Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
52
It was the good fortune of “the first Hassidim,” pious men of
Butzatz, to have been the first to migrate to Israel. Agnon, with
a heart full of compassion and citing verses of redemption,
renders just due to those early immigrants, as well as to the thou-
sands and myriads of Jews who followed, each of whom was truly
reborn upon entering Eretz Israel.
Agnon is by no means the only modern Hebrew writer to have
given literary expression to the radical metamorphosis experi-
enced by the Jew who uproots himself from alien soil and tries
to strike new roots in the Holy Land. But one would be hard
put to think of another work based on the same theme in our
literature which can compare with
Bi lvav Yamim
in the catho-
licity of its Jewishness, the humility of its expression and the
inner glow that shines out of its minutest psychological situa-
tion and its most unassuming descriptive vignette. If we define
the epic as the crystallization of national greatness and heroism
into an artistic embodiment of the finest visions and aspirations
of a people, this story should be regarded as the first successful
literary incarnation of the longings for Eretz Israel in their
purest and holiest Platonic sense. The longing for Eretz Israel
may well be our only national aspiration which reflects the soul
of the whole nation as a complete unit, as a high common
denominator shared by all sections of the people, from the ortho-
dox Frankfort Jews to the members of the Galician
Shomer
Hatzair ,
descendants of the Hassidim of Butzatz. Agnon says
regarding them that “Reb Avraham the
mohel ,
the same
Avraham the
mohel
who brought more than half of the town
into the Covenant of our father Abraham, may he rest in peace,
took a circumcision knife, passed it under the feet of each of
them and said, ‘My sons I am cutting under you so that the dust
of your town may not cling to you.' ”
Whose heart will not be profoundly moved on reading the
pages describing the departure of the
olim
from the forest,
from the
bet hamidrash,
from the cemetery and from the Streefa
River, on whose shores they would stand “to implore for-
giveness from the waters”? And who among the
ol im,
from
the first to the very latest, could fail to be touched by the
wonderful grandeur of the passage which relates how the
Butzatzites, on the morning of their departure, would suddenly
discover the beauty of their town? “One said, ‘1 never knew this
town is so beautiful; it seems to me no town is so lovely as ours.’
His friend said in reply, ‘You took the words right out of my
mouth.’ Said Reb Alter the butcher, ‘Any town where people
live is pretty.’ Said Reb Alter the teacher, ‘Now these amiable
people are going to a fine place.' ”
There are only a few of Agnon’s works in which the folk con-
cept is broadened and deepened into a national symbol, into
myth in the purest sense of the term, as in this story. The folk
element here transcends the limits of space and time. Localism