though out of nowhere in the early 20th century, and raised the level of fiction and poetry, essays and criticism to peaks not known earlier. In the realm of poetry, these were the years of the pinnacles and power of Bialik and [Shaul] Tchernichovsky. In fiction, the figure of Micha Josef Berdyczewski cast an enchanted spell. In literary thought and criticism, the voices of David Frischman, Reuven Breinin and Joseph Klausner resonated powerfully. Under the inspiration of these writers, a host of young voices emerged. To name some: In poetry the standouts were Zalman Shneour, Yaakov Cohen, Jacob Steinberg, David Shimonovich, Jacob Fichman, Yaakov Lerner. Noteworthy in fiction were Yosef Haim Brenner, Uri Nissan Gnessin, Gershon Shofman, I.D. Berkowitz, Dvora Baron, A.A. Kabak. The abundance of writing found sympathetic platforms for publication.”

In Vilna, a group of writers banded together, as part of the editorial board of The Time, which was located in the building of the Printing House of the Widow and Brothers Romm. “They were a significant Hebrew literary group,” Holtzman noted.

Most present-day Israelis mainly know those who wrote for The Time from the streets named for them in Tel Aviv: Frischman, Simon Frug, Ben-Avigdor, Hillel Zeitlin. Their works have disappeared from the bookshelves and are known, if at all, only to literary scholars and aficionados of cultural history. But back then, these individuals constituted the avant-garde: young Jews writing in Hebrew and dreaming of an open, liberal Russia that would accept them as equals.

In late 1904, Katz was appointed editor of The Time (which was now a daily) and returned to St. Petersburg, where he wrote articles as well. He published international scoops, such as a draft of a Russian Constitution after the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which appeared first in his Hebrew newspaper. Katz’s memoirs, which were published in Israel in 1963, include a fascinating account of the Jewish elite in Russia and the founders of the Zionist movement. He provides a report of a briefing given by Theodor Herzl during the Zionist leader’s visit to St. Petersburg in 1903, in which Herzl predicted the end of the Ottoman Empire. And like any good reporter, Katz kept the names of his sources in the czar’s government secret even decades after the Russian Empire collapsed.

Osipovich in 2005.

In late 1904, I.D. Berkowitz, then just 19, was appointed the paper’s literary editor. He was recruited by the associate publisher, Ben-Avigdor, who was looking for writers and editors who were not “ruled out after overuse in other papers,” and told him, “I read your books, you write a Hebrew that’s not bad, without grammatical mistakes, so why wouldn’t you be able – under my supervision, of course – to correct the mistakes of others?”

In his 1938 memoirs, “Our Forebears as Human Beings,” Berkowitz described the spacious editorial officers of The Time, “with large rooms and small, with new oak desks for the writers and a pound of sugar on every desk, with a boiling samovar in the corridor and with an editorial board goy, who heats up the samovar and serves tea to everyone.”

‘Forest people’

The offices of the paper’s management “resembled the large and bustling headquarters of a lumber merchant,” Berkowitz continued. “In them yeshiva students from small towns, with clipped ‘Spanish’ beards, deliberated and groped in the dark – as accountants, delivery clerks and traveling salesmen. They were brought here by the paper’s backers and funders, rich forest merchants from Polesia [the region where Pinsk is located]. At first they would peep from their rooms into the editorial offices with excessive modesty and awe, like villagers who entered a city synagogue during the High Holy Days. Afterward, the sense of awe faded, until in the end they even completely forgot to provide the pounds of sugar for the desks of the editorial offices.”

A highlight for the staff at the new paper was a visit by the greatest of Yiddish writers of the time, Sholem Aleichem, in March 1905. Berkowitz, who on that occasion met his future wife – Sholem Aleichem’s daughter – related that the entire staff gathered “in a room that we called the secret chamber, because that was where the newspapers’ backers, the financiers from Polesia, met to consult about their deepest secrets, and principally to moan about their wealth, which the newspaper was devouring apace. First, the editorial offices’ goy served glasses of tea from the boiling samovar, and the forest people of the management crowded around the entrance to the secret chamber with faces exuding feelings of admiration and amazement alike.”

Reading Berkowitz’s barbs about the paper’s management, I grasped immediately that he was referring to Margolin, the owner’s representative and associate publisher, even though his name was not mentioned. More than a century later, the power struggles within the paper’s management reawaken vividly before my eyes. The youngest of the “forest people” about whom Berkowitz wrote with a combination of envy and disparagement was my future grandfather, Chaim Bomstein.

