The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 07.003
30 March 2003

1)  About this issue of TMR (ed.)
2)  Dovid Katz: Curriculum Vita (Dovid Katz)
3)  Stencl of Whitechapel  (Dovid Katz)

      Date: 30 March 2003
      From: Leonard Prager 
      Subject: About this issue of TMR

Yiddish studies are rife with unrealized or partially completed
projects.  The plan to publish a volume on the Whitechapel poet
Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl [Abraham Nahum Stencl] (1897-1983), for which
I undertook chief responsiblity, has for legitimate and less legitimate
reasons been blocked for many years.  The present issue of TMR is a
concerted step to reawaken interest in this too little valued poet and
to revive the idea of publishing _Stencl and His Circle_ [tentative
title] within the next year.  The distinguished Yiddish linguistic
scholar and writer, Dovid Katz (whose curriculum vita is given below),
has graciously agreed to publication in English translation of a Yiddish
essay of his on Shtentsl the man and the poet. (The projected volume
will feature an expanded version of this essay.)  Scholars who have
written on Shtentsl or on some aspect of Yiddish in Britain are invited
to submit work for this volume, which will also contain a little
anthology of Shtentsl poems in Yiddish and in English translation.
Readers are invited to suggest poems for this collection.

Date:  30 March 2003
From: Dovid Katz 
Content:  Dovid Katz: Curriculum Vita

Dovid Katz
(CV, February 2003)


1. Date of birth: 9 May 1956.

2. Place of birth: New York.

3. Education:  Etz Chaim Yeshiva (1963-1967).
   East Midwood Day School (1967-1970).
   Yeshiva of Flatbush High School (1970-1974).
   Columbia University (1974-1978, BA).
   Yiddish Teachers' Seminary, N.Y. (1974-1975).
   University College London (1978-1982, PhD).

4. Address:   Vilnius Yiddish Institute, History Faculty
   Vilnius University, Universiteto 7, Vilnius 2734, Lithuania


1. CURRENT: Research Director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, Vilnius
Content: "Stencl of Whitechapel" [This essay, under the title "Shtentsl shel
 mayle (tsum tsentn yortsayt)," originally appeared in _Yidishe kultur_ (New
 York), edited by Itche Goldberg, vol. 55, no. 3 (1993), pages 22-34; it
was translated from Yiddish by Leonard Prager. A Yiddish-letter version of
the Yiddish poems cited in the essay in romanized form will be available.]

"Stencl of Whitechapel"

by Dovid Katz

Stencl (Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl) was perhaps not the only Yiddish poet to
have produced some forty works in his lifetime, edited a journal of his own
for almost fifty years, led a literary society which met regularly, and held
court to a host of faithful followers.  But he was among the few who in their
lifetime were treated by their followers as "gurus", charismatic-mystical
figures with the power to bewitch.(1) He lived alone in his beloved
Whitechapel, in a cold, damp, lonely hovel, surrounded by papers and
books reaching to the ceiling.  In his verse he crowned Whitechapel, the
poor immigrant quarter of London, as "the last shtetl."  He was an old
bachelor with a permanent wound in his heart for the love of his youth,
the German-Jewish poet Else Lasker-Schueler (1869-1945).  He lived out
the latter part of his life, almost a half-century, in the great British metropolis,
in and for Yiddish. Whether speaking to a waiter in a cafe or a conductor on
a red London double-decker bus, he spoke Yiddish only.  Yiddish was not
for him a "cultural language" or a "literary language" -- it was _the_ language
and, as he was wont to conclude the probing of complex matters, "shoyn" --
that was that.

Stencl's magnetism bound people to him through thick and thin, both
admirers in Yiddish circles and non-Jews who knew and respected him --
from local winos (to whom he always tipped his hat) to English poets who
knew his work in translation, and a Parisian devotee who was proudly
French and Christian who learned Yiddish in order to read his poems.
His gait, his smile, his gestures -- nothing belonged to the frenetic
technological twentieth-century.  Stencl's outlandish qualities radiated
a kind of sanctity reminiscent of his chasidic forebears in Czenstochow.
His pleasantly sweet voice could hypnotize.  Material things did not
interest him.  He ate an egg and bread every day, and walked about in an
old worn-out suit.  These were sufficient, for his "portion" in eternity
was not made up of real estate or objects, but of love of Yiddish for
itself, an unbounded love of Yiddish.  Throughout his life he kept his
quite rare native dialect, one in which are preserved striking remnants
of now-extinct Western Yiddish.(2) Thus, his talk alone was enveloped in
an exotic form.


If we discount the few years of his wandering, we can divide Stencl's
life into three periods:  his chasidic childhood and youth in Poland
(Tsheladzh {Czeladz}, Tshentokhov {Czenstochow}) from his birth in 1897
to 1919; his years in the circle of German Expressionists in Berlin and
Leipzig from 1921 until the Nazi Germany of 1936; London-Whitechapel
from 1936, when he fled Germany, until his death in January 1983.
Regarding the first period, in Poland and up to his blossoming into a
Yiddish poet in Berlin, here are Stencl's own words:(3)

"I was born in Czeladz near the town of Bendin, which is close to the
German border, on the seventh of Iyar, 1897.  Tsheladzh {Czeladz} is a
small coal-mining town.  Thousands of gentile coal miners.  The Jews had
shops.  There were ninety Jews in the entire town, no more.  My father's
grandfather -- my grandmother Esterl's father (my greatgrandfather) was
a distinguished rabbi some two hundred years earlier.  He was a member
of the _khevraye_ ('bunch; inner circle') of Duvidl Lelever(4), and of
the Seer of Lublin(5), who established Chasidism in Poland.  He lived in
Bendin; he was a _goen_ ('genius').  I remember that the anniversary of
his death was celebrated every year.  His burial tomb on a hill in
Bendin was an enclosed one like the tombs of the greatest sages.  There
and in his study-house in Bendin his followers danced and sang.  The
family by that time included both rich and poor.  They all took pride in
the formidable lineage."

