Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

Basic HTML Version

JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
8
America. She began to feel a kinship with these displaced and
uprooted human beings. When these Eastern European Jewish
immigrants were attacked in an anti-Semitic article in the
Century
Magazine
, she rushed to their defense in a series of essays. She
organized protest meetings. She wrote, in 1883, in behalf of the
immigrants the sonnet, which is engraved on the pedestal of the
S tatue of Liberty, and which ends with the verses:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Emma Lazarus went further. She took up the idea th a t George
Eliot had launched in 1876, twenty years before Theodor Herzl,
the idea of Zionism. She championed the restoration of Palestine
as a Jewish homeland. In her poem
The New Ezekiel
, she cried out:
“The Spirit is not dead, proclaim the word,
Where lay dead bone, a host of armed men stand!
I ope your graves, my people, saith the Lord,
And I shall place you in your promised land.”
While Emma Lazarus, however, was dreaming of Israel as the
promised land, where Jews could experience historic regeneration,
the masses fleeing from pogroms were directing their gaze west-
ward to America as their Promised Land. These immigrants
arrived in the New World with a legend of America constructed
out of romantic tales and wishful dreams, a legend so glowing,
so colorful, so entrancing, th a t reality could never approach it.
We can reconstruct the contours of this legend from the works
of Sholem Aleichem, the most popular interpreter of this Yiddish-
speaking generation. His Jews envisage America as a land of
marvels somewhere far, far away, a land of breath-taking progress.
There people do not walk. They run. They write fast, they talk
fast, they speed from place to place under the ground. I t is the
only land of true freedom and equality. I t is built on foundations
of tru th , justice, dignity, honesty, tolerance, humanity, faith, and
mercy. A mere mortal ought to wash his hands — as one does
before saying one's prayers — before u ttering the sacred name of
America, God’s finest handiwork. America was created by God
as a place of refuge and solace for human beings who are hunted,
persecuted, and expelled from all corners of the earth , and es-
pecially for Jews who can find there the only safe asylum when
unexpected calamities, pogroms, or wars overtake them. “ I t is
almost inconceivable th a t nowadays there should still be on this