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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

My Lexicon - Uri Tsvi Grinberg

Uri Tsvi Grinberg

Born 1894 in Bilkomen (Bilyi Kamin) near Zlotshev (Zolochiv) in Galicia. Soldier in World War I; Lemberg (Lviv) events, 1918; Warsaw, 1920; Berlin, 1923; Palestine, 1924; multiple returns to Warsaw; 1939, left Warsaw for Eretz-Israel before it was too late (baytsaytns).

Several strange prophets find themselves mixed up in our old, eternal tanakh, prophets who speak an incomprehensible speech, their voices always hitting the highest octaves as if they were trying with all their might to scream over those great, universal prophets who have lain down beside them on the pages of the bible and like bears and who will not let a fellow prophet get a word in edgewise...honestly, you have to elbow them out of the way (men muz arbetn mit di elnboygns un mit ale shtimbender af amol).

I once saw one such prophet in a dream. Here he is: a gaunt, tall, red-haired, freckled man with long, red peyot, a conspicuously broad gartl, conspicuously long tzitzit hanging from the corners of a garment more tatter than patch. He stood in the center of a riotous market, whether Samaria or Jerusalem I don’t recall, and all around him was a hoard of Jews and Jewesses with children on their backs and on their hips. The small and unknown prophet spoke unto fire and unto water. The people understood him and they did not understand him. Finally, a Jew with a heavy load on his soldiers nudged a woman with a jug on her head and a child by her breast (even back then, this guy was a Galitzianer)

“He’s driving ‘em all nuts! Come on, Zilpah!”

The prophet heard this and, making a great arc, spat at (or did exercise?) the deserter.*

“To hell with you!”

And this little incident gave the prophet yet more courage and fire and made his speech sharper yet and some of those very words made their way into tanakh. Later he wrote up the incident and submitted it to the editor-in-chief of tanakh, taking care to ensure its publication. He is even known to have said that Jerimaiah could clean his boots--for his prophecy was better.

That prophet was then known as Uri Tsvi Har-Yorek (הר־ירק).** Now he is known as Uri Tsvi Grinberg.

I first met him in Lemberg in 1910. The rabbi’s son then wore a satin kapote with a satin gartl, a specifically Galician kind of fedora (kapelyushl), and two long, red, meaty peyot. Even then, his poems crackled with talent. Later, after living through so, so much, his naturally restless blood grew more restless yet from the heat of his tragic experiences and the shocks to his soul, and it became like the blood of pogrom victims, that blood which boils in eternal terror and eternal vengeance.

We ganged around (gekhalyastrevet, a reference to di khalyastre) with Grinberg during the Sturm und Drang years of 1921-1924 and I will always respect him as a poet, although I can no longer understand him in three respects: First, he is a Revisionist Zionist; Second, I simply can’t understand him anymore; And third, I don’t understand his Hebrew. But although we may quarrel, once we even quarreled while both standing on the table in Warsaw’s city hall, (unbelievable, but every word is true, there were thousands of witnesses) we are not and will never be enemies.

Not long ago I asked Grinberg “Talk to me for half an hour and convince me of the correctness of your beliefs.” He did it with the fire and brimstone of that angry prophet from Samaria or Jerusalem. I focused with all my might and listened, I understood every sentence on its own, but the whole, I could not understand. It’s easier to understand Grinberg’s writing.

And he is surely a poet. And even a prophet, but not for those who look out to the whole world, only for the nationalists who see only their four cubits, who do not even see the whole of their own nation (folk), but only their own party.

Three of us rode together on the Varsovian pegasus of Yiddish poetry from 1921-1923. Peretz Markish, Uri Tsvi Grinberg, and me. Threefold is now our distance, three corners of the world and three worldviews.


*- This is a pun as opshayen means both “to spit” and “to exercise something by means of spitting.” The following phrase tfu zolstu vern (to hell with you) derives from the custom of apotropaic spitting (tfu being the sound of spit). To convey this pun, I added the parenthetical question.

**- Har-Yorek is a Hebrew ‘translation’ of Grinberg. Both literally mean “green mountain,” however yorek (ירק) also means “to expectorate, to spit.”

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