Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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to be of today. I t is painful to be consciously of two worlds. The
Wandering Jew in me seeks forgetfulness. I am not afraid to live
on and on, if only I do not have to remember too much. A long
past vividly remembered is like a heavy garment th a t clings to
your limbs when you would run. And I have thought of a charm
th a t should release me from the folds of my clinging past. I take
the hint from the Ancient Mariner, who told his tale in order to
be rid of it. I, too, will tell my tale, for once, and never hark back
any more. I will write a bold
a t the end, and shut the book
with a bang!” And so she does. She writes her book about Amer-
ica, the Promised Land, where the Wandering Jew can a t last find
the death he yearned for and become a pure American. There-
upon she marries a non-Jewish professor of Columbia University
and lives far removed from Jewishness ever after.
The dream of complete assimilation entranced many young Jews
and Jewesses, both those of the immigrant generation between
1881 and 1914 and even more those of the second generation be-
tween the two World Wars. However, because of the great num-
bers involved and the low economic status of the newly arrived
group, the process of integration was more difficult than it had
been in earlier periods. For example, Anzia Yezierska, who came
to America at about the same time as Mary Antin and who had
the same dreams of the golden land beyond the Atlantic, found
the process of adjustment fraught with much suffering. In her
Hungry Hearts
, which followed Mary Antin’s book by eight
years, she, too, told of her childhood dreams of the Promised
Land: “When a little baby in my mother’s arms, before I was old
enough to speak, I saw all around me weary faces light up with
thrilling tales of the far-off ‘golden country’ . . . Visions of Amer-
ica rose over me, like songs of freedom of an oppressed people.”
The hunger for America was the hunger to live and laugh and
breathe like a free human being. “ In America you can say what
you feel — you can voice your thoughts in the open streets with-
out fear of a Cossack. In America is a home for everybody. The
land is your land. No t like in Russia where you feel yourself a
stranger in the village where you were born and raised — the
village in which your father and grandfather lie buried . . . Every-
body is with everybody alike, in America. Christians and Jews
are brothers together . . . An end to the worry for bread. An end
to the fear of the bosses over you. Everybody can do what he
wants with his life in America . . . There are no high or low in
America. Even the President holds hands with Gedalyeh Mindel.
P lenty for all. Learning flows free like milk and honey.”
Anzia Yezierska describes her ecstasy in catching sight of Amer-
ica: “Land! Land! came the joyous shout. America! We’re in