Page 182 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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THE PRINCE OF THE GHETTO
(On the Occasion of the Centennial of the Birth of Peretz)
By
P
h i l i p
G
o o dm a n
*
I
N 1952 Jews in all the free countries of the world commemorate
the centennial of the birth of Isaac Loeb (Yitzhak Leibush)
Peretz — the “ father” of modern Yiddish literature. Born on
May 18, 1852, in Zamosc, Province of Lublin, Poland, and died
on April 3, 1915, in Warsaw, Peretz bequeathed a rich literary
heritage not only to the Jewish people but to all peoples of the
world.
Poet, dramatist, journalist and short-story writer, Peretz earned
a livelihood by practicing law for ten years. The last twenty-five
years of his life he was an official of the Warsaw Jewish Com-
munity. His home, especially on Saturday afternoons, was the
gathering place for the young literati of Warsaw. Among those
who came to seek his guidance and inspiration were H. D. Nom-
berg, Abraham Reisen, Sholem Asch, and others. When young
Asch came to him and read a manuscript he had written in
Hebrew, Peretz advised him to write in Yiddish.
Peretz first received recognition with the publication of a
lengthy narrative poem,
Monish
(1888), which portrays the
anguish of a pious young Jew who struggles against worldly
temptations. Previously he had issued a book of Hebrew poems
and had written for the Hebrew periodicals, developing a warmth
and richness of style.
A writer in every literary form except the novel, Peretz was a
master of the short story; some of his short stories have been
translated into forty-one languages. He is, however, best known
for his folk tales and Hasidic stories. Though a prolific writer
of Hasidic stories, he was not a Hasid and did not intend to
recreate the world of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.
On the contrary, Hasidism was itself marked by the inspiring
influence of Peretz, for he interpreted its soul.
The most popular of his short stories are “Bontshe the Silent”
and “ If Not Higher.” The latter story tells of the Hasidic rabbi
of Nemirov about whom it is reputed that he ascends to heaven
daily during the days of Selihot. A Lithuanian scoffer shadows
the rabbi one morning and he observes how he hews wood and
*Preprinted in
In Jewish Bookland
, March, 1952.
176