BIRSTEIN, YOSSEL

BIRSTEIN, YOSSEL
BIRSTEIN, YOSSEL (1920–2003), Hebrew and Yiddish writer. Born in Poland, Birstein left his hometown at the age of 17 for Australia. During World War II he served in the Australian army and immigrated to Israel in 1950. For several years he was a member of Kibbutz Gevat, where he worked as a shepherd. He then lived in Kiryat Tivon, working in a local bank before settling in Jerusalem, where he held a position at the archives of the Hebrew University. Birstein's early prose was written in Yiddish; gershon shaked in fact considers him to be the definite heir in Israel of Yiddish writer shalom aleikhem . Birstein was introduced to Hebrew readers by Menahem Peri, who translated his stories from Yiddish and published all his works in his series Ha-Sifriah ha-Ḥadashah. Birstein's prose is suffused with melancholy humor, with wisdom and compassion, marked by the author's sensitive observation of people and a fine touch for minute details of everyday life. Birstein is the author of four novels and seven collections of stories. Ha-Mutavim ("The Collector," 1982) depicts the world of banks and the stock exchange. Panim be-Anan ("A Face in the Cloud," 1991) is the story of old Tishbein, trying to write about his love for a French dancer while being confronted with the fortunes of the dead crook Bitman and his wish to salvage the lost honor of Yiddish literature. The novel is an elegy to European Jewry and to a culture that was brutally destroyed. Al Tikra Li Iyov ("Don't Call Me Job," 1996. takes an ironic, gently humorous view of the biblical story. The strains of Job's lament can be heard even in the most mundane and fortunate lives, in that of Shlomo Shapira, who became a millionaire in Australia and later settled in Jerusalem, as well as in that of locksmith Daddon. The comic and the grotesque mark Birstein's realism. His collections of stories include Midrakhot Ẓarot ("On Narrow Paths," 1959), Ketem shel Sheket ("A Drop of Silence," 1986), Sippurim mi-Ezor ha-Shalvah ("Stories from the Realm of Tranquillity," 2004), and others. Several of these collections and novels have been translated into German, Chinese, and Italian. An English translation of the story "Fuchs Was Already Old" is included in M. Gluzman and N. Seidman (eds.), Israel: A Traveler's Literary Companion (1996). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Ben-Dor, Simanim ve-Kolot: Y. Birstein (1993); M. Peri, "An Interview with Y. Birstein and an Essay," in: Sippurim mi-Ezor ha-Shalvah (2004); A. Nowersztern: "The Multi-coloured Patchwork of the Coat of the Prince: On Yossl Birstein's Work," in: Modern Hebrew Literature 8-9 (1992), 56-59. (Anat Feinberg (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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