Page 96 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
treasure. They do not partake of the hysteria which swept over
the entire Jewish community. These two unassuming individuals
are happy and serene amidst their poverty because they have
inner fullness, while all the others quarrel and wrangle over the
division of the non-existent treasure.
Pinski’s sympathy, like that of most Yiddish writers, is ever
with the poor, the underprivileged, the simple-minded. But he is
not content merely with depicting the warm humanity of these
forgotten creatures of God. He pours fire into their veins; he
makes them battle for a better world-order. His poor do not
accept in a fatalistic mood their abject condition. They are not
obsequious beggars like Mendele’s Fishke the Lame. They are
not
Luftmenschen
like Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman
or Menachem Mendel of Yehupetz. They are not Kabtzonim of
Kabtzansk. They are fighting individuals who strike out for a
more equitable social order. The odds against them may be
overwhelming, as they are for Isaac Sheftel, the title-hero of
Pinski’s first proletarian drama (1899); but at least they roar
out like a raging lion. They do not grovel and whine and plead.
More than a half-century ago, when pogroms broke out in
Russia, Pinski transferred this tone of revolt from the social and
economic arena to the Jewish field. Jews, he felt, were a small
minority in the vast Russian realm and, therefore, no match for
the Cossack hordes. But they must not let themselves be led to
the slaughter like dumb oxen or slink away into cellars like rats.
They must resist their ruthless oppressors and go down fighting
for the Jewish values they hold dear. Accordingly, Pinski wrote
the stirring tragedy,
Family Tzvi
, in 1903 and 1904, with the
heart-rending pictures of the Kishinev Pogrom before his eyes.
This is the message of the play: we have had enough of vague
talk about brotherhood, internationalism, cosmopolitanism. We
are not stray individuals let loose in the world. We are Jews,
part of a living social and historic entity. We must take our
proper place as disciplined members of the Jewish people. Pinski,
thus combining his faith in social justice with a faith in Zionism,
took his position at the forefront of the Labor Zionist movement
from its early founding.
Pinski came to America in 1899 and lived in New York for a
half-century. He wrote, spoke, and agitated for his two ideals:
Zionism and social justice. A t first his was a voice crying in the
wilderness. The tendency in the early decades of the present
century was to flee from Jewishness to Americanism. Jewishness
was then often equated with ghetto existence, Czarist oppression,
pogroms, and minority status. The Melting Pot was the ideal.