Postcard from Shloyme Bastomski to Bessie Pomerantz, 1932. From Shloyme Bastomski in Vilna to Bessie Pomerantz in Chicago, 26 December 1932. Bastomski is sending her copies of the latest Grininke beymelekh, in which her poem “Pitsl” appears, and asks her to distribute copies of the publication to acquaintances. Yiddish. Polish and Yiddish letterhead: Grininke Bojmełech i Chawer, Wilno, Stefańska 24, m. 28. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

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Bastomski, Shloyme

(1891–1941), Yiddish pedagogue, folklorist, writer; and editor; pioneer of Yiddish secular schooling. Born in Vilna to a poor family, Shloyme Bastomski was orphaned at an early age. After attending a Talmud Torah school, he graduated from the Vilna Teacher’s Institute in 1912. He then taught in nearby towns for two years before being hired to teach at the newly formed school of the Khevre Mefitse Haskole (Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia), the first nontraditional boys’ school in Vilna. Yiddish was the language of instruction, and Bastomski taught there through the 1930s.

Bastomski was a member of the Socialist Zionists and later became active in Frayland, a territorialist organization. He established one of the most productive Yiddish educational publishing houses, Di Naye Yidishe Folkshul (The New Yiddish Elementary School), catering to the evolving Yiddish secular schools. He also founded and edited two important Yiddish children’s journals, Der khaver (The Friend) and Grininke beymelekh (Little Green Trees).

From Shloyme Bastomski in Vilna to A. Krakovski in Copenhagen, 28 [March?] no year, asking him what he is doing to further develop Jewish education in Denmark and urging him to form Grininke Beymelekh circles for students and adults. He asks for Krakovski’s help in obtaining subscribers in Sweden and Norway and marvels that Grininke beymelekh has published its fortieth issue: "Is this not a miracle?" Yiddish. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

In developing a new pedagogy for the Yiddish secular-school child, Bastomski envisioned Yiddish folklore as an essential element. His interest in this field began in 1908, and he submitted a collection of proverbs to Shmuel Niger for publication in the historic volume Der pinkes (1912–1913). Bastomski continued to collect proverbs, and issued a volume, Baym kval: Yidishe sprikhverter (At the Source: Yiddish Proverbs), in 1920, in which he distinguished proverbs as a genre from proverbial expressions or sayings and analyzed their structure.

Bastomski also published Yidishe folksretenishn (Yiddish Riddles; 1917), the first compilation of its kind. In the introduction to this work, he emphasized the integration of folklore materials into Yiddish secular culture: “In the new paradise of the Yiddish folkshul, the teacher, especially the Yiddish-language teacher, will be standing at the well, and he will nourish the young green trees with living water from the eternal spring of Yiddish folk creativity.”

When the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society of Lithuania and Belorussia was founded in 1919 (after 1920 called the An-ski Vilna Jewish Historic-Ethnographic Society), Bastomski headed the folklore section, which was devoted to collecting songs and legends. The organization subsidized the publication of his Yidishe sprikhverter. At the end of this collection, Bastomski issued a call for further collections of proverbs and folklore, a request that that was answered by future zamlers (folk collectors) such as Khayim Sheskin, who started work even before the founding of YIVO’s Ethnographic Commission in 1925.

Bastomski also compiled a major collection of Yiddish folk songs from Lithuania, Baym kval: Materialn tsum yidishn folklor-folkslider (At the Source: Materials on Yiddish Folklore and Folk Songs), published in 1923. He served on the board of the YIVO Ethnographic Commission (later called the Folklore Commission), as well as on the Tsentraler Bildungs-Komitet, the central education committee overseeing Yiddish education in Vilna.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bastomski was a leader in publishing and editing pedagogical texts for Yiddish schools. Many of these booklets, issued by his publishing house, contain previously uncollected folklore materials (legends, jokes, folktales, purim-shpils), contemporary Yiddish literature, and translations of world classics. His monthly journals for children were read in Yiddish schools throughout the world. Bastomski’s copublisher and coeditor, Malke Khaymson, was his wife. Both died in Vilna during the war—Bastomski before the Nazis arrived in 1941, Khaymson in the ghetto a short time later.

Suggested Reading

S. Ansky, “Di yidishe folksretenishn,” Gezamelte shriftn vol. 15, pp. 227–245 (New York, 1925); Jennifer Dowling, “Riddles and Riddle Parodies: Shloyme Bastomski’s Yidishe Folksretenishn,” in History of Yiddish Studies, Winter Studies in Yiddish 3, ed. Dov-Ber Kerler, pp. 81–92 (Chur, Eng., 1987); Itzik Nakhmen Gottesman, “On Bastomski’s Contribution to Yiddish Folkore,” in Defining the Yiddish Nation: The Jewish Folklorists of Poland, pp. 86–108 (Detroit, 2003); Israel Rubin, “Akshonim (S. Bastomski),” Literarishe bleter 29 (1929): 568.