KERLER, YOYSEF (1918–2000), Yiddish poet and editor. Kerler was born in Haysin (Gaisin, Ukraine). When he was seven his family moved to a Jewish kolkhoz (Mayfeld, Crimea). He studied at a Yiddish technical school in Odessa (1934–37), began to study Yiddish literature, and debuted with a poem in the Odeser Arbeter (1935). He studied at the Yiddish Drama School of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater (GOSET, 1937–41). At the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the Red Army and was wounded three times. His war poems constituted his first book, Far Mayn Erd ("Fighting for My Earth," 1944). Further poems and articles appeared in Der Emes, Eynikayt, Heymland, Shtern (Kiev), and Folks-Shtime (Warsaw). In 1947 he moved to Birobidjan, worked for Birobidzhaner Shtern, and openly protested the official policy to stop teaching Yiddish in schools. After returning to Moscow, he was arrested (April 1950) and sentenced to 10 years for "anti-Soviet nationalistic activity." In the Vorkuta Gulag, he wrote and later smuggled out several poem cycles, some of which were included under the guise of "songs of the [Nazi] ghetto" in his second book, appearing in authorized Russian translation only (Vinogradnik Moego Otsa / "My Father's Vineyard," 1957), and a few also in his third book Khochu byt' dobrym ("I'd Love to be Good-Natured," 1965). During the continued lack of Yiddish publishing in the early post-Stalinist period, he collaborated with many Yiddish performers as lyricist, author of short plays, and artistic consultant. Many of his poems were arranged and set to music, several of which became popular, some even acquiring the status of "folksongs" ("A Glezele Yash," "Der Tam-Ganeydevdiker Nign," "Am Yisroel Khay"). Many of his gulag and protest poems appeared in the Forverts (1969) and Di Goldene Keyt (1970). Together with his wife, Anya Kerler, he became one of the first long-term *refuseniks and open campaigners for free Jewish emigration. After a six-year struggle with the Soviet authorities, he was finally permitted to immigrate to Israel with his family, settling in Jerusalem (1971). Just before his arrival there he was awarded the honorary Itzik Manger Prize, followed in ensuing years by numerous other literary prizes in Israel and abroad. In addition to publications in periodicals throughout the world, six volumes of his poetry appeared in Israel: Dos Gezang Tsvishn Tseyn ("The Song through Clenched Teeth," 1971; Heb. tr. Zemer ben ha-Shinayim, 2000); Zet Ir Dokh ("Despite All Odds," 1972); Di Ershte Zibn Yor ("The First Seven Years," 1986); Himlshaft ("Heaven Above," 1986); Abi Gezunt ("For Health's Sake," 1993); Shpigl-Ksav ("Words in the Mirror," 1996), and two prose collections: 12 Oygust 1952 ("12 August 1952," 1977) and Geklibene Proze ("Selected Prose," 1991). He was instrumental in organizing the Jerusalem branch of the Israeli Yiddish Writers and Journalists Association, campaigned to institute perennial public commemoration of the Yiddish writers, actors, and intellectuals murdered by the Stalinist regime in 1937 and 1952, edited a number of collections, and founded the acclaimed organ for Yiddish literature and culture, Yerusholaymer Almanakh (26 vols., 1973–98). His poems have been widely translated and anthologized.
Y. Druker, in: Folks-Shtime (April 1961); D. Sadan, in: Heymishe Ksovim (1972), 157–85; Y. Mark, in: Jewish Book Annual, 30 (1973), 40–2; D. Sfard, Mit Zikh un mit Andere (1984), 447–55; M. Tsanin, in: Di Goldene Keyt, 132 (1991), 192–7; Y. Shargel, in: Yerusholaymer Almanakh, 27 (2003), 41–4; M. Wolf, in: Forverts (Jan. 6, 2004).