Page 106 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

Basic HTML Version

On the 100th Anniversary of His Birth
B y
B. J.
orris Rosenfeld was an American Jewish poet, no t only be-
cause he attained poetic maturity in New York, bu t also
because most of his poetic motifs are outgrowths of Jewish life in
America. I believe also he was the first to introduce general Amer-
ican motifs into Yiddish literature in this country. For example,
he wrote poems about Abraham Lincoln, W a lt Whitman, the
Catskill mountains and Niagara Falls. Such poems in the eighties
and nineties of the last century, in an environment of newly im-
migrated masses, was an achievement in itself, particularly in
Rosenfeld’s perceptive treatment of tha t environment.
Morris Rosenfeld was born in old Poland, bu t left his birthplace
when quite young. For a time he was a diamond cutter in Holland.
In 1886 he came to London where, in the early 1880’s, the Jewish
clothing industry in Whitechapel was developing. He himself be-
came a tailor, crushed by the slavery of the sweatshop. Th is expe-
rience was repeated later on the East Side in New York. Rosenfeld
sensed the frustration of the immigrant masses and their longing
for the old country where their families and traditions had been
left behind. In those years the immigrant was like a branch frac-
tured from the Jewish tree.
Rosenfeld began to sing his songs in those early years of the
eastern European immigration. He sang of the pain, the hard
labor and loneliness of the uprooted; and his songs brought
courage to his newly arrived compatriots.
He wrote many poems about the sweatshop and the “pale
operator.” T h e sweatshop is no more, bu t the poems of tha t pe-
riod can still move us with their naturalness, sincerity and poign-
ancy. They also have a historical value. Jus t as the works of
Mendele and Sholem Aleichem must be read for a picture of life
in Eastern Europe, so one must read Rosenfeld’s poems about the
sweatshop and the East Side in order to learn about immigrant
Jews in America.
*Translated from the Yiddish by Jack Noskowitz