"My greatgrandfather came from the family of a famous _rebe_ ('Chasidic
rabbi').  When the _rebe_ died, the _Tiferes Shloyme_, Rabbi Solomon
Rabinowitz HaCohen of Radomsk -- known, as was the practice, after the
title of his most famous book -- approached the _rebe_'s widow and
suggested that she marry the _dayen_ ('head of the Jewish religious
court') of Tshenstokhov [Czenstochow], whose wife had died a year
earlier having, like my greatgrandfather, left two sons and two
daughters.  It is from this Czenstochow match that my father was born --
from a second marriage with lineage from a _dayen_ and not from a

"My mother's father, who was at first the rabbi of Bendin, was the first
Jew in Tsheladzh [Czeladz].  He became wealthy, and when my father
married my mother (his daughter), he sat and studied.  The Jewish
population slowly grew, and soon there was need for a rabbi, a post
filled by my father.  My brother Shloyme Shtentsl was a rabbi and a
prodigy, the author of _Koheles-Shloyme_.(7) When he became free from
military conscription, by which time he already had four children, he
was hired as a _moyre hoyroe_ ('rabbi') in Tsheladzh [Czeladz].  From
there he moved to Sosnovits [Sosnowiec], a big city."

"I was a wild kid.  I didn't want to study in _kheyder_, I ran about.  I
lived in Tsheladzh [Czeladz] until 1911 or 1912 and afterwards in
Tshentokhov [Czenstochow].  When my brother taught the older boys I
would join them.  I can hardly recall attending _kheyder_.  I ran around
and played with the Jewish and gentile boys.  My father didn't believe
in education -- living in a Jewish home turned you into a Jew.  I never
actually learned to write -- nothing, not any language.  Once when my
mother went away -- I was about ten -- I cried.  Father wanted to cheer
me up and said, 'Come I'll teach you to write'."

"In the study-house I was known as a quibbler and a casuist.  There was
a fellow there by the name of Vevyorke(8) -- you have probably heard of
his brother, Avrom Vevyorke.  Their father was a ritual slaughterer.
This fellow was regarded as having gone astray and my father didn't
approve of our being fast friends.  But there was little he could do;
our love for one another was almost physical.  My friend had already
read Peretz, Mendele and Sholem Aleichem and was brimming with secular
learning, though he kept all this hidden from his father, the ritual
slaughterer.  This was in Tshentokhov [Czenstochow].  I was about
fourteen or fifteen and wore earlocks and a little beard, so as not to
hurt my father."

"That's how I lived, wild.  I worked with iron, with wood, in gardens,
for peasants.  I wanted to go to _erets-yisroel_.  ('the Land of
Israel') to be a _kholets_ (Heb.  _khaluts_ 'pioneer').  I wanted to be
a gardener, a peasant, I dreamed about this.  I used to walk through the
fields of grain, in the meadows.  I wormed my way into a khaluts group
which tried to learn from the peasants.  When I saw it didn't suit me I
pulled out.  I wrote my first poem at age twenty at home in Tshentokhov
[Czenstochow].  What poem was that?  "Ikh hob nisht keyn koyekh tsu
bageyn zelbstmord" ('I Don't Have the Strength to Commit Suicide')."

"I left Tshentokhov {Czenstochow} the night Passover ended.  I was in
Holland.  I arrived in Berlin in 1921.  Shneyer was in Berlin at that
time.  I went to see him and he gave me a hundred mark note to get
myself organized.  When Dr.  Elyashev came to Berlin, Shneyer sent me to
see him.  Elyashev published my first poems and a long story about
village life (later reprinted in a Yiddish paper in Danzig) in the New
York _Morgn-zhurnal_ in 1921.  Dr.  Elyashev paid me fifty marks and I
felt myself a "writer."  I began a cafe-life in Berlin like that of all
the writers.  One day while sitting in a cafe, Zalmen Reyzen walked in.
He came over to me, questioned me and made notes.  I didn't want to give
him a photo.  He didn't ask for my mother's, only my father's, name.(9)
So you write this down now:  my mother's name was Freydl-Genendl."


The young Stencl was a _wunderkind_ by the 1920s, but in German
translation rather than in the reception accorded him by the Yiddish
critics in America and Poland.  Translations of his poems and dramas
(many by Dr.  Suhl of Leipzig) were well received.  The honoraria he
earned sufficed not only for subsistence.  They also paid for
attractively publishing all his works in their Yiddish original.  Stencl
published approximately eleven books (or booklets) in Germany in the
1920s and 1930s.(10)

His greatest success was _Fisherdorf_ ('Fishermen's Village').(11)
Thomas Mann wrote:

"Stencl's passionate poetic emotion and his love for the 'warm steaming
earth', are wholly unselfconscious and even the prose writer may envy
Stencl's image-making power.  I believe that people will be talking
about this new personality."(12)

Stencl's Berlin poems drew their nourishment from village, woods and
sea.  Here is his love-poem "Nakht-tfile" ['Night Prayer']:

"Vi tsvey mon-blumen, vos shteyen in shkheynes
Un shlisn zikh in di farnakht-sho,
Un beygn zikh shtil un anivesdik,
Yede farshlosn in zikh,
Yede fartift in zikh,
Azoy veln mir zikh beygn shtil un anivesdik
Yeder farshlosn mit zikh,
Yeder fartift in zikh - - -
Vayl a taylkhl fun eyn shtral
Iz gefaln in undzere beydns hertser."(13)

(Like two neighbouring poppy-flowers
That close at night,
And bend quietly and gently,
Each immersed in self,
So will we bend quietly and gently
Each closed to self,
Each immersed in self - - -
While the merest part of a beam
Drops into both our hearts.)

And his poem "Shifn-roykh" ['Ship-Smoke']:

Geheklte shpitslekh fun Brabant,
Fun oreme khatkelekh in Anenberg,
Fun vayte lender in gorer velt
Firn di shifn mit zikh.

Oybn iber di zaydene gardinen,
Vos tul[ye]n tsefekhlte in vint,
Ibirn ofenem fenster in zun
Tsehengen di shifn zeyere geheklte shpitslekh.

