Author photo. Postcard of Yiddish-language author en:I.L. Peretz

Postcard of Yiddish-language author en:I.L. Peretz

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Isaac Leib (I.L.) Peretz was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in the small Polish town of Zamosc. Despite his upbringing, he was eager for secular knowledge at an early age. He learned Polish, Russian, German, and French so he could read foreign newspapers and learn about the larger world. He accepted an arranged marriage at age 18, but later rebelled against his family's wishes and divorced his wife to marry a woman of his choice. At 25, Peretz became a lawyer and spent 10 years building a successful practice in Zamosc. He began to publish poems and lyrics, first in Hebrew and Polish and then in Yiddish. His 1888 work "Monish" is considered the first major Yiddish poem. In 1886, Peretz lost his license to practice law due to unfounded and false accusations. He moved with his family to Warsaw, where he worked for the city's Jewish community for the rest of his life. He participated in the literary life of Warsaw and was active in social and political affairs. He wrote essays condemning anti-Semitic acts, and also was critical of the poverty and intolerance found within the Jewish community. He was the publisher of Yontev Bletekh (Holiday Pages), which argued for enlightenment and socialist ideals, and Di Yidishe Bibliotek (The Jewish Library), which published a wide array of articles on secular subjects, including science. Peretz is considered one of the founders of modern Yiddish literature. He became a literary and intellectual mentor to younger Yiddish writers, some of whom he convinced to write in that language and who later became well-known. Although Peretz wrote poems, essays, plays, and novels, his short stories and sketches are considered his most powerful work. Perhaps his most famous story was "Bontshe Shvayg" (Bontshe the Silent), who represented Jewish shtetl life.
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