Magazine

The Yiddish Jokester

Itzik Manger had the unusual power of uniting the ancient and modern, fantasy and realism, satire and cultural criticism in playful, clever, often both funny and sad poems.

itzik manger
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
Itzik Manger was perhaps the most beloved of Yiddish poets in the years of the great ascendancy of Yiddish as a spoken language of millions. Born in 1901 in Czernowitz (then Austro-Hungarian, later Romanian, now in Ukraine) he died in Gedera in 1969. From 1921 he began to win the hearts of Jewish readers for his unusual power of uniting the ancient and modern, fantasy and realism, satire and cultural criticism in playful, clever, often both funny and sad poems about Jews against their traditional and religious background and lore. He loved the literature from the Bible and hated injustice and hypocrisy.

Thus Manger could write a ballad about the impoverished ones of modern society, and of biblical characters, mostly real, some imagined, from Adam and Eve, through a rhymed play based on the Purim megilla, and on to the pain and tragic loss of his homes, friends and family in his birthplace, Czernowitz. The Jews of Czernowitz spoke German as well as Yiddish, and the city has been called the last bastion of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, which fell in 1918. His spiritual home was in Warsaw, which, before 1939, was a great center of Yiddish literature, press, theater and film. He escaped from Warsaw to Paris and then to London, but the Holocaust shook his essence and being.



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