Un klapt der vint s'fenster tsu!
Gardinen farviklt un farplontert,
Mitgerisn mit falndike shoybn,
Mit shtiker zun in tuln un in zaydn - - -

Vashn di khvalyes di brudike shpitslekh
Fun Brisl, fun Brabant, fun Anenberg
Un fun di oreme khatkelekh in gorer velt
Af di rayb-bretlekh in di gekarbte bregn.(14)

('The ships carry with them
Fine lace from Brabant,
>From poor huts in Annenberg,
>From the whole world over.

The ships hang their fine lace
Above, over the silken drapes
That mingle glittering in the wind,
Over the open window in the sun.

And the wind blows the window shut!
Drapes blown asunder and confused,
Blown away with the falling glass,
With pieces of sun in tulle and silk ---

The waves wash the dirty lace
>From Brussels, from Brabant, from Annenberg
And from poor huts the world over
On washboards in the coastal inlets.')

Stencl managed to remain in Berlin until 1936, composing new poems in
his self-fashioned poetic world.  In that year there appeared his last
three Berlin publications, two volumes of verse (_Tsvishn himl un erd_
['Between Heaven and Earth'] and _Funderheym_ ['From Home']), and a
brochure in honor of the 100th anniversary of Mendele's birth.(15) When
_Funderheym_ arrived at the offices of _Literarishe bleter_, the editor
(probably Nakhmen Mayzil) noted:  "In Berlin at this time there lives
the last, or one of the last, Yiddish poets, engaged in a poetic
encounter with himself, fate, and the world."(16) In January 1936,
Stencl had sent a notice to _Literarishe bleter_ which was printed on
the first page under the headline, "A Mendele Evening in Berlin."
Stencl's reportage began with the self-confident sentence:  "Here in
Berlin forty Yiddish-speakers held a rendezvous with their loved one --
none other than Mendele."(17)

But the situation was in fact critical.  When the Gestapo started to
hunt for Stencl, his friends, Germans from anti-fascist literary
circles, hid him.  A Christian friend, a professor from England,
disguised as a mourning widow duly accompanied Stencl (ensconced in a
coffin) in broad daylight to London.


When Stencl arrived in London, Whitechapel was still brimming with
Yiddish literary ferment.  Morris Myer's daily _Di tsayt_ was
flourishing; journals and books were published.  Stencl immediately
began issuing new works.  Arriving in November 1936, he managed before
year's end to issue a slim volume of verse, _Letste nakht_ ('Last
Night').(18) He established a circle of his own.

Within several years Hitler's bombs began falling on London.  Stencl's
response was to bend his energies to strengthening the morale of the
working-class Jews of the East End -- through Yiddish!  He founded the
_Literarishe shabes-nokhmitiks_ ('Literary Saturday Afternoons'), where
writers lectured, and singers and actors performed.  He began to issue
at irregular intervals individually-titled booklets such as _Farvyanete
teg_ ('Faded Days'), _Brenendike gasn_ ('Burning Streets'), _Tsu der
indzl do_ ('To the Island Here'), _Teg fun tsar_ ('Days of Grief'),
_Yidish shafn in London_, ('Yiddish Creativity in London'),
_Yidish-land_ ('Yidishland').  It did not take long before the
Whitechapel Yiddish-speaking public referred to them as _Shtentsls
heftlekh_ ('Stencl's Pamphlets').  These _heftlekh_ later became the
regular periodical _Loshn un lebn_ which, appearing for forty years,
expired only upon Stencl's death.(19) London Jews, however, never ceased
to refer to them as _Shtentsls heftlekh_.

His "Literary Saturday Afternoon" later became a much-loved London
institution, as well as an "address" indelibly impressed on the
consciousness of Yiddishland.(20) A permanent weekly event in
Whitechapel, it was organized by Stencl's Fraynt fun yidish loshn
('Friends of Yiddish').  For decades Yiddish writers from the world over
were guests at the Literary Afternoons.  When Stencl died in 1983, his
faithful colleague Majer Bogdanski took upon himself the task of
convening and leading the Afternoons -- which have continued until this
very day.  Majer Bogdanski is himself an instance of the powerful
influence exerted by Stencl on those around him.  A tailor by trade,
Bogdanski attended evening courses in order to earn a diploma in music
composition.  He was then able to write the notes for music he himself
composed to the lyrics of hundreds of Yiddish poets.(21)

The Yiddish institutions established in London by Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl
[Abraham Nahum Stencl] -- the journal _Loshn un lebn_, the Friends of
Yiddish association, the Literary Saturday Afternoons -- all combined a
literary with a popular element.  As fewer and fewer Yiddish writers
remained in Whitechapel (some left, many died), Stencl increased his
efforts to encourage Jewish workers to read -- and even to write.

We need to keep in mind that for many years there existed (not, of
course, formally) a second, a "competing" London circle of Yiddish
writers.  They lived outside of the East End and some of them were
condescending towards the "Stenclites".  The most notorious incident in
this chapter of Yiddish literary folklore concerns Stencl's dispute with
Itsik Manger, one which led to litigation.(22)


One could often hear Yiddish writers say that Stencl's Berlin poems were
superior to those he wrote in London.  One thing is certain:  in London,
where Stencl was the prince of Yiddish, there was on the whole no
Yiddish literary criticism of any seriousness.  And so he failed to file
and revise his work -- no sooner had he dashed off a poem, it was sent
to the printer and appeared in _Loshn un lebn_.  This severe judgement
was widely circulated in Yiddish literary circles, even making its way
into the pages of the _Nayer leksikon fun der yidisher literatur_.  In
this reference work, Stencl enjoys the rare distinction of being one of
the very few writers whose critical evaluation consists solely of a
negative quotation; numerous lesser figures are praised to the high

Stencl is even begrudged his early successes in the spheres of German
and German-Jewish Expressionism. No less a distinguished writer than
Meylekh Ravitsh [Melech Rawitch] had this to say:

"When Stencl appeared illegally in Berlin right after the first world
war, the exuberant German-Jewish writers there -- with the queen of
German-Jewish verse, Else Lasker-Schueler, at the head -- were simply
enchanted by him.  He was like one who had dropped into their midst
alive straight out of an ancient Talmudic tome.  Stencl immediately
absorbed their tone -- out of the Gemara and into the Expressionist
current.  [...] Yoysef Opatoshu [Joseph Opatoshu] once spent an entire
evening reading me Stencl's poems, trying to convince me they
constituted a synthesis of Expressionism and the Zohar.  Not one-tenth
of a handbreadth less!"(24)

When, in the 1980s, a doctoral candidate in the Yiddish program of a
well known university in New York City, expressed a desire to write a
dissertation on Stencl, the proposed subject was rejected as being an
unsuitable object for a doctorate.  In short, Stencl has been evicted
from the pantheon of Yiddish poetry without a hearing, without due
process and notice of cause.

