Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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J
e w i s h
B
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A
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saw people broken and degraded, and yet exalted in rare mo-
ments. He encountered the cruelty of his jailors. In 1913 he
escaped from Siberia and came to America.
Here the young poet attracted attention with his impressive
poems about prison and Siberia, which were both realistic
and symbolic. Yiddish poetry, however, did not provide him
with a means of earning a livelihood, and for many years he
worked as a paperhanger living on the brink of poverty. Sub-
sequently, he contracted tuberculosis and spent years in sani-
taria. He wrote on his sickbed, but this did not deter him from
creating great dramatic poems, moving dramas and profound
lyric verse.
In the twenties Leivick evinced sympathy with the extreme
left and joined the staff of the Communist
Morgn Freiheit ,
but
in 1929, when the Communists gave their blessings to the
pogroms in Palestine and called them an Arab revolution,
Leivick left them. Later he wrote for
Th e Day
and began to
play an increasingly important role in the Yiddish secular sector
of the American Jewish community. He became active in Yivo,
the Congress for Jewish Culture, the Great Dictionary of the
Yiddish Language, and a number of other important communal
projects. In 1957 he participated in the Ideological Conference
in Jerusalem. There he spoke of the great national value of
Yiddish literature and its incomparable vitality. He declaimed
about Jewish martyrdom and cried out, “Kiss every speck of
dust the foot of the diaspora Jew touched on the sacred road
to the gas chamber.”
A Life of Suffering and Creativity
Leivick’s life was full of poignant suffering and sublime ere-
ativity. Only now are we fully aware of the brilliance of his
image in its pristine glory. Only now does our desire to steep
ourselves in the Leivick heritage grow stronger. For us he is
much more than the greatest Yiddish poet of this century, more
than “the high-priest of Jewish poetry” as he has been called.
He is particularly significant for the generation that lived
through two world wars and spent the interim years in the
struggle for affirmative Jewish existence. More than any other
he suffered from and bewailed the Treblinkas, where he was
incarcerated in spirit despite the title of his collected poems
I Was not in Trebl inka.
Later he welcomed the establishment
of the State of Israel with a kind of sacred joy, and the poems
he wrote after his visits there are truly superb.
Leivick has a special niche in the tragic yet wonderful genera-
tion of the first half of our century. It would be incorrect to
say that he was its teacher. His vibrant, eloquent words were