Page 60 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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not necessarily have in mind the tale of persecution and oppres-
sion which has been told and retold by Jewish poets and his-
torians from days immemorial. No other l iterature is as rich in
lamentations as is the lore of our people. Our narratives, legends,
chronicles and large portions of our liturgy are saturated with
this tragedy, and one may doubt whether much can be added
to the classic utterance on Jewish persecutions by Leopold Zunz,
when he says, “If a literature which owns a few classical tragedies
is deemed rich, what place should be assigned to a tragedy which
extends over fifteen centuries in which the poets and the actors
were also heroes?”
Bialik was among the first to sense another kind of Jewish
tragedy, the tragedy of a rich, creative, Jewish civilization dis-
integrating before his very eyes. There is deep yearning and
longing in the heart of the poet for this world that is crumbling,
but he feels helpless to arrest its deterioration and dissolution.
T h e most poignant expression of the tragedy is to be found in
his well-known poem,
On the Threshold of the Be t Midrash.
Humble and disillusioned, the poet stands before the tottering
walls of the old synagogue. “Sanctuary of my youth, my dear old
Bet Midrash,”
the poet cries out, facing the “ treasure” of his
soul after having wandered in the wide world. Orphaned and
bruised by a hostile environment, he seeks solace and repose
in this house of learning, bu t as he looks about him and sees
how empty and forsaken this
Bet Midrash
has become, he
wonders, “Shall I mourn your destruction or shall I cry over
my own?”
While on the threshold of his
Be t Midrash
the poet still vows,
“You shall not totter, O tent of Shem; I shall rebuild thee and
thou wilt be rebuil t ,” bu t deep in his heart he knows that there
is no more strength left in him and his generation to rebuild a
Jewish world that is passing by.
Bialik reveals himself in his full poetic majesty in what is
known as his
Songs of Wrath.
Although he is fully aware of the
iniquities of the outside world, Bialik, the genuine poet, cannot
shut his eyes to the errors and failures of his own people. There
are moments of despair when our poet is about to give up.
Using the words of the prophets of old, he cries out, “Verily, the
people are as dry grass,” and wonders whether there are life and
vitality left in them to rise even at the call of the Shofar.
T h e expression of the poet’s wrath which became a classic in
his lifetime is to be found in his
Ci ty of Slaughter,
penned on the
occasion of the pogrom of Kishinev. I t is this poem which pu t its
stamp on the conscience of a whole generation and its echoes still
reverberate in the life and death of thousands of Jewish youths
in Palestine and in other countries.
Much has happened since Bialik told the tale of Kishinev. T h e
very community which, because of the murder of some sixty Jews
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