«Jewish Observer»
May 2002
5762 Iyar

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Indeed, inscrutable are the ways of the Lord... Who knows why namely Lipkany appeared the birthplace of a man who became one of the key persons to advance development of the Jewish culture and, in particular, the literature in Yiddish. He left after himself a huge number of beautiful literary works and brought up worthy pupils... I.Lerner, I.Yakir, M.Saktsier, M.Harats, Yenty Mash, Moshe Altman, Joseph Burg - these are people who brought fame to the Jewish literature. The native of a small Bessarabian town helped quite a few people to discover true spirituality, national self-awareness, to realize oneself a real human being.

Eliezer Shteinbarg is our pride and our love. He was born in 1880. Bessarabia was then part of Russia. There is no sense to separately dwell on the attitude of the tsarist government towards Jews - we all know it perfectly well. But Bessarabia was on the border of the Russian Empire, far from the capitals, far from anti-Semitism and Black Hundred's obscurantism. That was a likely reason why the Jews there felt themselves differently. Europe was near, and this meant much. To draw an analogy, let's take the examples of Poland and Finland. They were Russia's colonies as well, but, nonetheless, they had their own Constitutions, which Russia proper had not. So, inscrutability of the ways sometimes has its own logic.

Though, is it that important?.. Probably, more important is a mighty community - active, energetic, aware of its traditions - with wise leaders, teachers, interpreters of holy books... There is something else... I mean fabulous nature. There were skies full of warmth, transparent blue depth and gold of sunny bright blessing. Probably, more important are heady sounds of fragile sadness produced by a Jewish violin the poet heard in his childhood. The melody had much in common with loquacious streams, with trills of a Moldovian nay. Probably, more, important is love for people, for the world, for everything around us. The Creator planted this pearl spark, this precious seed into a graceful, grateful and noble soil of poet's soul that later grew into a magic crop and became part of Eternity...

God conferred talent on Shteinbarg. But this is always so - a true talent should open its way. Nobody on the earth can escape earning daily bread. Rabbi Eliezer, a teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew, had to wander a lot about his native Bessarabiya. It was, probably, not so easy for a man but rather useful for a poet! He got so many impressions, discovered so many characters, images...

He gained the experience of both life and soul. It may be a coincidence, but the Heavens once sent a great Pushkin wander about the same roads.

The teacher was teaching. The poet and playwright was writing. In Odessa he met a great Byalik who got delighted from a subtle irony and deep wisdom of Shteinbarg's fables. A "Jewish Aesop" appeared. His works found acknowledgement.

Later there was a war. The first, really world war. Millions of people, like weightless leaves, were blown off their places by a scorching hurricane. The war had changed the fates of territories and states. In 1917 the Russian Empire ceased to exist, in 1918 Austria-Hungary, Bessarabiya and Bukovina became part of one state - the Kingdom of Romania. In 1919 Eliezer Shteinbarg moved to the capital of Bukovina - Chernovtsy. That was a real capital - financial, industrial, spiritual, especially for Jews. Indeed, we should pay tribute to a tolerant, favourable attitude by the Australian authorities towards Jews. There is no need to say something; one fact will be enough, the only one in the entire European history. The Bukovinian Soim acknowledged Jews one of the five "main" (nowadays the notion "native" is used) nations of the Duchy of Bukovina. The Jews returned a hundredfold. We shall leave aside the development of industry, agriculture, finances. Let's simply look at the "old town". Is it an administrative center of a remote province? No, this is indeed a "Carpathian {I don't like the word "small"} Paris".

In those years the Jewish community of Chernovtsy (Kultusgemeinde) was a rather noticeable phenomenon. Since 1904 a lawyer, deputy of the Bukovinian Soim and Australian Parliament Benno Straucher had headed it. Rich philanthropists donated decent money, so the community was able to solve practically all social problems of its members satisfying their religious, spiritual and everyday needs. This included synagogues, prayer houses, orphanages, schools, guilds, clubs, sports and youth organizations. I can't fail to mention "Schoolfarein" - "School Associations" headed by Shteinbarg and Manger, and "Morgenroit" - the "Bunda" cultural center in which Shteinbarg played an important role.

He found many friends in Chernovtsy. His experience and knowledge, his human qualities were highly appreciated there. Yiddish learners and speakers, writers, painters, artistic intelligentsia were seeking his company. He was interesting to children and adults. He was active, kind clever, generous, open. He had a creator's talent, he had a human talent. The first to be published were his two ABCs in Yiddish and Hebrew. The most popular painters in Chernovtsy Rubin, Lerner and Kolnik had illustrated them. Stage adaptations of his plays and verses (he himself directed them), enjoyed big popularity. Among the children who participated in these performances were a future wonderful cantor Moshe Oyster and a world-known tenor Joseph Schmidt. His creative luggage was huge - 7 volumes of dramas and verses, 2 volumes of fables. People knew and loved them despite their being handwritten. They were always welcome at literary parties. The critics distinguished a plain language, clarity of the style, high spirituality of writer's verses, fables, plays. Non-professionals also highly estimated his works. They found consolation, wise advice, entertainment and spirituality in them.

In March 1932, when the first volume of his fables was being published, Eliezer Shteinbarg joined the silent majority. Thousands of people came to pay the last honors to the Teacher. Only the most eminent residents of Chernovtsy used to be buried like that.

The Community put a wonderful monument to the Master with the quotation from one of his fables on it:

"Troerik, kinder, of der velt, der breiter, gromer! Biter! Mit a moshl khoch zich kwikl lomir!"

"It is sad, children, in a free and wide world! It is bitter here! Let the parable accidentally comfort us!"

He would really comfort, he would really help, he would really teach, create. He was creating the Eternity... Jewish Eternity.


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