Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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The “Lost Generation” of Israel
To return to Professor Halkin’s conclusions, many of the
younger poets of Israel seemed to be living, in their special con-
text, through something like the war-shock and post-war con-
fusion which characterized the American (and European) “lost
generation” of the 20’s. One aspect of their problem would seem
to have been how to arrive at a positive faith out of death and
negation. If one, knowing their education was based on the
Bible and Jewish tradition, goes to them in search of a poetry
of religious experience, one may be disappointed. The language
and imagery of the tradition will often be there, but the ex-
pressions of faith are rare, or seem unconvincing. An impression
of adolescent immaturity is often created by the absence of three
qualities: humility, a sense of reality, and a sense of history—
related, of course, to the tendency to negate the Diaspora. Con-
fronted with a new world and a new nation, they find very little
to praise. They have difficulty adjusting their apocalyptic visions,
their exalted dreams of “the dove’s green leaf of olive,” to the
real world about them which appears completely rotten to their
eyes. Thus, they were victims of history in more than the simple
sense of having to fight its wars. Having lived so long in under-
grounds and youth movements in an atmosphere of Messianic
slogans and visions, they too often saw two thousand years of
Jewish history as merely a bad dream to be superseded (“smoke-
in-the-fires we left”) . Hence a “secular Messianism” sometimes
painfully reminiscent of the sort from whose tragic consequences
the world has suffered so much in the last generations.
Three strategies seem to have emerged in treating religious
themes: primitivistic, “prophetic,” and ironic. The first, in its
recent expressions—S. Tchernichovsky and others are in more
distant backgrounds—goes back to a slender volume,
(Black Canopy, 1941), by Jonathan Ratosh, the spir-
itual father of the Young Hebrews whom their critics have char-
acterized as “Canaanites.”5 Though echoes of his poems, which
return imaginatively to the earthy Oriental world of the Old
Testament’s pre-history, are frequently encountered, the chief
studied attempts to imitate his style have been made by A. Amir.
A different kind of “primitivism”—based not so much on
imaginative historical reconstruction as on a direct, immediate
encounter with experience—sometimes reaches in the poetry of
O. Hillel and P. Sadeh an intensity approaching the “prophetic”
or visionary. Hillel’s world is largely that of nature and society,
and both aspects seem to be on the whole “naturalistically” con-
ceived (he is by profession a landscape gardener). He often
renders it, however, with an enthusiasm that is literally “God-
B. Kurzweil has written on “The Nature and Sources of the ‘Young
Hebrews’ Movement ( ‘Canaanites’) ” in
Our Modern Literature
tinuation or Revolut ion
?, Jerusalem, Shocken, 1960, pp. 270-300.