In his brief but important study, Jeffrey Grossman analyzes the scornful
attitude toward Stencl's work in the light of the more general problem
of the almighty "canon."(25) Both in "mainstream" circles of Yiddish
literature and among academic Yiddish scholars, the "canon" has come to
assume the authority of Sinai.  Again and again, ever more books,
essays, articles and dissertations are churned out about the same small
group of writers.  This had led more than once to research "discoveries"
which were in fact old hat.  The rise of the "canon" will itself someday
be placed under scrutiny.  It will probably then become evident that it
was formed by writers and organizations who enjoyed a certain position
of power.  The canon-formers lived and wrote in one of the great
metropolitan centers (New York or Warsaw), were affiliated with the
literary establishment and with central organizations and were
ideologically acceptable (not too leftist for too long, not too
anti-Zionist, nor too "extremely Yiddishist").

And yet it must be noted that the Yiddish literary "canon" did not arise
solely for the reasons here cited.  It is hard to find another
literature in the world which experienced so meteoric a development as
has Yiddish literature in the twentieth century.  Whereas scholars of
Old Yiddish literature like Tsinberg, Erik, Shmeruk and others have --
each in his own way -- formulated synthetic overviews, critics and
scholars of twentieth-century Yiddish literature have yet to paint a
broad and proportioned canvas.  Thus far they have given us weighty and
valuable studies of the individual artist, his works and milieu, but
nothing more general.  Nor will such a wider view be so readily
produced.  Researchers are only human and the amount of material they
can digest in a single generation is limited.  The number of unknown and
unjustly forgotten and neglected writers is large, very large.  The
picture is sure to alter in the next century, perhaps in the very spirit
of Isaiah the prophet's "Every valley will be lifted up, and every
mountain and hill will be made low."(26)


But let us return to Stencl and his Whitechapel verse.  After his death
we founded an annual Stencl Lecture at Oxford in memory of the beloved
Whitechapel poet, in recognition of his nearly fifty years of work for
Yiddish in Britain, in honor of the man and his vision.  The renowned
Professor S.S.  Prawer, author of fundamental works on European
literature, was invited to deliver the first Stencl Lecture in 1983.  In
his talk (which has been issued as a separate pamphlet)(27), he showed
that Stencl's best London poems are not to be found in his little
magazine, _Loshn un lebn_, but in the Whitechapel volumes, especially
the _Yoyvl almanakh_ (1956)(28), which he edited, and his volume of
poems _Vayttshepl shtetl d'britn_ (1961)(29), where the poet did take
pains in selecting and editing.  Prawer analyzed in detail the cycle of
forty-two poems entitled "Whitechapel" from the volume _Yoyvl almanakh_,
and compared them with their revised version in _Vayttshepl shtetl
d'Britin_.  He concluded:  "The maker of these poems is no homely,
comfortable purveyor of occasional verse; he is more, far more, than the
lovable (if sometimes irascible) folksy Yiddishist whom so many remember
with well deserved affection.  He is a great and complex modern

Stencl endeavoured to import the concept _Whitechapel_ into Yiddish
literature.  In his introduction to the _Yoyvl almanakh_ he speaks of
"our forerunners," among them Winchevsky, Brenner, Sholem Aleichem;
speaking in terms of "literary generations," and working down to the
year 1956, he concludes with an invocation to Eternity:

"Yes, generations come and go!  But the creative elements of the folk
have a kind of immortality and the _Yoyvl almanakh_ shows that we too in
this community, as small and crumbly as it may be, have a part in the
creative eternity of our people."(31)

He realized that the Jewish community of Whitechapel was in decline, but
he saw this decline as a direct result of the Holocaust.  As in the
above-cited "Night Prayer" from his earlier Berlin-days _Fisherdorf_,
the following poem concludes with a sunray (more exactly with a raylet).
But it is not the same ray.  This Stencl contends with God Himself:

Punkt azoy vi di levone fun der zun,
Gesl do geven funem shtetl der opshayn,
Un az shtetl dort untergangen iz,
Hot dokh gemuzt dos gesl do oykh untergeyn.

Tsi kon den fintstere levone ufshaynen,
Ven oysgeloshn fun der zun es iz ir shayn?
Fun undzer plutslingen untergeyn itst do,
Oto dos mistam s'iz der bahaltener meyn.

Ober ver bin ikh den, az ikh zol fregn:
Got, farvor, tsi hot es den gemuzt azoy zayn?
Un ver bin ikh den tsu zogn, mikloymersht:
Az altsding vos got tut iz gut, iz voyl un fayn.

Un in di nekht, ven di levone iz nishto,
A shvartser in gesl do ikh vandl aleyn:
Vi vunderlekh di zun geshaynt hot haynt vu - -
Khotsh a shtralekhl, vi durkh a shpalt s'falt a shayn.(32)

('Just as the moon wears the sun's reflected light,
So was the Jewish lane here the shtetl's reflection,
And when the shtetl there disappeared,
The Jewish lane here, too, was doomed.

Can the dark moon shine again
When the sun's rays cannot reach it?
It is surely the secret sign
Of our sudden extinction here below.

But who am I to ask:
God, truly, did this have to be?
And who am I to say, as it were,
That every act of God's is good.

And in the moonless nights,
I wander, a dark figure, alone in the lane:
How wonderfully the sun shone today where - -
If only a raylet, as when a beam shines through a crack.')

Stencl wrestled with the decline of Whitechapel in his poems.  Juggling
historical and spiritual elements, he related scornfully to the new
generation of Jews who too easily gave up their Yiddish heritage in
return for an anglicized Judaism with a smattering of Hebrew.  He
compares the old _ruml_, the staple stock of traditional books, to the
new cultural merchandise.