At 19 he had left his town in Belorussia and hooked up with Margolin, his cousin’s husband, for the journalistic and cultural adventure in Vilna – which, compared to Babruysk and Osipovich, the obscure venues of his childhood and adolescence, was, together with Warsaw, the metropolis of the Pale, the hub of a vibrant developing, creative Hebrew movement. And with him, his friends, the brothers Nahum and Leibush Babitsky, who moved from dealing with Rivkin’s lumber and estate enterprises to managing The Time. It’s a safe guess that the boss wanted to keep an eye on the finances, and appointed his nephew and his loyal staff to be in charge.

The paper faced a formidable marketing challenge. “The number of Jews in Russia at the time stood at more than five million, and many of them knew Hebrew well – the estimate is several hundred thousand. But the women didn’t know Hebrew. They read either Yiddish or Russian,” Katz noted in his memoirs. The educated Jews read Russian and Yiddish, which was accessible to “both the husband and the wife. The result was that Hebrew-language journals had few subscribers. The subscribers were mainly educated Zionists who were aficionados of Hebrew.”

The math was as simple as it was cruel: In order to maintain its large staff, The Time had to sell much more advertising space and needed three times as many subscribers. “Thus Rivkin was forced to send in money to cover the deficit every month” – until, after two years, he got fed up.

Soldiers in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) in the early days of the Russian Revolution, 1917.

Katz: “The Time was the only Hebrew-language daily in the world at that time, yet nevertheless the expenses were greater than the revenues. Rivkin came to Vilna and told the editorial board: ‘Here’s another 3,000 rubles – go manage with that. From now on you will publish the paper yourselves. And if you can’t manage that, I’ll give the 3,000 rubles as severance pay to the editorial staff.’”

The staff were divided “about how to behave in the crisis,” Katz continued. “Some of them decided to accept the severance pay, others decided to go on working at the paper, but on different bases and with a smaller budget.”

Zalman Shneour recalled how Margolin devoted himself to reducing expenses, cutting writers’ fees and employees’ salaries, and switching to a Polish printing house, which was cheaper. “People fled every which way and he [Margolin] remained alone to cope with the crisis, faring well and being amazed that no one would cover his expenses any longer,” Shenour wrote. Indeed, even after more than half a century, he still remembered the exact fees paid to freelancers by The Time: news translated from newspapers and wire services – 1.3 kopeks; feuilletons and articles – 1.7 kopeks; short stories – 2.1 kopeks; poems – 2.4 kopeks.

Looking at these numbers, I realize that the challenges of publishing a newspaper and balancing the books have not changed since then. Margolin turned out to be an excellent manager. He didn’t give up, but continued to put out the paper even after the stream of money from the estate in Osipovich dried up – and even after the editor, Katz, was sentenced to a year in prison for publishing a major story that the authorities found subversive.

In the printing house in Vilna with the samovar for tea and the pounds of sugar, the path was paved that led his descendants and his relatives to the heart of the Hebrew media and creative arts in Israel a century later.

“The Time existed by its own means,” Katz wrote. “It now had an audience of 8,000 subscribers.” The news it published included reports from Russia and “the world” – mostly from Europe – and items relating to “Jewish affairs”: pogroms, blood libels, home evictions, Zionist activity. An entire edition was devoted to Tolstoy when the writer died. The Hebrew, though a bit archaic, is easily read today.

Holtzman, the literary scholar, who described with great esteem The Time’s journalistic and literary achievements when it first got started in Vilna, wrote that its decline was rapid. It stemmed from the dramatic events in Russia after the country’s defeat in the war with Japan and the Revolution of 1905, which generated momentary hope for openness in the czar’s kingdom, soon shattered by the conservative counter-reaction. According to Holtzman, young Jews underwent a shift of consciousness and became attracted to the new socialist parties, which were identified with Yiddish culture, amid a boom in Yiddish literature and journalism.

“The episode of The Time exemplifies a dramatic crossroads,” Holtzman writes. “It can be seen as a concentrated manifestation of the high point and incipient decline of Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe, in the period when the foundations were laid for Hebrew literature in the Land of Israel during the Second Aliyah. Vilna itself did not go back to being a significant site on the map of Hebrew literature; but the very act of being there in the period of that personal and literary spring, left an imprint in the memory and creative work of the associates in the adventure of The Time.”

