Lebns-fragn (Life Issues: A Socialist Monthly for Politics, Economics, and Culture), was launched in Tel Aviv, May 1951. It lasted 43 years, until June 2014. The periodical was the mouthpiece of the Bund in Israel, which was registered as a non-profit organization under the name "Workmen's Circle", the sister organization of the "Workmen's Circle" in the US.
Lebns-fragn was the last link in the long chain of the Bundist press published over a century, and it was also the last Yiddish periodical to appear in Israel.
The Bund ("The General Union of Jewish Workers in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia") was founded in 1897 in Vilna as a Jewish social-democratic party. It strongly opposed the oppressive Czarist regime and fought for social and national rights for Jews in general and Jewish workers in particular, based on the premise that their future is linked to the countries where they actually live, which will eventually be transformed into a socialist society. Amongst secular Jews, the Bund offered an ideological and organizational alternative to Zionism on the one hand, and later to Communism on the other hand. The Bund was a large, combative Jewish party in Czarist Russia, in interwar Poland and in the Eastern European Jewish Diaspora – in France, the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, and elsewhere.
The "father" of the Israeli Bund was Ben-Zion ("Bentsl") Tsalevitsh (1885-1962). Born in Bialystok, he arrived in Palestine as early as 1922, and started immediately to be active in the labor movement. Tsalevitsh also sought to enhance the status of Yiddish culture in Palestine, and was active in promoting Yiddish publications, newspapers and books that he imported from abroad.
After the Holocaust, during the late forties and fifties, many Bundists arrived in Israel, both direct survivors from the Holocaust or refugees who spent the war years in the Soviet Union. Others came later, as part of successive waves of immigrants from Communist Poland. Their arrival activated the Bund group in Israel, which up to then had sparse membership. In 1951, Tsalevitsh was appointed head of the Bund in Israel and official editor of Lebns-fragn. However, the actual editor was Issachar Eichenbaum (Y. Artuski), as he wrote the editorials, opinion columns and articles about current events. After Tsalevitsh's passing in 1962, Artuski continued to serve as editor until his death in December 1971. Itzkhok Luden (born in Warsaw, 1922) was appointed the second editor, a position he fulfilled for 43 years, until the periodical folded. Its last issue was published in June 2014.
The periodicals published by the Bund were usually loyal to the former names of the party press. Thus the new periodical in Tel Aviv was named after the historic Lebens-fragen, whose editors included the legendary Bund leader Vladimir Medem. Lebens-fragen was initially published in Warsaw, 1912, but was shut by the Czarist authorities after its first issue. Its editor, its publisher and some of its contributors got heavy convictions, up to lengthy imprisonment and exile to Siberia. The periodical reappeared in 1916, when Warsaw was under German occupation during World War I. In 1918 it became a daily, a fact that is indicative of the increased strength of the Bund after the war. However, the publication suffered from continuous harassment by the authorities, and in 1920 it was closed again, this time by order of the Supreme Court of independent Poland. Later, a new Bundist daily was launched under the name Folkstsaytung, a highly respectable organ whose last issue is dated September 23, 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. The remnants of the Bund cadres who arrived in Tel Aviv saw fit to revive the name of one of their earlier publications, and the original typographical form of the name title was also preserved in the new publication.
At the beginning, a standard issue of Lebns-fragn included 16 pages; over time, when it became a bi-monthly, it had 24 pages, later increased to 28. The editorial usually appeared on the front page, while the following pages were dedicated to articles about political, economic and social issues regarding current events in Israel and abroad. They were discussed in a critical vein, reflecting the traditional ideology of the Bund. A regular column focusing mainly on Israeli affairs, entitled "By the Way," was written by Ben Yaakov (one of Artuski's pseudonyms; others were L. Kasstner, Y. Samter, and Y. S.). The monthly also included literary pieces, both poetry and prose, as well as reviews and articles about theater and art. It also provided surveys of Yiddish books published in Israel and abroad, while noting the references to Yiddish and its literature made in the current Hebrew press. The back pages were dedicated to short notes about events in the Bundist organizations throughout the world. They also included personal announcements, both about joyous occasions as well as obituaries.
The contributors to the publication were Bund activists in Israel and many other countries, as well as Yiddish writers and intellectuals. Special issues marked the anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the murder of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union, and May Day.
This format, with its emphasis on the Yiddish world, was generally kept under Luden's term as editor. In the last twenty years of the periodical's life the roster of writers became smaller, as the Bund movement waned and the number of Yiddish speakers in the world dwindled. Thus, over the years, the editor's contribution became increasingly prominent, under various pseudonyms (e.g., Ben Ourish, Esterman). Likewise, in its last years the periodical's frequency diminished.
The 736 issues of Lebns-fragn document an extended and crucial period both in Israeli and in Jewish history. Some of its material is still relevant, long beyond its publication date. The motto which appeared under its name in the last years, "dip the pen in your conscience before you dip it in ink," reflects the periodical's unyielding ideological stance.
Dr. Gali Drucker Bar-Am