Ven men iz nokh, vi in der milkhome nokh broyt,
Nokh "Menikes yontef-bleter" in rey geshtanen,
Hot men nokh gekoyft a _Shayges Arye_, a _Shelo_,
Un sifrey ruml -- vi matse-vaser gegangen.

Haynt, di in kegniberdikn shoy-fentster,
Di manikin, halb naket, in bod-kostyum un haybl,
Men broykh ir nor di Bobe Dobtshes briln ontun,
Vet zi gantse nekht leyenen di "Holi Baybl."

Men kumt nokh a bar-mitsve talisl koyfn,
A breytn yisroel-tales farn toytn tatn,
Un dos oykh nor azoy lang, vi men koyft nokh,
A khanuke-krismes prezent -- yidishe platn!

Vi amol "Shir-hamayleser" far a yoledes,
Iz dos shoy-fentster mit kadish-yosems bahangen,
Mit kidesh-levone leters in lataynish - -
Ober oykh nisht mer itst - amol iz es gegangen!

p.s. -

Efsher in "Madern hibru speling" derlangen,
Vet vider nokh "der skhoyre" zayn greser farlangen!(33)

('When Jews stood in line to buy their _Menikes Holiday Review_
The way they queued for bread during the war,
They still might buy a _Lion's Roar_, a _Shelo_,
And Yiddish chapbooks went like hotcakes.

Now, in the store window across the street
Stands a half-naked mannikin in a bikini and a bonnet.
If you fitted her with Grandma Dobtsha's spectacles
She would stay up all night reading the "Holy Bible."

They still buy a prayer shawl for a bar-mitsva boy,
A large Israeli prayer shawl for a dead father,
And will continue to make such purchases
Alongside Jewish phonograph records for Chanuka-Christmas presents.

The show window features Mourner's Prayers
In large printed Latin letters;
In past days Psalms for a woman in labour
Were sold here.  No longer.  But once they were.


Perhaps if the merchandise were presented
In modern Hebrew spelling, it would sell!')

The decline of Jewish Whitechapel here on earth did not, however,
prevent the poet from assuring for all future generations that the
celestial Whitechapel would forever remain a Jewish _ir vo-em beyisroel_
('a mother city of the people of Israel').

Pumbediso, Kordova, Kroka, Amsterdam,
Lublin, Valozhin, Vilna, Berditshev un Kotsk,
Shel-mayledik vest blaybn vi eyne fun zey,
Mit horepashnikes fun Zhitomir un Plotsk.

Un oyb der blutiker shlyadı21:36 ı30/ı03/ı2003 undzerer atsind,
Nisht direkt er firt far dayn ofener tir --
Fun groys tsar du host a mayse dir ongetun,
Bistu geblibn a farblutikte in dir.(34)

('Pumbediso, Cordova, Cracow, Amsterdam,
Lublin, Valozhin, Vilna, Barditshev, and Kotsk --
You will remain as celestial as they,
With the workingmen of Zhitomir and Plotsk.

And if our present bloody track
Leads not directly to your open door --
You have taken your life out of grief
And are drenched in your own blood.')

And yet a good many of Stencl's poems do not fall within the trinity of
his diurnal themes -- Yiddish, _yidishkayt_, and Whitechapel; rather
they may, as in his poem "Temze in nepl" ('The Thames in Fog'), simply
paint a London scene:

Nisht shvere damf-shifn geyen af der Temze --
Yene zeglen alts mit shlankn mast ufgeshtelt,
Di damfndike neplen zey tsefirn bloyz,
In ale zaytn, in ale ekn fun der velt.

Nisht fun shif-koymens zaynen di volkenes roykh --
A farnetste piratn-feyke roykhert zikh shver,
Un di mitgeyendike fule levone oybn --
Af a mast-boym di ongetsundene lamter.

Un di sirenes -- fun tsvishn khvalyes aroys
S'shtekt a vaser-hunt aroyset zayn nasn kop;
Zayn benkenish, in der tseneplter shtot,
Tsevoyet zikh mit aza veyik-tayvedik gesop - - - (35)

('Heavy steamships don't sail the Thames --
Those sails fixed to slender masts
Merely spread the steam clouds
In all directions to every part of the world.

The cloud smoke does not come from smoke stacks --
A soaked pirate's pipe strains to smoke
And the accompanying full moon above
Is a lantern hung on the mast-tree.

And the Sirens -- rising between the waves
A water-mutt sticks out his wet head,
His longing in the fog-bound city
Is sounded with a pained and lustful yelp.')

"Ship-Smoke" (from _Fisherdorf_), cited above, also dealt with ships,
smoke and water, and there we find the early Stencl, poet of village,
woods and sea; here we find the later Stencl, poet of the
metropolis.(36) And let us not forget a second trinity in Stencl's
creativity -- Bible, Talmud and Kabbala -- which finds expression in
both of the poet's periods.  This Stencl-corpus also awaits its


I met Stencl in the summer of 1975, when I was a nineteen-year old
student.  I was then living in the attic of the home of the late I.-A.
Lisky (1899-1990), the London Yiddish writer.(38) Lisky, as the Yiddish
writers used to say, "took me up to Whitechapel," suggesting a kind of
pilgrimage, to attend a _shabes nokhmitik_ ('one of Stencl's Saturday
afternoon gatherings').  I cannot deny it -- Stencl bewitched me from
the start.  We remained close friends.

At that first visit to the Literary Saturday Afternoon in Whitechapel, I
got to know the regular participants.  These included Anarchists,
Bundists, Communists, Orthodox Jews (who lived nearby and could arrive
by foot), Poale-Zionists, Socialists, Zionists -- and Stencl, who
defined himself succinctly as a "Non-partisan Yiddishist."  Yes, I
almost forgot to mention _der meshumed_ ['the apostate'], the only name
by which he was called.  He was from Warsaw, I believe, and was always
quarreling with the leftists in the hall.  Louder and louder shouts of
"Moscow" (from him) and "apostate" (from the leftists) mingled in the
general din.(39) The furore ended at three o'clock sharp, when Stencl
called everyone to order with a bang on the table.  Stencl opened with a
_dvar-toyre_ ['sermonette'], usually based on the Talmud or Kabbala.
Lisky gave a colourful review of the politics of the week.  Next came
readings from modern Yiddish literature.  Two old tailors, Nat Rubin and
Isaac Goldberg, competed with one another in reading Sholem Aleichem and
Y.-L.  Peretz.  Majer Bogdanski (may he long flourish!) sang some of his
latest arrangements to poems by Yiddish poets.  The Yiddish writers, led
by Stencl, then read from their most recent work.  I was told that had I
attended a session twenty years earlier I would really have seen
something.  I assured them I was seeing something, and how impressed I
was that so many parties could sit amicably at one _tish_ ['chasidic
_rebe_'s table'].  The table, of course, was Stencl's.

