(1823/26–1883), Yiddish and Hebrew poet; maskil. Known as the singer and troubadour of the Jews of Romania, Benjamin Wolf Ehrenkranz was born in Zbaraż (in Austrian Galicia) and received a traditional education. Under the influence of friends from Tarnopol, he embraced the Haskalah movement. Although Ehrenkranz was married at age 18 to the daughter of a Hasid from his native town, his father-in-law took note of the poet’s irreverent behavior and satiric writings, and forced him to divorce his wife notwithstanding her opposition. Ehrenkranz left for Czernowitz, where he became quite well known among local Jews, and subsequently left for Moldova to work as a tutor. There he began to write Yiddish poetry, occasionally translating or recomposing his works into Hebrew.
Ehrenkranz made his literary debut in 1848 with a poem in Hebrew that was published in the maskilic periodical Kokhve Yitsḥak (Vienna). After failing in business in Botoşani, he associated with Jewish craft workers who spent their spare time in local taverns. There he recited his poems in Yiddish, sometimes using improvised tunes. Having discovered his singing gift, he began to earn a living known as Reb Velvl, the singer of Zbaraż (Velvl Zbarzher). Wealthy Jews invited him to perform at weddings and other celebrations.
Always in search of new audiences, Ehrenkranz traveled, stopping in cities and towns with significant Jewish populations, including Mihăileni, Botoşani, Iaşi, Piatra Neamț, Galați, Brăila, and Bucharest. He even went as far as Russia and Austria. After an extended and rowdy period in Vienna, he was apparently forced to flee his creditors. Joining his lover “Malkale,” Ehrenkranz ultimately settled in Istanbul, where he spent the rest of his life.
The themes of Ehrenkranz’s poems, which show the influence of Jewish and Romanian folklore, include nature, love, personal suffering, and nostalgia. Some of his poems satirize Hasidic rebbes and their followers. Many sympathetically depict the life of average Romanian Jews. Ehrenkranz’s Yiddish included Romanian words and resembled the Yiddish spoken in the vernacular in his country.
Ehrenkranz’s first volume of poetry, Ḥazon le-mo‘ed (The Time Hasn’t Yet Arrived; 1855) was bilingual (Hebrew and Yiddish) and included anti-Hasidic pieces. Another bilingual work, Makel no‘am (The Stick That Touches Lightly; 4 vols., 1865–1878), contained poems on aspects of Jewish life. He also published a volume of anti-Hasidic poems titled Makel ḥovlim (The Stick That Hits; 1869) in both languages, and a collection of Hebrew poems called Sefati yeshanah (My Language Is Old; 1874).
Some of Ehrenkranz’s works stemmed from the sufferings of Jews in Romania. He reflected on pogroms in the town of Galați in the Yiddish poem “Geshikhte fun Galats” (History of Galați; 1859). In 1874, he published the Hebrew poem “Romanyah” in the Shaḥar review as well as in a booklet entitled Romanyah, zeh sefer toldot Romanyah le-ḥerpat ‘olam (Romania, This Is a Book of the History of Romania for Eternal Shame). This piece exposed antisemitic persecution in Romania and led to the author’s banishment from the country. Some of his letters were printed posthumously by Bernhard Wachstein (1928), who also published a selection of Ehrenkranz’s poems (1938).
Shlomo Bickel, Yahadut Romanyah: Historyah, bikoret sifrutit, zikhronot (Tel Aviv, 1978), pp. 63–74; Benjamin Wolf Ehrenkranz (Binyomen Volf Erenkrants), Velvele Zbarezhers briv zu zayn bruder Meyer: Loyt di originaln fun der bibliotek fun der yidisher kehile in Vin, ed. Bernhard Wachstein (Vilna, 1928), also in Filologishe shriftn 2 (1928): 1–42; Yitshak Korn, Yidish in Rumenye (Tel Aviv, 1989), pp. 85–124, 258–259; Meir Weissberg, Welwel Zbarazer, der Fahrende Singer des galizisch jüdischen Humanismus (Leipzig, 1909).
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea