Tel-Awiw

Monday. A day for history of art stories by 4c_Tel_Awiw_3_August_1919_vignette_Szyk

Lidia Głuchowska

From: Lidia Głuchowska, Poznań and Łódź: National modernism and international avant-garde. Zdrój (1917-22); Yung-Yidish (1919); and Tel-Awiw (1919-21) (Kap. 51). In: Brooker, Peter/ Thacker, Andrew/ Weikop, Christian/ Bru, Sascha u. a.  (Hg.): Modernist Magazines: A Critical and Cultural History. Vol. 3, part 2: Europe 1880-1940, Oxford University Press 2013, S. 1208-1233.

Tel-Awiw – “A Hill of Spring”

The vision of a ‘new world’ and a ‘new man’ which underpinned the myth of the avant-garde and the rhetoric of its manifestos opened the first issue of the monthly Tel-Awiw in 1919. However, the periodical was traditional both in its literary style and graphic design.The Tel-Awiw publishing house, through its periodicals and books, the organisation of lectures and exhibitions, organised also outside of Łódź, aspired to be the pivot of a new culture, serving the ‘cause of the Jewish nation’. The first editorial declared openly: ‘A rebirth of the nation concerns the body, but … first and foremost the spirit. Therefore we will assign a privileged place here to Jewish thought, poetry and arts … Representatives of tomorrow can be found in the ranks of the young generation. Therefore … the Jewish youth will be assigned an equally privileged position.’

Youth and the future are other typical components of the manifestos of the time. A ‘new world’, the great spiritual generational project, located outside the here and now, integrated the tradition of all the countries of the Jewish diaspora: ‘first and foremost, however, the land of fathers and sons, a land of an immortal past and of the future’. The magazine was to be a foundation stone for the construction of a new world – Tel-Awiw (‘A Hill of Spring’) – which would be settled by a ‘new man’ – a ‘New Jew’.

Today, when leafing through Tel-Awiw (1919-21), issued in Łódź by Zygmunt Bromberg-Bytkowski from a branch office in Warsaw, readers may find it exotic or foreign. For here is an unknown world, which ceased to exist not only in Poland, but throughout Central Europe at the conclusion of World War II. The very dating of Tel-Awiw reflects a telling yearly division in line with the Jewish calendar rather than with the universal calendar. Thus issues 1 to 4 came out in 1919; issues 5 and 6 in 1920, and subsequent issues – 1 to 8 – in 1921, including double issues 3-4 and 7-8.

The cover of the penultimate issue of Tel-Awiw featured the information that this was the only Jewish monthly in the Polish language. While this language is a bridge to a better understanding of the magazine’s content, it frequently fails to communicate the reality recorded in its 12 issues and 600 pages across such a historical and ideological distance. In the national culture the Jewish language was used both by assimilated Jews and Zionists, who did not always know the elitist Hebrew language. Polish-Jewish literature (that is to say, Jewish literature published in Polish) was disseminated through education, which was the cornerstone of cultural integration. In turn, the participation of assimilated Jews in the development of Polish literature was unprecedented among Poland’s national minorities.

Unlike in the former Soviet Union (where traditional and new Hebrew literature was hardly tolerated) in Poland the individual components of the tripartite linguistic poly-system of Jewish culture went unscathed. Although in the two decades between the world wars the centre of Hebrew literature moved from Eastern Europe to Palestine, in Poland it served as a reference point for those Jews who were considering migration. 80% of the Jewish population spoke Yiddish, a language of instruction in an extensive network of cheders, yeshivas and Bejs Yankev (schools for girls) – religious educational institutions – and in the secular high schools. By 1939 a total of 1,500 titles accounting for around two-thirds of all Jewish periodicals were issued in Yiddish. Since 1908 this language was treated on a par with Hebrew as a national language. At one time over 150 magazines with a total print-run of at least 350,000 copies were issued in Yiddish. These were dailies, weeklies, and monthlies, including specialist publications, representative of all political factions and ideologies. Moreover, there were many literary magazines and literary and arts periodicals, including Yung-Idish, whose authors cooperated with the editorial board of Tel-Awiw and which were therefore extensively discussed in the latter magazine. After Poland regained national sovereignty 1918, the Jewish press resumed its activity with redoubled energy and soon enjoyed a principal position among the titles issued by national minorities. In Łódź alone the Jewish press was published mainly in Yiddish (in for example Lodzer Togblat, Lodzer Morgnblat, Folsksblat, Nayer Folksblat, Oyfgang), even if there were also periodicals in Polish (such as Republika and Głos poranny).

