10 Things You Need to Know About… Ben Avigdor

Literary entrepreneur

1. Ben Avigdor is the pen name for Abraham Leib Shalkovich, born near Vilna in 1867. He grew up near Grodno and was educated in Bible and Talmud with the expectation that he’d become a rabbi. Evidently, it didn’t take.

2. In 1889, he moved to Vilna, where he wrote a group of essays on Zionism and his first short story. He joined Bene Mosheh, a Zionist movement and in 1891 was appointed secretary of its Warsaw office. Note that his choice of pen name relates to Bene Mosheh (sons/children of Moses), since “Avigdor” in Talmudic usage refers to Moses.

3. In Warsaw, he began publishing a “library” series in Hebrew –  short stories under the name Sifre Agurah (Penny Books) – bringing out 31 numbers in all. His success with these Penny Books prompted a reconsideration among the younger Jewish literati about the titles and distribution of Hebrew texts.

4. Under his leadership, the New Movement was formed by young writers who were rebelling against established themes and writing styles. Every two weeks in the years 1891-93, they put out a 32-page, tightly printed pamphlet that included fiction and nonfiction exploring a variety of issues.

Avigdor5. Ben Avigdor contributed six novels and novelettes to this effort. Frischmann [see my blog post of February 27] wrote for them, as did Peretz.

6. His next publishing venture was Ahi’asaf, the first publicly funded Jewish printing press. Ben Avigdor was one of the founders of this Hebrew literary venture and its managing editor for three years.

7. In 1895, he sold his shares in Ahi’asaf and founded Tushiyah (Sound Knowledge), a publishing company devoted to the development of modern Hebrew culture. It was the first privately owned, modern secular Jewish printing press, and he served as its editor, producing both literary and scientific works.

8. He also published in the “mother tongue”: Yiddish newspapers; the first edition of Sholem Aleichem’s collected works; and, in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom, a collection edited by Sholem Aleichem to benefit the victims.

9. In 1921 in Carlsbad, having expanded his company’s activities to Palestine and the United States, Abraham Shalkovich, AKA Ben Avigdor, died suddenly at the age of 55.

10. He is not to be confused with Avraham ben Avigdor of Prague, who was longtime chief rabbi and head of Prague’s yeshiva, and who is listed in the Alteneuschul‘s memorial book. In 1541, when Jews were expelled from Prague, he was one of fifteen who were permitted to stay. In response, he wrote an elegy, “Ana Elohe Avraham,” that became part of the prayers said on Yom Kippur. Author of commentary and legal decisions, Avraham ben Avigdor died in 1542.

You’ll find Ben Avigdor Street in Tel Aviv just west of Ayalon South and (appropriately) parallel to Tushiya. Ben Avigdor is today a street lined with clubs and dance bars.

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