Page 190 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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JEWI SH BOOK ANNUAL
184
World War I brought him to the United States where he has
lived ever since. On his fiftieth birthday in 1926 over six thousand
people packed Mecca Temple in New York for the purpose of
honoring him. He then made a triumphal tour through Eastern
Europe, including Russia, where two Jewish agricultural colonies
were named after him. 111 the United States, Argentina and other
countries there are Abraham Reisen Yiddish schools. Though
the Communist upheaval intrigued him emotionally for a few
years, Reisen like many another Yiddish writer eventually recog-
nized the inherent evil of the Soviet dictatorship and returned to
his former socialist affiliations. To this day he is a member of
the editorial staff of the New York Yiddish daily, the Forward.
Reisen is the greatest miniaturist in modern Yiddish literature,
his place in Yiddish letters being analogous to that of Franz
Schubert, composer of the small song, in classical music. The
adjectives small, simple, spare are usually applied to the content as
well as the form of his writings. His poems seldom consist of
more than a few verses each and his stories more often than not
run to only a few pages. He writes of ordinary simple folk and
of quiet, simple emotions. All through his hundreds of poems
and stories there runs a vein of unassuming artlessness, which
nevertheless requires great art for its execution. And, too, like a
golden thread there runs through Reisen’s work a warm, tender
sympathy and pity for the problems and sorrows of the common,
little people.
The Jew and the humanist are blended imperceptibly in the
work of Abraham Reisen, as are the romantic individualist and
the social-minded idealist. Reisen is the product of an era in
which Russian Jewry stood at the crossroads. His Jewish small
town was still held in a petrified way of life, but the winds of
modernism were beginning to blow over it and to thrust many of
its sons and daughters into the larger cities of Russia, Poland
and America. The religious and the secular life were contending
for mastery among Jews in Reisen’s day, but, like Peretz, Reisen
succeeded in bridging the gap, in imbuing Jewish secularism with
a socio-religious spirit, in drawing upon the immediate past for
future inspiration.
Reisen has written hundreds of poems and short stories, col-
lected in about two dozen Yiddish volumes. He has been trans-
lated into Hebrew, German and Russian. Some of his poems
that have been put to music became veritable folk songs: “Mai
Ko Mashma Lon,” the lament of the Talmudical student over his
hard life; the revolutionary “Revel, Revel Angry Tempests” and
“Church Bells” ; the songs of Jewish poverty, “A Family of
Eight,” “Little Hammer,” and several others. Recently a one-