The happiest occasions were visits by Yiddish writers from abroad.
Normally, Stencl would adjourn an Afternoon precisely one and a half
hours after it began; this rule was willingly slighted for foreign
guests.  When the Tel-Aviv writer Abraham Lis visited, he asked Stencl:
"How long should I talk?  As a veteran of Israeli radio, I fully
understand how to watch the clock."  Stencl was not accustomed to such
easy people, and promptly replied, "If you put it that way, then go
ahead and speak as long as you like."  When my father, New York Yiddish
poet Menke Katz (1906-1991), used to visit me in London, he positively
reveled in Stencl's company and delighted in the Literary Saturday
Afternoons as though he had discovered a lost planet of Yiddish in a
distant cosmos.  Once a guest from Israel requested that the apostate be
expelled from the hall.  Though few of those present ever exchanged the
slightest word with the missionary, the audience quickly make it clear
to the distinguished guest that Stencl's Saturday Afternoons exclude no

I would often make surprise visits to Stencl in his tenement flat -- a
practice encouraged by the circumstance that neither of us had
telephones.  He would pull an electric bill out of his pocket and I saw
it was covered on both sides with poems.  He could not afford to buy
paper.  He didn't write with a proper pen, but with a cheap ballpoint
filler meant to be placed inside a ballpoint pen.  We would often walk
over to the Narod Press on Cavell Street where _Loshn un lebn_ was
printed gratis.  The father of the Narods was Israel Narodiczky
(1874-1942).  A friend of Bialik, the young Narodiczky stopped off in
London on his way to South Africa, where he hoped to find enough gold to
build a Jewish home in the Land of Israel.  Somehow he remained in
London.(40) And in his Will he stipulated that as long as Stencl lived,
his heirs were to print his journals and his books.  If Stencl could
pay, well and good; if he could not, the service was to be free.  Cavell
Street was on the way to the Thames and so we would continue on to the
river.  We would sit in a derelict little park and Stencl would read me
his latest poems from the _Loshn un lebn_ proofsheets he had just

Great as was my joy on the park bench near the Thames hearing Stencl
read his poems from the _Loshn un lebn_ proofsheets, the pain I felt
watching him hawking the journal by himself on streets and streetcorners
was greater.  When he spotted a Jew on the street, he would approach him
and in an almost beggarly tone, say, _Koyfts a heft_ ('Buy an issue').
When I accompanied Stencl in his colporteuring rounds, I felt like his
"assistant" -- it was more cheerful for two than for one.  Every Friday
we had supper together in his favorite cafe, Carlo's on Fulbourne
Street.  The Italian proprietors were honored by Stencl's choice of
their cafe for supper and for tea.  They called him, "the professor."
Carlo's was quite a contrast to the fancy Bloom's Restaurant, from which
Stencl was once thrown out for ordering no more than a piece of shtrudel
and a glass of tea.  On Saturdays, Stencl and a band of followers would
head for the ABC Cafeteria on Whitechapel Road, opposite London

I would often introduce Yiddish students to Stencl.  If their Yiddish
was not good enough, they could not converse with him.  But this did not
prevent their being charmed by him -- and by Yiddish.  One Friday
evening in Carlo's Cafe, Stencl struck up a conversation with a young
woman who sat alone at an adjoining table.  Before I could look around I
was the bridge between Stencl's Yiddish and her English.  I watched
dumbfounded as Stencl, instead of answering a remark of hers, rose, went
over to her and gently lifted her gold necklace from her neck.  She was
stunned.  He slowly and gently laid the necklace down on the floor.
"Stencl, what are you doing?," I asked.  He remained silent and waited.
Tension gripped the entire cafe.  Everyone stared -- Jews, Bangledeshis,
medical students from the medical college nearby.  The waiter, a Libyan
Jew, with three plates in one hand and a glass of coffee in the other,
stood as immobilized as like Lot's wife.  Finally, Stencl got up and
stood over the necklace.  His face wore a broad smile, as though he were
some wonder rabbi praising the powers of Elijah the Prophet to a public
susceptible to the blandishments of Baal.  The minutes that now followed
seemed an eternity.  Pointing to the necklace with his index finger, and
in a soft, mystical, elevating tone entuned in the melody of his native
Tsheladzh {Czeladz}, he said, "This is Yiddish a hundred years from now.
It's too beautiful to be left lying about.  It will not be left lying
about.  There is no doubt about it."


1. In collecting material for this essay, I was generously helped by the
late Dina Abramowicz and Zachary Baker (Stanford), Jill Hughes
(Taylorian Library, Oxford), Brad Sabin Hill (Yivo), and Peter Salinger
(SOAS, London).  Responsibility for the contents is fully mine.  An
earlier version of this essay appeared in _Yidishe kultur_ (New York)
56:3 (1993), xx-xx.

2. It was Noyakh Prilutski (1882-1941) who discovered this exotic
Western Yiddish island.  See his _Tsum yidishn vokalizm_ (Warsaw, 1924),
p. 72, where he writes:  "In Bendiner kant -- Bendin, Sosnovits,
Modzhev, Tsheladzh, etc."

3. The citations which follow are extracts from an interview Stencl gave
me in Whitechapel on 10 November 1978.  The transcribed tape-recorded
interview has been lightly edited to allow for differences between oral
and written styles.

