YITSKHOK KHARLASH (July 13, 1892-February 18, 1973)
He was born in Brisk (Brest), Lithuania. He studied in religious elementary schools, with private tutors, and at the Mishmar Bet Hamidrash (Guardian of the Temple), under the chief supervision of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, while at the same time he was studying Tanakh and Hebrew with a private tutor—he began writing in Hebrew, and his first correspondence pieces were at age twelve in Hatsofe (The spectator) in Warsaw (1904). At age sixteen he turned his attention to secular subject matter and foreign languages. He graduated in 1914 from the Brisk commercial school. He went to study at the polytechnical school in Ekaterinoslav (1916), the Moscow commercial institute (1917-1919), and the University of Berlin (1924-1925). Over the years 1910-1911, he started to become active in working for the illegal organization of the Bund in Brisk. He contributed to the pro-Bundist, Russian language Nash krai (Our part) in 1912-1913. In 1915 he served as night editor in Vitebsk for the Russian daily newspaper Vitebskaia gazeta kopeika (Vitebsk gazette for a kopeck), for which he wrote on literature and theater under the pen name Yitskhaki. In 1917 he took an active role in the revolutionary work of the Moscow-region committee of the Bund and the general social democratic (Menshevik) campaigning circle in Moscow. He gave speeches in public (in both Russian and Yiddish) in Moscow and other cities of central Russia. In August 1917 he was summoned by the central committee of the Bund to Minsk to work for the daily organ of the party, Der veker (The alarm). He returned to Moscow, co-edited the collection Tsun ondenk fun karl marks (To the memory of Karl Marx) (Moscow, 1918, 115 pp.—again using the pen name Yitskhaki), wrote for Di tsukunft (The future) in Moscow (1918), translated (from German and Russian) work by Kautsky, Plekhanov, and others for a socialist publishing house. He was secretary of the instructors’ committee for trade union statistics at the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions. In 1919 he moved to Minsk and served as secretary of the instructors’ committee of the “Association of Workers’ Cooperatives of the Western District” (centered in Smolensk). He wrote for Veker (March 1919), and he was a delegate to the eleventh conference of the Bund in Minsk. Under occupation by the Polish army in 1920, he moved to Vilna, worked as an instructor in the credit cooperative for Yekopo (Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”), and wrote for the journal Unzer hilf (Our relief), edited by M. Shalit, in which among other items he published (November 1921) a long piece on the “cooperative movement among Jews in Vilna and environs” (which also appeared later in an offprint version). After the split in the Vilna Bundist organization, he was a cofounder of the social-democratic Bund and co-editor of its newspaper organs: Dos fraye vort (The free word) (1921); Unzer tsayt (Our time) (1922); and Unzer gedank (Our idea) (1922-1923). In Berlin (1923-1925), he wrote (using the pen name Y. Borukhov) in the Russian Menshevik journal Sotsialisticheskii vestnik (Socialist herald). He corresponded (under the pen name Ben-Borekh) for the Forverts (Forward) in New York, also wrote for the Warsaw-based Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), and translated from German and Russian into Yiddish for a number of presses—among other items, he translated (as Ben-Borekh) B. Aronson’s book on Marc Chagall (Berlin: Yidisher literarisher farlag, Petropolis, 1924). In August 1925, he moved to Riga, Latvia, as an internal editor joined the staff of the daily Dos folk (The people)—the political editor of the newspaper was the well-known Bundist leader Sergei Braun—experienced the strike and the intervention of the contributors at the newspaper; and because of the political instability of the publishers, he published the sole edition to appear of Unzer folk (Our people), assisted in the founding of the major Yiddish daily Frimorgn (Morning), put together the program for its direction to head, was the style editor of the newspaper until the arrival of Sh. Y. Stupnitski, and soon left the newspaper over differences of political opinion. In 1926 he became a lecturer on Yiddish literature in the pedagogical course of the Yiddish department at the general education ministry and a teacher of Yiddish and Yiddish literature at the city’s Jewish high school. Over the years 1929-1930, he lectured on Yiddish literature at the Jewish teachers’ course at Dorpat (Tartu) University in Estonia. He wrote journalistic pieces, features, and literary essays for the Riga publications of the Bund and for the Latvian school organization, for the literary weekly journal Di vokh (The week) (1927-1928), and for the monthly of the school organization Naye vegn (New ways) (1927-1929). He edited the Bundist weekly newspaper Naye tsayt (New times) (1937-1938), as well as a Russian-language publication of the Latvian trade unions. Together with Yudl Mark, he published—in brochure format—subject program for Yiddish and Yiddish literature for a teachers’ course of study (Riga, 1928), 32 pp. All these years he was a member of the central bureau of the Bund in Latvia. At the time of the semi-fascist coup of Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934, he was arrested, and after being freed from Riga’s central prison, departed for Poland; in May 1935 he left for South Africa on assignment for the Vilna “Tsebek” (Tsentraler bildungs komitet, or Central educational committee) and Tsisho (Central Jewish School Organization). After completing his school business, he remained in Johannesburg, aided with directing the work of the Jewish cultural association, founded a Yiddish public school with a high school attached, administered the Humanities College (a school of humanities fields for adults), and edited the monthly Foroys (Onward) from June 1937 until January 1940. Over the years 1941-1946, he contributed to the weekly newspaper Afrikaner idishe tsaytung (African Jewish newspaper), in which aside from other items he wrote (using the pen name “Observator”) a weekly report on international politics. In the summer of 1948 he moved to New York. In 1949 he became a teacher of Yiddish and lecturer on Jewish and general European literature at the Jewish teachers’ seminary and People’s University in New York. He made a lecture tour through the United States, Canada, and South America. In New York, he wrote for: Forverts, Der veker, the monthly Gerekhtikeyt (Justice) mostly using the pen name Y. Borukhov, Tsukunft (Future), Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education), the Bundist monthly Unzer tsayt (a standing contributor, also using the pen name Y. Borukhov); the anthology Vitebsk amol (Vitebsk in the past) (1956); an essay on Mikhl Gordon in Shmuel niger bukh (Volume for Shmuel Niger) (1958), which also appeared in a separate offprint (14 pp.); and Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists) (New York, 1956). He published a great number of literary critical essays and treatments of dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish writers. He was a co-editor of the Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur (Biographical dictionary of modern Yiddish literature), for which he wrote a considerable number of entries. He died in New York. The original spelling of his name was: חרל״ש, the initial letters of “Khosn Rabbi Leyb Shamesh.”
Sources: Pinkes fun gegnt komitet yekopo in vilne, 1919-1931 (Records of the district committee of Yekopo in Vilna, 1919-1931), ed. M. Shalit (Vilna, 1931), pp. 345, 348, 570, 765-66 (biography); M. Gerts-Movshovitsh, 25 yor yidishe prese in letland (25 years of the Yiddish press in Latvia) (Riga, 1933), pp. 43f; Y. M. Sherman, “Af alte literarishe shlakhtn” (About old literary battles), Dorem-afrike (Johannesburg) (June 1952); conversations with Y. Kharlash in Der idisher ekspres (Johannesburg) (July 1935), in Afrikaner yidishe tsaytung (Johannesburg) (July 12, 1935), in Di idishe tsaytung and Di prese (both in Buenos Aires) (both June 2, 1953); Yahadut latviya (Judaism in Latvia) (Tel Aviv, 1953), p. 172.