Page 180 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

Basic HTML Version

ruses were used to evade military servitude, the burden upon
Jewish communities became ever heavier. Though an individual
Jew might escape the worst consequences of the various oppressive
laws, the community could not. Whatever hope for the ameliora-
tion of Jewish life in Russia might have been entertained by the
Maskilim during the early years of the Czar’s reign had to be
abandoned by 1853 when the Crimean War broke out with its
senseless brutality and heavy casualties. Jewish youths were
fighting and dying for an alien cause, for the greater glory of
their oppressors. Jewish morale in the hundreds of settlements
far from the front was reaching its breaking point and Jewish
communal life was threatened with disintegration.
I t was then that Mapu’s novel burst upon the Jewish scene
and helped to stem the tide of gloom and growing despair.
Its author belonged to the mild-mannered Men of Enlighten-
ment, who did not want to break with tradition or rebel against
authority but who rather sought to widen the Jewish horizon
and to raise the average Jew above the sordidness of ghetto exist-
ence to the contemplation of historic greatness. Poring over the
pages of
Ahavas Zion
, Jewish men and women could dream of
glories past when their ancestors possessed a national home of
their own and were free to develop institutions as expressions
of their own national genius.
Mapu took frightened Jewish lads by the hand and led them
forth from filth-infested villages and disease-ridden towns. He
let them roam in imagination through green fields and fruit-
bearing orchards, along the slopes and vineyards of the Carmel
range and among the olive-trees and roses of Sharon. He vivified
for them the golden Jerusalem of their dreams, the jubilant city
of the First Kingdom to which their forebears had been wont to
go up on solemn holidays and to bring to the Lord offerings of
their flocks and fields. In those ancient days, happy songs re-
sounded on the heights of Zion and gaily dressed young men and
women danced and rejoiced in the streets under the protection of
the Almighty. During the beneficent reign of the wise and good
King Hezekiah, the hills of the Holy City were lighted with oil-
lamps, multitudinous as the stars of heaven, while the Tower of
David and the other towers shone like gleaming sapphires. At
that time, the words of the prophets, especially of Hezekiah’s
friend, the eloquent Isaiah ben Amoz, were listened to with great
reverence as emanations of God’s will. Then little Judah was a
match for the mighty armies of Assyria, because its inhabitants
practiced virtue and cherished truth. Its princes, nobles and
statesmen walked proudly and performed their duties faithfully.
Its peasants cultivated the soil, its priests and Levites waited