Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Henry Iliowizi

Henry Iliowizi (b. Choinick, near Minsk, Russia, 2 January 1850; d. Edmonton, Middlesex, England, April 1911)

Henry Iliowizi was born in a Hasidic community in southern Russia, the son of Elijah and Dinah Iliowizi. When he was fourteen, he was sent to Romania in order to escape military conscription. He studied in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Berlin, Breslau, London and Paris, and from 1877 to 1880 taught at the Alliance School in Tetouan, Morocco. Having become a Rabbi, he immigrated to the United States in July 1880, ministering for a brief time a congregation in Harrisonburg, Virginia, before settling in Minneapolis, where he was Rabbi of the Congregation of Sha’aré Tob. Around 1881 he married Mathilde Flesch (1858-1917), who was born in Bavaria and who had come to the U.S. in 1871.  The couple had no children.  They lived in Minneapolis until 1888, when Henry became Rabbi of the Congregations Adath Jeshurun in Philadelphia, a position which he held until 1900, after which time he devoted himself exclusively to literature. Around 1910, the Iliowizis moved to England, where Henry soon died at the age of 61.  Mathilde, who still retained U.S. Citizenship, died of cancer in Munich, aged 59.

In addition to his religious work, Iliowizi clearly had high literary ambitions.  His first book was Sol: An Epic Poem (1883), followed soon after by Herod: A Tragedy (1884), a drama in five acts.  Other epic poems and dramas include Joseph: A Dramatic Representation in Seven Tableau (1885), The Quest of Columbus: A Memorial Poem in Twelve Books (1892), Saul: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1894), and the book-length poem, Revelation: Worlds Mystic and Realistic (1910). He published one memoir, Through Morocco to Minnesota: Sketches of Life in Three Continents (1888), and one novel, The Archierey of Samara: A Semi-Historic Romance of Russian Life (1903), as well as some religious writings, including Jewish Dreams and Realities: Contrasted with Islamitic and Christian Claims (1890).

Iliowizi also published two collections of stories, both of which, to varying degrees, have some relevance to fantasy literature.  The first, In the Pale: Stories and Legends of the Russian Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1897), contains seven stories. In a brief statement published in Book News (Philadelphia), July 1897, Iliowizi wrote “The purpose of my writing In the Pale was to familiarize the English-speaking public with the legendary, romantic and spiritual aspects of life in Russian Jewry; also to convey an idea of the folklore current among the oppressed millions of Jews in the Czar’s domains. Another work in preparation is intended to complete the picture of reality and dream-life in those regions of semi-barbarism and intolerance.” (The work referred to in the final sentence is probably the novel, The Archierey of Samara.)  

Iliowizi’s second collection of stories is the more pertinent, The Weird Orient: Nine Mystic Tales (Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates and Co., 1900).  These legends were gathered from Arabic and Persian sources while Iliowizi was teaching in Morocco.  The first story, “The Doom of Al Zameri”, tells of the ancient Wandering Jew.  In another, “The Gods in Exile”, a character has a vision of the gods of Asgard encountering the Olympians.  In “The Mystery of the Damnavant”, Firdusi ascends Persia’s most graceful mountain and has a mystical vision caused by the smoke of a mysterious herb. The tales are redolent in some ways of The Arabian Nights, but with added spiritual dimensions. The Weird Orient has four inserted illustrations by William Sherman Potts.  

Iliowizi published many articles in The Jewish Messenger and in The Jewish Exponent.  One uncollected story, “Hamza’s Tale: A Folk-lore Tale of Islam”, appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for May 1901. 


  1. That is very helpful. I bought a copy of IN THE PALE (Philadelphia 1897) an couldn't figure out what the book how to take the book. Who was the author? Was he a figure who actually had authentic knowledge of the Pale and Russian Jewish life. So the bio above is very helpful.. SK