Yossel Birstein, Hebrew and Yiddish author, was born in 1920 in the small town of Biala-Podolsk, Poland, which he frequently revisited in his books. He studied in a cheder (religious Jewish school) and was a member of Hashomer Hatzair (the socialist-Zionist youth movement). At the age of seventeen, he boarded a ship and immigrated to Australia. He served in the Australian army for four years during World War II, along with his close friend, painter Yosl Bergner. It was during these years that his family was murdered in the Holocaust. In 1949, he published his first collection of poems, and a year later he immigrated to Israel and settled in kibbutz Gevat, where he worked as a shepherd. He later moved to Kiryat Tivon and Nazareth Illit, where he worked as a bank clerk. In 1982, he moved to Jerusalem, where he remained until he died of cancer in 2003, at the age of eighty-three. Birstein wrote his books in Yiddish and Hebrew and excelled in describing life situations, in twist-endings and anecdotes, and in an ironical and amused view of man’s existence. He published some ten novels, short story collections, and poetry books.
Photograph: Benny Lapid (creative commons)