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This article is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

I Didn't Win the Light on a Wager: Gabriel Levin

He was born in 1873, in the village of Radi, in the heart of the Ukraine. His father was an unsuccessful timber merchant who moved when his son was five to the nearby town of Zhitomir where he ran a small tavern before taking ill two years later and dying. One blow soon followed another when his mother left her children with her in-laws and went to live with her relatives in the distant town of Sashkov, close to the Rumanian border. He was precocious at school - or heder, the 'room' where Jewish children received their primary education - but also mischievously rebelious and, from his early childhood, a solitary wanderer in the valleys and groves surrounding his village. At seventeen he was sent, with great expectations, to the leading yeshiva in Lithuania, to study the Talmud. It was here, in the city of Volozhin that he first fell, clandestinely, under the spell of Hebrew literature, or rather of the modern revival of Hebrew literature, as well as Russian and German literature. His enthusiasm for his religious studies steadily waned. Rather than read the Mishna and the Gemara, he pored over the writings of the Russian-Jewish poet, Simon Frug - whose melancholic strains can be heard in his early poetry - and of Pushkin, Schiller and Heine. He dreamed of moving to Odessa - the centre of the renascence of Hebrew cultural and literary life - and a year later, in 1891, he indeed packed his bags, and ...


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