“It is not given to you to complete the work…” Rabbi Tarfon
I have spent a fair bit of time over this last year hunting down my grandfather’s published writings, above and beyond those included in his twenty full-length books. At first I found only a few here and there. Most of the easy ways to search were in English, but they yielded little. Then last summer I discovered the Yiddish Periodical Index, and was overwhelmed by the wealth of newspaper and journal articles listed there. Since then, I’ve been locating articles one by one– most from that index but a good many found through other sources. Very soon I’ll be sharing what I’ve found.
As slowly as I have been collecting them, I’ve been even slower to read and translate what I’ve collected. So far I’ve only finished translating two— an article about children’s literature, and the article about the glorification of the military in Israel that I recently shared here. Two down, three more in progress…
I’ve found material from 1920 right up to the year of his death in 1970. Meanwhile, one little detail had been nagging at me. The earliest published nonfiction article I have (1923) lists the author as S. Simon, but the letter S is a samekh ‘ס‘ instead of a shin ‘ש‘. His name on everything else is shin, or Sh. Simon, for Shloime. Perhaps, I thought, at the outset of his career he experimented with the more Americanized version of his name. ‘ס‘ is for ‘Solomon’. Or he could have purposely chosen a different name than the one he would go by in his regular life.
So many Yiddish writers wrote under pseudonyms. At first, this was because it was considered low status to be a writer in Yiddish, rather than in Hebrew or the surrounding European national language. Later, I suppose it was either out of tradition or to keep one’s writerly and tog-teglekh (everyday) identities separate. On the other hand, the author’s initial could simply have been a typo. Or, perhaps, this particular article might not even have been written by my grandfather at all?
So I opened the file to read the article, titled ‘Piyonern’ or Pioneers. It became immediately obvious the article is by him. It is in his style, and deals with some of his main concerns. But in going back to check, something else interesting caught my eye.
The batch of articles it was among had been collected at the NY Public Library, photographing one page at a time. That visit, my partner helped me with my project, using her cell phone camera. But, because she does not know Yiddish, she wanted to make sure that I would know what I had, in case she either took a picture of a wrong page, mistitled, or misfiled an article. So she would first take a picture of the cover or contents page of a journal, then the pages of my grandfather’s article in that issue. For most of these, I stripped off the photo of the cover, once I was sure I had the correct article. But for this particular one, I had retained the cover page along with the article.
I checked it to confirm that the Samekh was on the cover as well as on the article. Then, for whatever reason, I looked at the cover again. Lower down on the list of contributors, I noticed the name of another author, “Shimon Shimonovitz”. He, I immediately realized, was also my grandfather!
Shimonovitz had been his last name at birth. He changed it to Simon when he came here. Also, he had an older brother named ‘Shimon’, but he later used that first name to refer to himself in his autobiography. So it was a literary alter-ego.
My discovery was a complete happenstance. If I had not kept that particular cover in the file, or had not looked back at it again, I never would have noticed the pseudonym. I immediately searched the Yiddish Periodical Index for Shimon Shimonovitz, just in case he wrote other things under that name. But the one I’d found, in the journal Oyfgang in 1923 is the only one listed.
The work of gathering material can be slow. Sometimes I have to wait around in the Dorot Division of the NY Public Library while they fetch me an old journal from their stacks. Friday, during one such wait, I idly browsed the surrounding shelves. I noticed the Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur, and pulled out the volume with Zeidy’s name. The Leksikon is an incredible resource. I cannot begin to image how much work it was to compile in the era before computers.
Somewhere, there is a hero who has been methodically translating this monumental work and putting it on the web [http://ingeveb.org/blog/eight-volumes-in-dour-maroon-josh-fogel-on-translating-the-leksikon]. Ever since I found out about this, I had been waiting for him to get to Simon, but now it dawned on me that there was no reason I had to wait. I could just read the Yiddish.
The article had some information about my grandfather I did not know. For example, I knew that he had various jobs after he got to the US. It was not news to me that he worked in a cleaners and as a house painter, but I had not known he did a stint as a balegole (wagoner, or driver).
The article also has a long list of organizations he belonged to and journals he wrote for, as well as (and this I knew much less about) those he helped edit. There is even a section with articles that are about him or his work. Presumably they are mostly book reviews. Each of his book titles is listed, along with the publisher and the number of pages. And then, at the end of that long list, there is the offhand comment: “Also published under various pseudonyms.”
I had imagined myself, someday in the not very far future, presenting Yivo with a bibliography and a complete set of Simon’s published work outside of his books. I figured they could add it to his archive, and if by chance some Jewish studies scholar 30 years from now wanted to write their dissertation about him, there it would be. Now I know that this can never happen. That my investigation of his work will not be complete.
This is both a liberation and a loss. I originally just wanted to be able to read his books. I had no idea that his ‘outtakes’ would add another fifty articles and at least a dozen stories to that pile. Now I know that I will never know all of it. Which means, in some strange way, I’m back to where I started. I will learn what I can, and read what I can, not out of ambition, but out of love. Whatever I can manage is more than I did before. I learn, and then I learn some more.