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Pioneer Hebrew and Yiddish writer, best known by his pen name, Mendele Mocher Sefarim (Mendele the Bookseller). Born in a small town in White Russia, he received a traditional Jewish education, studying for a time at a Talmudical academy. At 17 he was persuaded to join an adventurous traveling beggar who promised the youth an exciting life in faraway places. His travels through the populous Jewish towns in southern Russia furnished the material for Mendele’s realistic novel Fishke der Krumer and others. Abramowitz began his literary career during the Haskalah, or Enlightenment, period, and he successfully adapted a work on natural history from German into Hebrew. In 1857, he published articles urging the improvement of Jewish education. His Hebrew novel Fathers and Sons deals with the clash between generations, and completes the first cycle of his literary career. In his second period, Mendele chose to write in the vernacular, or spoken language, of the people, Yiddish. In his novels, The Little Man, Meat Tax, and The Mare he introduced the social reform motive, criticizing the community for exploiting the poor. In The Travels of Benjamin the Third and his other works, he revealed himself as a sharp satirist, ridiculing the pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance of small town inhabitants. In masterly fashion he described the stark poverty of the Jewish masses, mixing, as Dickens did, humor with compassion. Mendele created a new Hebrew and Yiddish literary style, making full use of the rich, hidden treasures of the language and contributing to its revival. His works present a vivid picture of Jewish life in the first half of the 19th century. Odessa, where Mendele had lived since 1881, became an important Hebrew literary center. Mendele’s influence was far-reaching. Bialik, one of the foremost Hebrew poets, prided himself on being among Mendele’s disciples.

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