Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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AMERICAN YIDDISH LITERATURE
B y B . I . B
ia lo st o t zk y
*
AMER ICAN Yiddish literature is truly American and not
1 ־\
merely a transplantation from across the sea. Though inti-
mately connected with Yiddish literature abroad, drawing sus-
tenance from ancient Jewish traditions and the creative spirit of
the Old World, it contributed motifs and ideas, types and portraits,
which could not have been created in Warsaw, Odessa or Vilna,
the main European centers of Yiddish creativity — a fact which
deserves to be emphasized on the tercentenary of American
Jewry.
The dominant theme of early American Yiddish literature was
the immigrant’s struggle for an economic foothold and his painful
adjustment to the new environment. This theme, which has still
not been exhausted, depicted the suffering sweat-shop workers, the
more prosperous worker, and the boss who had graduated from the
picket line. Realistic fiction of the closing nineteenth century por-
trayed comic and tragic situations, the slums of A ttorney Street
on New York’s East Side and the glamorous homes on wealthy
Riverside Drive, the idealistic laborer who fought for justice and
the lonely or ne’er-do-well boarder around whom were woven all
sorts of entanglements, humorous and pathetic.
The East Side of the Yiddish-speaking immigrants comes to
life in the short stories of Z. Libin, who blended tears and laughter;
in the tales and dramas of Leon Kobrin, who probed deeper con-
flicts of love and life; in the lyrics of Morris Rosenfeld which
depicted the harshness, suffering and grotesqueness of the sweat-
shop, masterful lyrics of such poignant quality th a t they were
immediately translated into English and aroused unusual atten-
tion on the American literary scene. Sholom Asch was then
acclaimed for his portraits of “ landsmen” in
Uncle Moses
, al-
though later on he was to write
East River
, a novel of the mingling
of Jew and non-Jew, synagogue and church, idealism and mater-
ialism, a novel of intermarriage.
Sholom Asch is one of a number of writers who pioneered in
dealing with new phases of the economic conflict. Farm and
prairie are treated by David Ignatoff and A. Raboy. The lonely
* Translated by Philip Rubin.
34