Bromberg-Bytkowski’s personality had a powerful impact on the ideological profile of the Tel-Awiw magazine. He was one of the few Polish Jews, in whom a high European culture and a profound dedication to Polish culture co-existed with a commitment to Jewish culture and its Enlightenment heritage. He was a sophisticated European literary scholar, translator, and aesthete, a supporter of Polish Romanticism, the founder of a Palestine colony, and an active promoter of Zionism. He managed to persuade the most prominent intellectuals of his own generation and the next to publish in Tel-Awiw. The magazine offered articles by the renowned historians Majer Bałaban and Maksymilian Bienenstock, the ideologist Max Nordau, and the writers Sholem Asch and David Ben Gurion, the future first Prime Minister of the Israeli government.

Bromberg-Bytkowski stressed the role of culture in the magazine but also reacted strongly to events like the act of San Remo or the foundation of the Clarté organisation, both key events in the implementation of Zionist ideas. Tel-Awiw regularly introduced its readership to politicians and men of letters, such as Herzl, Anski and Heinrich Heine, Yosef Hayim Brenner, Chayym (Hayim) N. Bialik and Shaul Tchernichowsky, the dramaturge A. Vayter (Ayzik Meyer Devenishski) and the precursor of Yiddishism, Yitshok Leybush Peretz. The literary preferences of the editor were the polar opposite of avant-garde – critical of Naturalism and modernism but a defender of Romanticism whose renaissance was observable in the works by Knut Hamsun. The literature section of the magazine is memorable thanks to translations of new Hebrew and German poetry by Bialik, Tchernichowsky, and Heine. In addition, the literary texts included folk songs, prose by Ben Gurion, and Asch, as well as texts by the poet Jakób Kahan. The ‘Song of Songs’ came out in excerpts, posthumously considered to be Bromberg-Bytkowski´s master-work in translation.

Initially there were few articles about the visual arts. Marek Szwarc’s article ‘Sztuka a Żydzi’ (Art and the Jews) was published in November 1919.

In January 1921 Tel-Awiw published an article by Moshe Broderzon, another representative of Yung-Idish. Entitled ‘Al kidusz ham’ (At the Altar of the Nation), it was an homage to An-sky the author of the legendary Dybbuk, the founding father of Jewish ethnography and the main writer of the post-haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment) epoch.

In May and June the magazine published reviews of the exhibition written by Bromberg-Bytkowski. Launched on April 3 in the rooms of the Merchant Society, the show is said to have attracted especially big audiences.

The review judged Szyk, the author of the vignette of the magazine (as well as another for Bytkowski´s translation of ‘The Song of Songs’) the major artistic personality of the show and saw his calligraphic style as referring to traditionally Jewish techniques of miniature and metalwork. In Szyk, Wilhelm Wachtel, and Jerzy Merkel Bytkowski found too an Eastern and Jewish propensity for fairy-tale visions. He praised the Palestine landscapes by Haneman, whose print he had reproduced in Tel-Awiw, and singled out the older artists Józef Budko and Henryk Glicenstein, along with the Warsaw-based artists Regina Mundlak and Adam Herszaft.

The Salon of the Futurists, Cubists, and Primitivists containing works by the artists associated with Yung-Idish (except Dina Matus) were unfavourably assessed.

4b_Tel_Awiw_3_August_1919_vignette_Szyk

The initiative taken by Bromberg-Bytkowski, then, not only resulted in a representative display of current Jewish arts but also provided a powerful impetus for similar projects and the integration of Jewish cultural elites domestically and abroad. The last page of Tel-Awiw included information about the back copies and issues scheduled to be published. In December 1921 the names of collaborators were included and a subscription for the following year was announced. However, in the era of Polish hyperinflation, the situation of little periodicals promoting radical modernist ideas and aesthetics, such as Zdrój or, of those which also represented  national minorities, such as Yung-Idish or Tel-Awiw, was in many ways difficult. Tel-Awiw failed to appear in 1922 and Bromberg-Bytkowski died on March 13, 1923.

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