Page 91 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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SH. AN-SKY: FOLKLORIST, ESSAYIST,
POLITICAL REVOLUTIONARY, DRAMATIST
On the One Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth
B
y
M
a r v in
L.
S
e ig e r
I
F Sh. An-sky had not written
The Dybbuk,
he would still have
left his imprint upon Jewish culture. His work as folklorist
and ethnographer stands as a monument to a man who sought
his identity among the impoverished masses of Eastern Euro­
pean Jewry. That he also wrote
The Dybbuk
compounds his
greatness and fixes his place in Jewish letters. His life, as
detailed below, was typically that of an intelligent and sensitive
Jewish youth who, after experiencing the rigors of a traditional
Jewish education, suddenly became disenchanted with every­
thing he learned. His flight to the secular world of Russian cul­
ture was a configuration of an artist’s search for an identity. He
was to learn, like so many of our intellectual exiles, that one
never escapes one’s spiritual essence. Only when An-sky recog­
nized this fact about himself did he begin to fulfill himself as
a man and as an artist.
An-sky, whose real name was Solomon Zanvill Rappoport, was
born in Tsashnik, White Russia, in 1863, but spent his early
years in nearby Vitebsk. He grew up in an insecure household,
headed by an itinerant father and a domineering mother. De­
spite a sound and thorough religious education, An-sky found
his environment too limiting; at the age of seventeen he bolted
from home and took to the secular world about him. Russian
literature and radical politics attracted him. As if to complete
his transformation, he learned secular trades and adopted his
pseudonym.
For the next few years, until his self-imposed exile from Russia
in 1892, An-sky steeped himself in the Russian tongue and Rus­
sian letters. He wandered about the provinces in order to absorb
his new-found faith in the secular world. The world of writing
opened up for him, and by 1889 he had already established a
minor reputation among the intelligentsia, particularly with his
Tale of a Family,
written and published in Russian. A group of
young radical Socialists in Petrograd took him to their bosom.
An-sky had made the leap.
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