Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
36
one. But when one takes into consideration the poetry of those
days, its most valuable part, it was not entirely realistic. I t also
was animated by romantic visions of world liberation, liberation
not only from the sweat-shop bu t also from other evils th a t beset
mankind.
There are literary historians and sociologists (such as Bezalel
Sherman in his book,
Jews and Other Ethnic Groups in the United
States)
who hold th a t these proletarian-revolutionary moods and
strivings were transplanted motives, mainly derived from Tsarist
Russia, from the Russian revolutionary
Narodniki.
This opinion
is only partly true and does not take into consideration th a t , during
the last quarter of the N ineteenth Century labor struggles, rioting
and bloodshed took place in this country. I t was the era of
industrialization as well as of labor organization, of struggle on the
pa r t of the laboring masses whom the money-magnates, such as
Gould and Vanderbilt, regarded as dust. In those days there were
hunger riots and strike riots in San Francisco and Chicago. There
were parades of homeless in New York in 1873. All this took
place before the earliest Jewish labor and revolutionary poets,
such as Morris Winchevsky, David Edelstadt, Morris Rosenfeld
and J. Bovshover, appeared upon the American scene. Those were
the years of the first great steel strikes in Homestead, Pennsyl-
vania, and of the Chicago strikes in the McCormick factories.
Eugene V. Debs organized the American railroad workers. The
struggles of the mine workers with their employers even went back
to the Forties and Fifties when the group of miners led by Molly
Maguire engaged in terrorism. To claim th a t our first American
Yiddish proletarian-revolutionary poets brought over here only
the revolutionary mood from across the seas is, therefore, certainly
not the whole tru th . When these Yiddish poets came here they
already found a rebellious mood. Hence, their notes of rebellious-
ness were not alien ones bu t were immediately linked with the
American environment of those days.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE OLD COUNTRY
As we leave th a t early era we find th a t the rebellious mood
quieted down and new moods came to the fore: nostalgia for the Old
Country, for the quieter life of the
shtetl
, surrounded by fields and
forests th a t had been left behind, idealization of the poor, pious
Jew and his semi-medieval, semi-rural life. This nostalgia has not
vanished to this very day and has even increased after the Nazi
destruction of East European Jewry. I t appears in dramas, tragi-
comedies, novels and poetry. We feel it in the poetic cycle
Around