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Zingman, Kalmen

(1889–1929), Yiddish author and publisher. Kalmen Zingman (last name also rendered Singman) was born in Slobodka, near Kovno. He received a traditional Jewish education, but difficult family circumstances forced him to start working at an early age. In 1909, his poem “Baym Nyeman” (At the Nieman) appeared in the miscellany Shtraln (Rays), edited by A. Litvin (Shmuel Hurvits; 1862–1943). During World War I, Zingman found himself among refugees from the theater of operations. He wound up in Kharkov, where he worked as a small businessman, continuing to dream about a literary career.

In the spring of 1917, following the abdication of Nicholas II, the newly established government made it possible to renew publishing activities in Yiddish, which the Russian military censorship had almost paralyzed during the war. Zingman liquidated his textile business and opened a publishing house, Yidish. Apart from books, including his own poetic collection Bay di breges fun Nyeman (At the Banks of the Nieman) and two short plays, he published two issues of the miscellany Kunst-ring almanakh (Art-Circle Miscellany; 1917 and 1919).

In 1919, Zingman became the publisher of the pioneer Yiddish Communist newspaper in Ukraine, Der yidisher komunist. His utopian novel In der tsukunft-shtot Edenye (In the Future City of Edenye) appeared in 1918 under the pseudonym Ben-Ya‘akov. An interesting document of the epoch, it reflects the author’s Folkist leanings. Although Zingman’s utopia contains numerous elements from science fiction, cultural advancements play in it the most important role. After spending 25 years in Palestine, the protagonist visits a multinational city in Ukraine, presumably Kharkov, renamed Edenye (a derivative of Eden). He finds a happy Yiddish-speaking community whose life is built on principles of cultural autonomy.

By the end of 1920, Zingman moved to Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, where he established himself as a publisher and a man of letters. In 1921, his Berlin operation produced a dozen titles (including reprints of Kharkov editions) under the imprint of the Kovno-Berlin Farlag Yidish, making him the most prolific Berlin-based Yiddish publisher—but for one year only. In his novel Af shvindtrep (On the Winding Stairs; 1926), a Kovno publisher, Zingman’s alter ego, gets deeply into debt, trying to compete with private and state firms. Nekhame Likhtenshteyn, the novel’s protagonist, has much in common with Mirele in Dovid Bergelson’s novel Nokh alemen (When All Is Said and Done). In fact, Zingman makes clear the affinity between the two literary characters: Nekhame finds solace in reading Nokh alemen after rejecting her mother’s matchmaking efforts to pair her up with a factory owner. Yet while Bergelson’s heroine lived in a static environment, Nekhame is destined to experience the turmoil of the war and revolution.

Between 1921 and 1923, Zingman edited a literary periodical, whose title, Vispe (Islet), reflected the frustrating feeling of isolation characteristic of many Jewish activists in Lithuania, a small piece of the former Russian Empire. In 1929, Zingman went to the Soviet Union; he died in Crimea that September.

Suggested Reading

Ben-Ya‘akov (Kalman Zingman), Be-‘Ir he-‘atid “Edenyah” / In der tsukunft-shot Edenya (Tel Aviv, 1996), pp. 73–95, includes a reprint of the original text in Yiddish and Hebrew translation; Gennady Estraikh, In Harness: Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism (Syracuse, N.Y., 2005); Gennady Estraikh, “Utopias and Cities of Kalman Zingman, an Uprooted Yiddishist Dreamer,” East European Jewish Affairs 36.1 (2006): 31–42.