Lebns-fragen: "Life Questions: A Socialist Monthly for Politics, Economics and Culture" made its debut appearance in 1951 in Tel Aviv. This Yiddish periodical was published under the auspices of the Bund Organization in Israel, operating under the name of "Arbeter Ring" (Yiddish for "The Workmen's Circle", the name under which the Bund operated in America). More than anything else, the activity of the "International Jewish Labor Bund" was known to have been supportive of the East European economic-social-cultural realm and for advocating the betterment of Jewish workers in current times and in their places of habitat. It was this "DEIKEIT" stance (Yiddish equivalent to "here and now") that the movement emphasized, representing its distinct contribution to modern Jewish political thought. The International Bund started its activity as a distinctly anti-national or cosmopolitan movement; albeit in the 1950ies this tendency was softened. Consequently its presence in the state of Israel constituted a prompting source for ideological tensions both within the movement as well as vis-à-vis the Zionist institutes that surrounded it.
The Tel Aviv Lebns-fragen constitutes a late link, in fact the last, in a chain of publications of the international Bund. A weekly called Lebns-fragen was first published in 1912 in Russia. After its closure by the police it reemerged in 1916 in Warsaw. As of 1918 it became a daily newspaper in the Polish capital. (For more information on the historical Bund press, see the attached article by Yitskhok Luden- the second editor of the Tel Aviv monthly).
In the late 1940ies and the early 1950ies, as part of "The Massive Emigration" to Israel, a large number of holocaust surviving Bund members came to this country. Their arrival extended the span of the Israeli organization that hitherto constituted of a few dozen only. The "father" of the Palestinian Bund movement was Ben-Zion ("Bentsl") Tsalevitsh (1885-1962), a Białystok born baker who immediately upon his arrival in 1918, operated as an activist for the betterment of the workers' conditions. In 1951, the members in Israel decided to proclaim their organization as an official branch of the international Bund. Their decision was confirmed by the New York Movement's organizing committee with Isachar Eichenboim (1903-1971) - a Warsaw born refugee in post WW II Paris (who was better known in his underground covert names I. Artusky and Comrade Oskar) being dispatched to head the new branch in Tel Aviv.
The back page of the Tel Aviv Lebns-fragen listed Bentsl Tsalevitsh as its editor. But in fact, it was Artusky who edited it from its foundation. It is Artusky's name that appears on the editorials as well as on the commentaries and the critiques. Tsalevitsh was the declared official editor of the newspaper in order to enable its publication in Israel of the early fifties. The Ministry of Interior (that was in charge of the certification of the press at that time) required journals' editors to have an academic education or to have as professional credentials as journalists.
Artusky could not meet either of these requirements. His studies at Moscow University had been terminated after his being declare a harsh adversary of Communism. Also, he could not have gained a status of an official journalist, since Yiddish journalists in Israel of those days were not accepted as members of the "Association of Hebrew Journalists". As a matter of fact Tsalevitsh also did not meet the required qualifications but he was a long-time resident in the country and a renowned activist in the "Workers Council" of the Tel Aviv municipal administration. Moshe Shapira, the Minister of Interior at that time, was acquainted with the Bund activity in Eastern Europe and respected it (though he was a religious person and a member of the "Ha' Mizrahi" party). Shapira was also familiar with Tsalevitsh'es social activity and thusly confirmed the latter's certification as a non-active editor. It was only after Tsalevitsh'es death in 1962 that Artusky was acclaimed the monthly's official editor. Artusky edited the newspaper up until his very last days. He died in Tel Aviv in December 1971. Yitskhok Luden, a 1924 Warsaw born habitual contributor of commentaries to the monthly, was appointed as its second and last editor. The last issue was published in June 2014.
An average Lebns-fragen issue held about sixteen pages. The editorial usually appeared on the front page. The following pages were dedicated to a critique of policies, economic matters and social interpretations of contemporary events in the world at large and in Israel, from the social, economic and political viewpoint of the movement. A column of critique, mainly of local affairs, entitled "by the way", written by Ben Yaakov (another one of Artusky's pseudonyms) appeared on a regular basis. The monthly's second part contained oeuvres (poetry and prose) as well as critiques of literature, theater and art. Every so often the newspaper provided surveys of newly published Yiddish books around the world and of references made to Yiddish and to its literature in the Hebrew press. Both sides of the last page were dedicated to social news and announcements by the international and the local movement. The writers were Bund members from around the world and from Israel. Festal issues were published on May first and on commemoration day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This format was generally preserved during Yitskhok Luden's tenure as the editor. In the last decades, as the number of Bund members dwindled, the number of contributors to the monthly declined. Consequently (as can be observed), the involvement of the editor, including his writings under various pseudonyms (e.g. Ben Oris; Asterman), was ever growing throughout the years and so was the decrease in the frequency of issues published.
More than 700 issues of Lebns-fragen comprise a unique corpus of documentation of a broad and significant era in the history of Israel and of the Jewish people world- wide. The criticism and the originality of the cultural orientation that engendered it remain fresh, brave and relevant up to present days.
Dr. Gali Drucker Bar-Am