Israel Litwak was born in Odessa, Russia. He was apprenticed to a cabinet maker at the age of eleven and served in the Russian army from the age of twenty-one to twenty-five. In 1903, he immigrated to the United States with his wife and their two children, settling in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. After going into mandatory retirement at the age of sixty-eight, Litwak decided to try his hand at drawing and painting. Although he had never painted before, he had always enjoyed visiting museums and admired the Old Masters. Litwak brought some of his work to the Brooklyn Museum and showed it to the curator in the Department of Paintings and Drawings. Immediately recognizing his talent, the Museum’s Director gave him a one-man show in 1939. Litwak became quite well known in the 1940’s, and in 1946 Time published a long illustrated article on him.