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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder)

Gershon Einbinder c. 1963

Gershon Einbinder, who wrote under the penname Chaver Paver, was born in 1901 to a family of wealthy logging merchants in Bershad, a small town in the southeastern portion of the Russian empire (now Ukraine). He received a traditional religious education, attending a local cheder and Yeshiva, but left home in 1919 when, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik forces battled with militant gangs affiliated with the White Army for control of the region, resulting in a series of violent attacks on Bershad’s Jewish population. He moved to Romania, where he worked as a teacher and began writing stories for his young students. In 1923, he immigrated to the United States, settling in New York where he published his first two volumes of children’s stories, Mayselekh fun Khaver Paver. He taught in the Yiddish schools run by the International Workers Order (IWO), a left-wing mutual-aid based fraternal organization, and used his talents to write curriculum and plays for use in IWO schools across the country. In 1935, the IWO published Einbinder’s most well-known work, Labzik: mayselekh vegn klugn hintele (Labzik: Stories of a Clever Puppy), featuring the humorous adventures of Labzik the dog and his young owners as they navigated the streets of New York City, fighting against crooked politicians, brutish policemen and greedy employers, and learning lessons about social justice along the way.

Following the publication of Labzik, Einbinder moved to Los Angeles, where he lived until his death in 1964. He continued his work with the IWO Yiddish schools but often struggled financially, relying on his fellow writers and friends affiliated with the IWO to support his writing. During Einbinder’s over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, “The Chaver Paver Book Committee” helped to publish a half dozen of his works, including several books and plays about Jewish immigrant life in New York, a novel about Jewish Partisans in Poland during the Second World War, a sequel to Labzik staring his offspring Vovik, and two autobiographical accounts of his life, Gershon meyer dem blindsn and Gershon in Amerike. These works, as his friend Itche Goldberg described, reflected Einbinder’s skills as a storyteller, examining the lives of “the average Jews, ‘di Yidn fun a gants yor,’” with compassion, candor and a rhythmic style reminiscent of “the old folktale to be listened to rather than read.” [Introduction to Clinton Street, p. ix, xi.]

Zalmen and his wife Goldie

In 1955, the Book Committee published Einbinder’s novel Zalmen der shuster (Zalmen the Cobbler), an epic account of the immigrant experience based on the lives of a couple he had met in Los Angeles, Zalmen and his wife Goldie, and one of Einbinder’s only works which included stories about Jewish life in the city. The book is structured as a conversation between Zalmen and the author in which Zalmen shares tales from his sixty years in America in two parts: the first which describes his departure from Europe and struggles with poverty as he adjusts to life in New York, and the second in which he leaves New York with his wife and children and travels through Texas to Nashville, where he opens his own cobbler shop and mingles with his black and white neighbors, and then on to Los Angeles, where he buys a house, reunites with old friends, and lives happily for the rest of his life. Zalmen offers a vivid description of the Yiddish-speaking community in Los Angeles - the streets of Boyle Heights, Yiddish lectures downtown, hikes on Mt. Wilson and trips to “the Jewish beach.” Because he did not include Los Angeles in his subsequent autobiographical works, Einbinder’s novel Zalmen der shuster provides the closest accounting of the characters and communities he encountered during his years there.

This path showcases Einbinder’s stories about Los Angeles from Zalmen der shuster, translated by Caroline Luce with assistance from Hershl Hartman. To recreate the style of his children’s books, Evelyn Rucker has crafted a delightful set of illustrations to accompany each story. You can enjoy these stories and by following the path below.
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