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Fininberg, Ezra

(1899–1946), Yiddish poet and writer. Born in Uman, Ezra Fininberg “published” his first poems in a handwritten journal that he produced in the mid-1910s in his hometown with Leyb Kvitko and Moyshe Khashchevatski. Initially Fininberg supported the Zionist Socialist (Territorialist) Party, but joined the Communists in 1919. From 1920 he lived in Kiev, working at the editorial office of the daily Komunistishe fon (Communist Banner). Fininberg belonged to a group of young Yiddish literary talents called Vidervuks (New Growth), whose mentor was Dovid Hofshteyn. Fininberg married Eva Khenkin, whose sister, Mira Khenkin, was Nokhem Oyslender’s wife and a Yiddish writer in her own right.

Fininberg’s first anthology, Otem (Breath; 1922), was well received by critics, though the most orthodox Communist critics were dissatisfied with the poet’s admission that the prerevolutionary daily (“Wednesday”) routine had not disappeared: “my grandfather’s Wednesday still lasts and lasts.” By 1923, Fininberg was already regarded as an established Yiddish poet; indeed, his works were featured in the first anthology of Yiddish poetry in Ukrainian translation. In all, he published more than 20 books and contributed to numerous yearbooks.

In the 1920s, Fininberg shunned the militant proletarian cultural movement, participating instead in the Ukrainian Yiddish literary groups Antene (Antenna; 1924) and Boy (Construction; 1926–1927). Both had much in common with the organization of Ukrainian writers called Hart (Tempering). Significantly, while they claimed to target all strata of workers rather than just proletarians, they remained elitist in seeking only the sophisticated reader (in this emphasis, they followed the pattern that Kiev Yiddish writers such as Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister, and Yekhezkl Dobrushin had begun a decade earlier).

Fininberg joined the editorial board of the journal Di royte velt in 1926. Many of his best lyric poems were included in his collection Land und libshaft (Country and Love; 1928). By 1930, he had, in Itsik Fefer’s words, “moved to the left” and began to be regarded as a proletarian writer; he had apparently been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for the first Five-Year Plan and Soviet Jewish colonization projects. In his poem “An erd an andere” (Another Earth; 1931), he argued that Lenin’s and Stalin’s ideology was transforming “the old Europe of Oswald Spengler.” The next year he regretted, in his poem “A shod!” (It’s a Shame!), that the American Yiddish poet Moyshe Leyb Halpern had left Communist circles and therefore died “amid the filth of the Jewish people.” During the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers (1934), he was among the delegates who represented Moscow-based Yiddish writers.

Fininberg’s poetry often combined features of Russian epic poems, known as byliny, with Yiddish folktales. Although he frequently employed biblical images and allusions, his poetry was notable for its universal character; his anthologies were filled with declarations of love for Ukraine, ballads on historical and contemporary topics, and variations on the poetic folklore of Soviet ethnic minorities. He also translated numerous works into Yiddish, including the medieval Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Goethe’s Faust, Aleksandr Fadeev’s Rout, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Victor Hugo’s 93, and poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose own poetry strongly influenced Fininberg’s style.

Fininberg volunteered for the Red Army in 1941, but was demobilized after a serious injury that shortened his life. His war experiences are mirrored in his two last collections, Fun shlakhtfeld (From the Battlefield; 1943) and In rizikn fayer (In Enormous Fire; 1946).

Suggested Reading

Nahum Oislender (Nokhem Oyslender), “Mit Ezro Fininbergn,” Sovetish heymland (February 1981): 119–133; Aron Vergelis, “Aza libshaft, foterland,” Sovetish heymland (December 1969): 6–12.