4. R' Dovid Ben Shloyme Lelov {David Ben Solomon of Lelov} (1746-1813),
founder of the Lelov branch of Chasidism.

5. Yankev Yitskhok Ha-Khoyze Mi-Lublin {Jacob Isaac the Seer of Lublin}
(1745-1815), one of the founders of Chasidism in Galicia and Poland.

6. Apparently:  R' Shloyme Rabinovitsh Ha-Koyen {Solomon Rabinowitz
Hakohen of Radomsk}, author of _Tiferes Shloyme_, Part 1 (Warsaw,
1867-1869); Part 2 (Piotrkow, 1889 and Bendin 1910).

7. Shloyme Shtentsl, :HP1.Koyheles shloyme:EHP1.  (Piotrkow, 1932).

8. Volf Vevyorke (1896-1945), who was born in Zhirardov, then lived in
Czenstochow and left for Berlin after World War One around the time that
Stencl did.  See the entry for him in NL 3:481-483.

9. Stencl's biography to this point is found in Reyzen 4:624-626.

10.  "Approximately" since the pre-war Stencl bibliography was still
only tentative.  His Berlin and Leipzig books became rare items in the
Jewish book trade.  The best bibliography to date is in Leonard Prager,
_Yiddish Culture in Britain_, Frankfurt:  Peter Lang, 1990, pp. 598-599.

11.  A.N.  Shtentsl, _Fisherdorf_, Berlin:  Farlag un drukeray
"Energia", 1933, 104 pp.

12.  From the Yiddish translation of Mann's critique, which is appended
to the Yiddish edition on page 103.

13. _Fisherdorf_, p. 77.

14. Ibid, p. 60.

15.  A.N.  Shtentsl, _Tsvishn himl un erd.  Di lider fun benkshaft un
troyer gevidmet dem tirgarten_, Berlin:  Farlag Ruvn Mas, 1936, 80 pp.;
_Funderheym_, Farlag Firsht, Berlin 1936, 78 pp.; _Mendele Moykher
Sforim 1836-1936_ Berlin [essay plus poem], (8) pp.

16.  "New Books" in _Literarishe bleter_ 13:42 (16 October 1936), 673.

17.  A.N.  Shtentsl, "A Mendele-ovnt in Berlin," _Literarishe bleter_
13:3 (17 January 1936), 33-34.

18.  A.N.  Shtentsl, _Letste nakht_, London:  Y. Naroditski, 1936, 15

19.  This periodical will someday be studied closely.  Leonard Prager
made a fine beginning in his Hebrew essay "Loshn un lebn (london),
1940-1981," in A.A.  Greenbaum and A. Ivry, eds.  _Thought and Action /
Essays in Honor of Simon Rawidowicz on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of
his Death_ (_Hagot umaase / seyfer zikaron leshimon ravidovitsh
bemeleyat esrim vechamesh shana lemoto_), Haifa and Tel-Aviv:
University of Haifa / Tcherikover, 1983, pp. 135-150 [in Hebrew].  See
too the Stencl entry as well as many other relevant entries in Prager
1990, a corrected and expanded edition of which is in preparation.

20.  As a student in New York I had never heard of either Stencl or
_Loshn un lebn_ until one day out of the blue I received a telegram from
the "Friends of Yiddish, London" in support of my efforts in the early
1970s to have Yiddish taught at the Flatbush Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

21.  See my biographical sketch of Bogdanski in honor of his eightieth
birthday in the New York _Forverts_ of 29 January 1993.	

22.  Josef Herman alludes to this controversy in a memoir.  See his
"Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl (1897-1983)," _Di goldene keyt_ 112 (1983),
140-142, especially 140.  In the late 1980s, I.-A.  Lisky told me that
the lawyer Dr.  Okin, who knew all the details, must be alive somewhere.

23.  N(oyekh) G(ris), "Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem," NL 8:643-644.

24.  Meylekh Ravitsh, _Mayn leksikon.  Yidishe shraybers, kinstlers,
aktyorn, oykh klal-tuers, in di Amerikes un andere lender_, vol. 4, book
2, Tel-Aviv:  Veltrat far yidish un yidisher kultur, 1982, p. 351.

25. Yeyde-Hesh Grosman {Jeffrey Grossman}, "Farvos ignorirn di literatur
historiker A.-N. Shtentslen?', in _Oksforder yidish_ 1 (1990), 91-105.

26. Isaiah 40:4

27. S.S. Prawer, A.N. Stencl: _Poet of Whitechapel.  First Annual
Avrom-Nokhem Stencl Lecture in Modern Yiddish Literature, delivered
before the Oxford Programme in Yiddish Language and Literature on 4
August 1983_, Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies: Oxford
1984, 33 pp.

28.  A.-N.  Shtentsl (ed.), _Yoyvl almanakh Loshn un lebn. 1956.  Undzer
bayshtayer tsu der fayerung:  der tsurikker fun yidn far 300 yor in
England_, London:  Farlag "Loshn un lebn," 1956, 232 pp.

29.  A.-N.  Shtentsl, :HP1.Vaytshepl shtetl d'Britn:EHP1., London:
Farlag "Loshn un lebn," 1961, 345 pp.

30.  Prawer, p. 21.  See note 27 above.  Obviously, a critic's views can
be accepted or rejected by the reader.  It is, however, reasonable to
assume that when a scholar of international repute such as S.S.  Prawer,
working from the original Yiddish texts, analyzes the work of a Yiddish
poet, his study will at least claim the interest of academic Yiddish
circles.  But the almighty canon seems to come first for Yiddishists.
Moreover, it did not take long before an overseas colleague wrote in
protest at our having published the study at all!  Let me quote:  "It is
scandalous.  How can one publish such talk?  What is there left to say
about Manger, about Glatshteyn?"  Itsik Manger (1901-1969) and Yankev
Glatshteyn [Jacob Gladstone] (1896-1971) are, of course, widely regarded
as major Yiddish poets.

31. _Yoyvl almanakh Loshn un lebn_, p. vii.

32. _Vaytshepl shtetl d'Britn_, p. 344. This is Part 3 of the volume's
concluding poem entitled "Un tsum shlus" ['And to end']. 

