Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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C
harles
— J
ew ish
S
hort
S
tory
W
riters
9
w ing sympathies. And she does, too. Just like all the hundreds
of Hodels today and their young men who can be seen any day
o f the week in any Jewish neighborhood.
The third great story writer of that period, Peretz, is how-
ever perhaps the nearest to our contemporary minds. He is,
for instance, in his story “The Mad Talmudic Student,” ab-
sorbed by the great problem which is exercising all modern,
thinking men—the problem of identity. Who am I? Th is is the
question we all ask ourselves these days when the world and
its standards are so insecure, so topsy turvy. It is the question
with which a great deal of the very best writing in the world
today is concerned. But Peretz asked the question long before
it became fashionable to do so. He was also a more sophisticated
writer than the other two and took much more care and interest
in problems of literary style. I think he is possibly not so popular
with us as Shalom Aleichem simply
because
he represents the
city rather than the village, and to us modern Jews living for
the most part in big cities it is the contrast, the
shtet l
which
appeals to us most. Indeed, I think we are inclined to be some-
what over-sentimental about it . . . just as we are about the old
East End life.
The Greatest Story Writer on Jewish Themes
Th is brings me of course to Israel Zangwill, the first and still
the greatest story writer on Jewish themes we have yet seen in
this country. One of the things I think we tend to forget about
Zangwill is that, for all his love and pity for the downtrodden,
suffering, Jewish poor, he was not a sentimental writer. Or, if he
was, he was sentimental for a past which was already to some
extent behind him. We are in the habit of thinking of Zangwill
as writing his stories in the midst of the East End scenes he
portrayed, but in fact, as he himself says in his preface to
Chil-
dren of the Ghe t to
—and this was first published in 1892—those
scenes, those people had already vanished; though I suppose
much of the essential spirit
was
still there as it probably is
today. Zangwill again (as with all the others) lashed out in
many of his stories at the bourgeois, Jewish society of his day
just as much as any of our so much resented contemporary
writers. Let me read you this passage from
Grandchildren of
the Ghetto.
It is Strelitski, the young, Russian rabbi talking
about Anglo-Jewish life: “Everything turns on finance . . .
Money is the sole avenue to distinction and to authority;
it has its coarse thumb over education, worship, society.
In my country—even in our own Ghetto—the Jews do not
despise money but at least piety and learning are the titles
to position and honour. Here, the scholar is classed with the