My grandfather was among the small staff that survived the newspaper’s cuts and crises. Chaim Bomstein’s name appears in the newspaper, as a signatory to congratulatory messages to friends and family, continuously until 1914, in the final spring of the old order in Europe. August saw the eruption of World War I, and The Time was shut down in January 1915 by order of Czar Nicholas II. That spelled the demise of the Hebrew press in Russia.

‘Follow the paths’

My family spent the next few years in flight. The Pale of Settlement became a major battle zone in World War I, and in the October Revolution and the Russian civil war that broke out in its wake. Parts of it exchanged hands between Russia, Germany, independent Poland, the Red Bolsheviks and the Whites, their adversaries. My family fled from Osipovich to Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, and then split up. Rivkin returned to his estate, which would be confiscated by the Bolsheviks.

This is what the communist revolution looked like, in the words of his daughter, Hannah Malka, who reached Palestine a few years later with her husband, Margolin, and some of their children: “They took everything from him: the wood processing factory, the mill, the lumber warehouses, planks and beams, the store buildings, all the houses he built, the big house and the gymnasium [high school], the large house in which he himself lived with his (second) wife and her family, and the synagogue. They took everything and gave him a small house that a factory worker had lived in. My father had built around the factory small houses for the workers and the mechanics, and now he himself was forced to live in one of them.” Rivkin remained in Osipovich and died there, penniless, in 1926.

The poet Aryeh Sivan.

The Bomsteins – Grandpa Chaim, one of his brothers and three of their sisters (their parents died during the Great War) – did not stay around to see the ruination of the businesses founded by their uncle, who had supported them economically since their childhood in town. They fled from the Bolsheviks to the Crimean Peninsula, where Yosef Trumpeldor, the one-armed Russian soldier who would become a Zionist hero, had established a training farm on which Jewish pioneers learned how to farm ahead of realizing their Zionist dream.

The family left for Palestine via Istanbul in August 1920, just before the Reds seized Crimea in the last battle of the Russian civil war. The eldest brother, who was already married and the father of four daughters, remained in Osipovich but managed to leave and reach Tel Aviv a few years later. They could not guess then that their flight from Russia would save them from the fate of their neighbors who remained in the Soviet Union and were murdered in the Holocaust. In Tel Aviv, my grandfather met my grandmother Sonia Sorkin, who had also arrived from Osipovich. They were married in 1928.

My feeling upon completing the inquiry into my family history was that I had found the lost golden vein from the poem my father wrote about his father. The blurred figure who had left only fragmented memories took on heft and substance. I discovered that Chaim Bomstein, the grandfather I had never known, was a revolutionary. Not one of those for whom streets and town squares are named, but one whose life was rife with struggles and upheavals. The struggle for the revival of the Hebrew language in Russia and the effort to transplant it from the Holy Scriptures and the prayer service to the pages of books and newspapers. The struggle for freedom of movement and to establish a livelihood in the empire of the czar. The vast destruction he grew up with in World War I. The flight from the Bolsheviks together with millions of others who emigrated from Russia. And in the formation of the Hebrew Yishuv in Palestine, until the creation of the State of Israel.

Grandpa came here at the age of 35, after a full and rich life in Russia. I don’t know how he summed it all up to himself – what the highlights of his life were or what he regretted. But from today’s perspective, the formative event was the acquisition of The Time by his rich uncle, Rivkin, and Chaim’s departure from his hometown to work in the paper’s management. There, in the printing house in Vilna with the samovar for tea and the pounds of sugar, the path was paved that led his descendants and his relatives to the heart of the Hebrew media and creative arts in Israel a century later.

“My father suddenly died, without my knowing / what he expected of me, what / he wanted me to be. / In my childhood I would go with him to the seashore / dig in the sand until water / and fill the tin pail, and hold it up for him to see. / Maybe I’ll take me a pail like that / go down to the seashore, dig in the sand / and from the water my father’s face will reflect / and maybe the same thing will happen to me / that happened to the girl Alice in Wonderland: / through the pupil of his eye / I will penetrate his insides / follow the paths of his being / at long last I’ll know whether / I am the person he pictured to himself / on the nights when he looked at me as I slept / and in those days on the seashore.”

– from “My Father Died,” by Aryeh Sivan

In memory of my aunt Tamar Rudner, who passed away at the end of the summer of 2019.

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