Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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11
C
harles
— J
ew ish
S
hort
S
tory
W
riters
mine is probably his reference to a D ’Oyly Carte performance
of an operetta written by “Goldberg and Solomon.” T h e im-
plied, typically Jewish claim to all great men gives this, I think,
the edge on more simple errors such as his giving the plural
of sandwich as “delicatessen.”
But, for all the inspired comedy in Mr. Kaplan’s use of lan-
guage—which is what people usually judge these stories by—
this is not in fact their real strength. The truth is that Hyman
Kaplan, as much as any of the large, serious figures heavy with
attitudes who are sometimes held up to the world as the essen-
tial “Jew,”
is
the Jewish character incarnate. There is hardly
a strand in our make-up which he does not possess and exhibit.
Hyman Kaplan
is
the urban Jew of our time in all his ambition
and absurdity, his vanity, his touching eagerness for approval
from his tutor who represents the kinder, Gentile world . . .
He exemplifies our tendency to a rather naive boasting when
we triumph—but also our warm generosity in defeat. He has
respect for reason, a (typically) muddled but passionate regard
for what he calls “dip t’inking.” In his veneration of education,
his longing for friendship, his brilliant wriggles in argument,
his ripe
enjoyment
of argument, in his capacity for pain and
loyalty . . . and, above all, in his passion for social justice,
Hyman Kaplan stands like a symbol for the whole of half-
emancipated Jewish nature. He is, to my mind, a creation of
genius. And if you think I have rather let myself go into flights
of rhetoric about him I would only remind you that Mr.
Kaplan himself is always ready at the drop of a hat to orate.
Excellence of Humorous Stones
The humorous story is of course something at which our
short story writers have always excelled. It is—as someone else
has said about it—at once an expression and a defiance of our
fate. I have singled out the Hyman Kaplan stories in particular
but there are many others. The work of the Yiddish writers
is shot through and through with humor. But there is at the
same time, and never very far below the surface of our litera-
ture, grimness, sadness, tragedy and irony. There is also, in the
work of one story writer anyway, cruelty. Th is is an unusual
ingredient in Jewish art, cruelty done not
to
Jews but
by
them;
but it does exist in the remarkable stories of Isaac Babel, the
Russian writer. In his stories Jews shoot other Jews, kill animals
brutally, bully and betray for the sake of approval from the
non-Jew. Yet what gives Babel his strength is the struggle of
his characters with their individual consciences which judge
their acts. In other words Babel is concerned—like all Jewish
writers—with the
personal.
Th is I think is a very important