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Peretz Smolenskin

פרץ סמולנסקין

Peretz Smolenskin (1840-1885) was born in Monastryrshchina, Russia, to a poor family burdened by misfortune. At age five, he witnessed his eldest brother being seized by the Czar’s army. He never saw him again. His father, who was falsely accused of a crime, was a fugitive for over two years. He died when Peretz was eleven. A year later, Smolenskin left home to join an older brother at a yeshiva, where he remained for over five years. Introduced to the ideas of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) by his brother, he began to read secular books and to learn Russian. He was so persecuted for these practices that he fled to Hassidic centers, where he spent almost three years.

After wandering through southern Russia and the Crimea for a year, earning his keep by singing in choirs and preaching in synagogues, he reached Odessa in 1862. He remained there for five years, studying music and languages and earning his living as a Hebrew teacher. In 1867, while in Odessa, he published his first story. Smolenskin then traveled through Romania, Germany and Bohemia, and acquired Turkish nationality along the way.

In Vienna he founded a Hebrew journal, which became the most effective Hebrew literary platform for the later Haskalah movement and for the early stages of the nationalist movement. For almost 17 years, Smolenskin devoted himself to this monthly journal, which he published, edited and managed, in addition to serving as proofreader, distributor and one of its main contributors. He also devoted much time and energy to public affairs and, as one of the leading advocates of a Jewish return to Eretz Israel, he conducted negotiations with Laurence Oliphant to obtain support for Jewish settlement there. In 1883, he contracted  tuberculosis, but continued writing til the end of his life, finishing his last novel, The Inheritance, shortly before his death.

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