From The Cleveland Jewish News/ January 7, 1977
By Bea Stadtler
"Ben Ha-Nagar – Son of the Carpenter – that's the way I used to sign my writings when I was a boy in Hlusk, Russia," said Avraham Regelson, 80,who continues even today to write Hebrew poetry in Israel, where he lives.
Regelson was in Cleveland recently, speaking about the author, Chaim Nachman Bialik, for the Jewish Book Month program of Histadruth Ivrit.
In an interview, he reminisced about his own earliest writings as a child. "I didn't like the children of the rich taunting the children of the poor, as they did in my cheder (one-room classroom) in Hlusk. Since the poor folks could not afford to pay the rebbe, he sided with the rich children. That made things even worse, and so I used to lampoon the rich children in my poetry. Those were my first original works," said the octogenarian, "and since my father was a carpenter, I could legitimately sign myself as Ben Ha-Nagar".
Regelson also reminisced about his first moment of glory. He was studying the Bible with Rashi's commentary and had deciphered the Rashi script himself as a young child. Then, in his own words, he rewrote the Rashi explanation of the story of the Binding of Isaac. The rebbe was so impressed that, although it was the middle of a work day, he sent the young lad to show his grandfather the remarkable manuscript.
Regelson chuckled as he also was remembering the tug of war he and the rebbe used to have over a magazine called "Life and Nature," written in Hebrew for children. The magazine came to the rebbe, but young Regelson always wanted to read it and it became a contest as to who would read it first.
At the age of nine, Regelson left Russia and arrived at New York's Lower East Side, accompanied by his mother and his younger brothers and sisters.
He lived there until he was about 18. At first he attended a yeshiva in New York, but then was enrolled in a public school. He was a voracious reader, sometimes neglecting his studies for the sake of an interesting book.
Although he studied in a public school, he did not want to forget his Hebrew, so he joined the Dr. Herzl Zion Club.
There were others in that club who became important Jewish leaders, including Chet Aleph Friedland, Emanuel Neuman and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.
Friedland became so fond of Regelson that he instructed the young lad privately without payment, opening for him the whole world of modern Hebrew writers including Tchernikowsky, Bialik, Steinberg and others. When Friedland was invited to Cleveland to head the Talmud Torah schools, he brought Regelson with him to serve as librarian.
While still in New York a poem of Regelson's had been published by the Hebrew monthly, "Miklat." It was a love letter from an imaginary girl friend. Still shy and bashful, Regelson says, "I did not have any girlfriends at the time, so I wrote an imaginary love letter to myself and signed the girl's name". He showed the letter to a Hebrew writer, Shimon Halkin, who brought it to the editor of "Miklat". The editor promised to publish this and any future writings of the young man with the vivid imagination.
From this poem, Regelson went on to write myths, stories and even philosophy, some with a socialist and revolutionary tinge.
In Cleveland, Regelson ran the library and taught a little. He was not, he says, a very successful teacher, since he did not have the personality to command the respect of the children. But he did write a great deal here.
One of his most profound book-length poems, "Cain and Abtel", was written here. It was pubished in what was Palestine at the time, but was financed by contributions of Clevlanders who were interested in promoting Hebrew literature and encouraging Hebrew writers.
Although he may not have been aware of it, Regelson was an influence on Hebrew students and teachers in Cleveland. Mrs. Helen Levine, who later became the librarian of the Bureau of Jewish Education, and who was a student at that time, felt that he, together with Friedland, influenced a whole generation of Hebraists here, introducing them to modern Hebrew writers, as well as to American poetry, philosophy and world literature.
Not only did Regelson have his first book published while in Cleveland, he also found a wife. He married the then secretary of the Hebrew schools here, Ida Rosen, and some of their six children were born here.
Regelson has been the recipient of a number of literary prizes, including the Brenner Prize for his book "Hakukot Otiyotaich" (Engraved are thy Letters), a poem dedicated to the Hebrew language. In 1972, he was awarded the Bialik Prize by the city of Tel Aviv and is the current recipient of the Neuman Literary Award, in recognition of his contribution to Hebrew literature by New York University's Hebrew Department.
Regelson has a niece who is also famous in the literary world, author Cynthia Ozick.
Regelson has lived in Israel since 1949, and has contributed to Davar, Maariv, Al Hamishmar and other Hebrew newspapers in addition to translating and editing for the publishing house, Am Oved.
At the age 80, he speaks of the past and his literary accoplishments with great modesty, and one has the feeling that such persons are difficult to find in our society today.