33.  _Yoyvl almanakh Loshn un lebn_, p. 213-214.  _Shelo_, is an anagram
for _Shney lukhoys habris_ ('Two Tablets of the Covenant'), (Amsterdam
1649), a famous seventeenth-century ethical work by Rabbi Shaye
Ben-Avrom Ha-Leyvi Horovits [Isaiah Ben Abraham Ha-Levi Horowitz]
(1565?-1630), who was known by the abbreviated title of his work (and
also called HaShelo ha-Kodoysh).  _Shaagas arye_ (Frankfort in the
Oder, 1755) is the title of a volume of halachic responsa whose author,
Rabbi Arye-Leyb Ben-Osher Gunzberg (1695-1785) was likewise known by the
title of his book.  The title points to the passage in Amos (3,8):
"Aryey shoag, mi loy yiro"?  ('The lion roared, who will not be

34.  The first two stanzas of "Vaytshepl yerusholayim d'Britn" in _Yoyvl
almanakh_, p. 232; p. 112 in _Vaytshepl shtetl d'Britn_.

35. _Vaytshepl shtetl d'Britn_, p. 135.

36. Cf. Prawer (see footnote 27), p. 2 and forward.

37.  See. for example, from Stencl's German period, _Un du bist got_
(Leipzig 1924); _Mazl=tale_ (Berlin 1935); and from the London period
_Goles un geule_ (London 1958); _Yerusholayim_ (London 1948).

38.  On Lisky and the circle of London Yiddish writers, see my articles
in the New York _Forverts_ (24 May 1991), 19, 25, which appeared in
revised form in _Yisroel shtime_ (September 1994).  See too my obituary
in _Oksforder yidish_ 2 (1991), 277-282.

39.  In later years I was told his name was Aaron Krolenbaum {Yiddish:
Arn Krelenboym}.  He was involved with the Mission to the Hebrews on
Whitechapel Road.

40.  Marion Aptroot, "Israel Narodiczky and His Whitechapel Press," in
Moshe Sanders, _Jewish Books in Whitechapel:  A Bibliography of
Narodiczky's Press_, London:  Duckworth, 1991, pp. vi-xii.


Aptroot, Marion.  "Israel Narodiczky and His Whitechapel Press," in
Moshe Sanders, _Jewish Books in Whitechapel:  A Bibliography of
Narodiczky's Press_, London:  Duckworth, 1991, pp. vi-xii.

G(ris), Noyekh.  "Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem," NL 8:643-644.

Grosman, Yeide-Hesh.  "Farvos ignorirn di literatur historiker A.-N.
Shtentslen?', in _Oksforder yidish_ 1 (1990), 91-105.

Ha-Koyen, R' Shloyme Rabinovitsh [Solomon Rabinowtz Hakohen], _Tiferes
Shloyme_, Part 1 (Warsaw, 1867-1869); Part 2 (Piotrkow 1889 and Bendin

Herman, Yoysef.  "Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl (1897-1983)," _Di goldene keyt_
112 (1983), 140-142.

Kats, Dovid.  "Majer Bogdanski -- a ben-shmoynim," _Forverts_ (29
January 1993).

Kats, Dovid.  "Y.-A.  Liski un di londoner yidishe shrayber," _Forverts_
(24 May 1991), 19, 25.

Mayzil, Nakhmen {?}.  "New Books" in _Literarishe bleter_ 13:42 (16
October 1936), 673.

Prager, Leonard.  _Loshn un lebn (london), 1940-1981_, in A.A.
Greenbaum and A. Ivry, eds.  _Thought and Action / Essays in Honor of
Simon Rawidowicz on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of his Death_ (_Hagot
umaase / seyfer zikaron leshimon ravidovitsh bemeleyat esrim vechamesh
shana lemoto_), Haifa and Tel-Aviv:  University of Haifa / Tcherikover,
1983, pp. 135-150 [in Hebrew].

Prager.  Leonard.  _Yiddish Culture in Britain_, Frankfurt:  Peter Lang,

Prawer, S.S.  _A.N.  Stencl:  Poet of Whitechapel.  First Annual
Avrom-Nokhem Stencl Lecture in Modern Yiddish Literature, delivered
before the Oxford Programme in Yiddish Language and Literature on 4
August 1983_, Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies:  Oxford

Prilutski, Noyakh. _Tsum yidishn vokalizm_ (Warsaw, 1924).

Ravitsh, Meylekh.  "Mayn leksikon.  Yidishe shraybers, kinstlers,
aktyorn, oykh klal-tuers, in di Amerikes un andere lender_, vol. 4, book
2, Tel-Aviv:  Veltrat far yidish un yidisher kultur, 1982.

Reyzen, Zalmen.  _Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un
filologye_, 4 vols., Vilna, 1929.

Sanders, Moshe.  _Jewish Books in Whitechapel:  A Bibliography of
Narodiczky's Press_, London:  Duckworth, 1991.

Shtentsl, Shloyme. _Koyheles shloyme_ (Piotrkow, 1932).

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Un du bist got_, Leipzig, 1924.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Fisherdorf_, Berlin: Farlag un drukeray "Energia", 1933.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Mazl=tale_,  Berlin, 1935.

Shtentsl, A.-N.  "A Mendele-ovnt in Berlin," _Literarishe bleter_ 13:3
(17 January 1936), 33-34.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Letste nakht_, London: Y. Naroditski, 1936.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Tsvishn himl un erd.  Di lider fun benkshaft un troyer
gevidmet dem tirgarten_, Berlin: Farlag Ruvn Mas, 1936.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Funderheym_, Farlag Firsht, Berlin, 1936.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Mendele Moykher Sforim 1836-1936_. Berlin, n.d.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Yerusholayim_, London, 1948.

Shtentsl, A.-N.  (ed.), _Yoyvl almanakh Loshn un lebn. 1956. undzer
bayshtayer tsu der fayerung:  der tsurikker fun yidn far 300 yor in
england_, London:  Farlag "Loshn un lebn," 1956.

Shtentsl, A.-N. _Goles un geule_, London, 1958.

Shtentsl, A.-N.  _Vaytshepl shtetl d'britn_, London:  Farlag "Loshn un
lebn," 1961.

(translated from Yiddish by Leonard Prager)

End of _The Mendele Review_ vol 7 no. 003
Leonard Prager, editor

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