Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
74
nized as an Hebrailatrist, a slave to Hebrew. App rop r ia ting a
famous poetic phrase of Jud ah Leib Gordon
Eved VIvrith anoki,
ad netzah
(“A slave to Hebrew am I till etern ity”), he made it
his motto and thereafter used i t on his letterheads and
photographs.
Persky was stimulated and encouraged by the flowering
works of the older band of dedicated Hebraists. Ben Yehudah
in Palestine was doing wonders w ith Hebrew, remoulding it
for modern use, adding new words and expressions and espous-
ing its use for literature and poetry. I t was a formative period
for the young Hebraist, and when he landed in the United,
States at the age of nineteen (in 1906) his life work was clear
in his mind. He had taken what was tan tam oun t to vows of
poverty and chastity in his fervent dedication. He sensed he
would have to travel a ha rd road in order to prevail against
the influence of auto-emancipation tha t induced even the Zionist
nationalists—the Gordons, Ussishkins, Herzls and Nordaus—no t
to wish to rise above the language of their respective countries.
Persky was to modify J. L. Gordon’s preachment “Be a Jew in
your home and a man outside” to one closer to trad ition and
to the teachings of Rabb i Israel Salanter in the n ineteen th
century: “Be a Jew and a man, bo th at home and abroad .”
Essential Jewishness to Persky meant a definite content of
Hebrew.
Young Daniel realized early tha t he had to make his own
way in his chosen mission since he was neither of the academic
world nor of the rabb ina te or its ancillary functions. His Hebrew
career was to be in the American version of G rubb Street—first
in and about Druckerman’s book store on Canal Street, the
lower East Side. There he promoted and worked for the emerg-
ing Hebrew magazines, the principal one being J. H. B renner’s
Hameorer
(“T h e Awakener”). He wrote personal letters to all
who knew, wrote or desired to become acquainted w ith Hebrew.
He propagandized and urged Hebrew on all and sundry w ith
such affable nai'vete tha t it often brought chuckles from the
skeptical and head shaking from the more solemn Hebraists.
Persky was irrepressible in his enthusiasm; he did no t re-
serve it for formal occasions and meetings. His undeclared vows
of poverty and chastity were fulfilled at great cost, for he never
married. No one crossed his pa th who could displace or share
his limitless love for Hebrew. But his public contacts were
wide; in his sweep he embraced thousands of students when he
taught at the Herzliah Hebrew Teachers Institute . As a teacher
his contagious love for Hebrew overrode his lack of formal
training in pedagogy and the formulae of the profession. He
was a stickler for correct Hebrew vocalization, and much as he
was enthralled by the creation of a native Israeli Hebrew (which
I would designate as Zibrith instead of Iv r ith—from the roo t