Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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reality, as though legend might be transformed into some sort
of reality. Peretz’s Jewish world—and Sholem Aleichem’s too—
was no longer the “orchestrated” world of religious tradition,
of Halakic discipline. It was now a “differentiated” world with
economic classes and political “ideologies,” and chief among the
“ideologies” were Jewish socialism, primarily as represented by
and political nationalism as concretized in a number
of Zionist and cultural variants. Peretz’s Hassidic stories and
folk tales were written for all, but more so for these, betokening
new movements and horizons in Jewish life. They were intended
to forge a “golden chain” (as he named his best known poetic
Die Goldene Kait)
of continuity,
between the
past and the present, to disclose the “universal” in Jewish exist­
ence, its enduring motifs of
mesires nefesh
kiddush ha-Shem.
Peretz’s stories and tales were neither the product of, nor the
preliminary to, a cult of neo-Hassidism or pseudo-Hassidism.
Such pretense and make-believe were foreign to Peretz’s nature.
His purpose, insofar as he had an avowed one, was simpler and
subtler: it was to enable
generations to see Jewish existence
as whole and holy under the aspect of time but also under the
aspect of eternity, to pursue their own ideals in light and not
in half-darkness, to diminish the element of fear and to inspire
increased hope for a future yet to be shaped.
Peretz was the romanticist, Sholem Aleichem the humorist.
The measure of their greatness is what they succeeded in achiev­
ing as romanticist and humorist. It was a period of change and
transition, not only social and cultural but also physical, involv­
ing the enormous migration from Europe to America. In such
circumstances people are trapped in their own antics; they often
seem in their forlornness and helplessness to be either ludicrous
or pathetic. It is evidence of the consummate artistry of both
Sholem Aleichem and Peretz, of their penetrating sympathy for
human beings and the human predicament, of their capacity to
supplement sight with insight in delineating this predicament,
that they do not dwell too long upon the ludicrous and pathetic.
They reach out beyond these to deeper dimensions and to higher
levels of experience as implicit in what appars to the unimagin­
ative or to those of scant compassion only ludicrous and pathetic.
With Peretz the pathetic (which tends to evoke pity) flowered
into the holy, which can be grand and tragic. With Sholem
Aleichem the ludicrous or comic, with its dependence upon
word-play and anecdote and the funny situation, developed into
a divine humor which requires no external tricks or props, but
wells up within the heart and is an authentic expression of
character in joy and in sorrow.
One need only compare a minor work of Peretz’s, such as his
report, semi-literary and semi-journalistic, of a trip he made in