||Eliakum Zunser (1836–1913), popular Yiddish bard and dramatist. Born in Vilna, Zunser was conscripted in 1856, but was released soon after when Czar Alexander II revoked the oppressive military decrees of his predecessor Nicholas I. In 1856 in the barracks, he composed the song "Di Poymanes," lamenting the bitter lot of the child recruits (see Cantonists), and, after being freed from compulsory service, he wrote "Di Yeshue," celebrating the child draftees' miraculous salvation. In 1857, working in Kovno as a braider of gold lace on uniforms, he came under the influence of the Musar movement of R. Israel Salanter, and his songs became laden with moral sentiments. Singing his songs at festivals and at weddings, he soon acquired a reputation as an original bard and decided to give up braiding and to make a career as a badhan. He rapidly attained fame as Russia's outstanding wedding bard. Beginning with Shirim Hadashim (1872), booklet after booklet of his songs was printed and avidly read.
In 1871 Zunser lost seven children during a cholera epidemic and, a year later, his wife. The poet's tragic outlook after these losses was mirrored in poems such as "Der Potshtover Glekel" and "Der Sandek" (1872), and in his only published drama Mahazeh Mekhiras Yosef ("The Sale of Joseph," 1874). After his second marriage Zunser lived chiefly in Minsk, serving as the local correspondent for Kol la-Am, a Yiddish periodical edited at Koenigsberg by M. L. Rodkinson. When the pogroms of the early 1880s led to the founding of the pioneering Zionist group Bilu, Zunser lent his support to the young idealists who were heading for a new life in Palestine. In 1882 he composed the songs "Shivas Tsien" and "Di Sokhe" for them, the latter becoming his most popular song both in the Yiddish and Hebrew versions. Its theme was the joy of returning to plow the Jewish earth in the Holy Land. Zunser himself hoped to settle in the Bilu village of Gederah, but in 1889 was compelled to emigrate to New York, where his home and printing shop became a center for Yiddish poets and young Zionists. There he also composed poems of the New World and wrote his autobiography, Zunsers Biografie Geshribn fun im Aleyn ed. by A. H. Fromenson (1905). A definitive scholarly edition of his complete extant works, Verk (including words and melodies) was edited for YIVO by Mordkhe Schaechter (2 vols., 1964; incl. bibl.).