Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

Basic HTML Version

, his old cronies of the immigrant generation, all of
them had bu t one complaint: their children and grandchildren
had left them and the ancestral ways. A world had arisen th a t
knew not God. The road on which they and their forefathers had
trodden for untold generations was coming to an end. They alone
were left, a remnant of old men surviving as a traditional Jewish
enclave in the great American metropolis, Noah’s ark amidst the
deluge. The youngest generation was smiling indulgently a t the
spectacle of the old men gathering daily in the basement of a
synagogue to study Gemora and the strange ways of a strange
people in a remote age. But, poring over the yellowed pages of a
Talmud tract, these greybeards were rejuvenated. They seemed
to live beyond time and space. They felt triumphant, despite
the jeering laughter or the sophisticated jests directed at them,
because they had the courage to be true to themselves and to live
in accordance with their inner needs. In the depths of their heart,
they hoped for a turning of the tide, for a return of their estranged
children, for a reversion to God and to the ways of Israel. Or, if
their children were too far gone, too completely immersed in the
spirit of their non-Jewish environment, the grandchildren might
be won back. One Friday evening, when the grandchildren of
Noah Eden came to spend the Sabbath eve with their grand-
parents, one of them confessed:
“There is an emptiness in me; often despair overtakes me. I
don’t know why I ’m living in this world. I don’t know what to
do with myself. My work amidst the skyscrapers is merely a way
of killing time. This emptiness, this uselessness, must lead me
astray, must lead me to weakness, folly, and immorality. I be-
lieve, religion could help me; it could fill my life with content;
it could calm me.”
Because these grandchildren were raised without religion, how-
ever, this insight came too late. Their splendid homes in the finest
sections of the city had many books, usually arranged on ma-
hagony shelves according to an artistic color-scheme, bu t the Bible
was not among these books. I f it happened to stray there as a
Bar-Mitzvah gift, it was unread and its message unheard and
unheeded. These Americans of Jewish origin were no longer em-
bedded in Jewish tradition. Each of them was a detached frag-
ment in the body of America, living a lonely life and facing a
lonely death.
Pinski’s novel of American-Jewish life, completed in 1929, when
prosperity was a t its height and when Jewishness seemed to be in
precipitous decline, ended in despair, in suicide, double suicide,
triple suicide. I ts conclusion was as pessimistic as the conclusion
of Peretz’s story
Four Generations
Four Testaments,
upon which