Yitzhak Dov Berkowitz Dies
(L-R) Berkowitz pictured with Sholem Aleichem in 1915. Photo: JNF Archive
March 29, 1967

Russian-born writer Yitzhak Dov Berkowitz, who won the Bialik Prize, Israel Prize and Tchernichovsky Prize for Translation, dies after a short illness at age 82.

Born in 1885 near Minsk, Berkowitz read Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian and began to write stories for friends around age 15. Encouraged by the poet Yitzhak Katzenelson, he began to publish Hebrew stories in HaTzofeh in his late teens and won a story contest held by the daily newspaper in 1903. Hayim Nachman Bialik, the literary editor of HaShiloah, soon urged Berkowitz to publish stories in his newspaper. At 19, Berkowitz became the literary editor of HaZeman in Vilna.

In 1905 he met his childhood literary hero, Sholem Aleichem, and that year he married the Yiddish writer’s eldest daughter, Ernestina. He became Aleichem’s right-hand man and was greatly influenced by him. Starting in 1910, he translated all of Aleichem’s Yiddish writing into Hebrew.

After Vilna, Berkowitz edited literary journals in Warsaw, Odessa and Berlin. He worked in the United States for a time, then moved to Palestine in 1928.

The settings for his stories included the Eastern European shtetl, the United States, Tel Aviv and the early Yishuv. He described being caught between tradition and modernity and often adopted the perspective of a neutral narrator. His storytelling methods and his work in general were crucial in the development of realism in Hebrew literature.

His last major publication was a collection of childhood memories titled “Pirkey Yaldut,” which earned him his second Bialik Prize. He also was a member of the Academy of Hebrew Language, where he was responsible for many innovations in the language.