Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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8 6
e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
Still insecure with his transformation, An-sky wandered about
Western Europe, living from hand to mouth, continually absorb­
ing the riches of the simple life of the masses. Much of his intel­
lectual curiosity was channeled by his devotion to radical Social­
ist beliefs. At the same time he was developing a feel of folklife,
a bent that was to serve him in later years. It was in Paris,
however, that An-sky experienced his first sense of security, espe­
cially in his new role as private secretary to Peter Lavrov, an
important figure in the Socialist Revolutionary movement. Poli­
tics had taken over his life, although he found time to engage
in occasional dilettantish writings, particularly in the area of
Russian folklore.
A Self-Styled Jewish Exile
From 1894 until Lavrov’s death in 1900, An-sky became a
notable in radical politics. He was now a self-styled Jewish exile,
living comfortably in Paris. His sole contact with his former
Jewish life was a continuing friendship with Chaim Zhitlowsky,
a boyhood friend who later became his biographer. It was Zhit­
lowsky, residing at the time in Bern, Switzerland, who kept
An-sky in touch with Jewish letters, introducing him to Yiddish
writers and journalists who were beginning to establish their
reputations. From time to time, in deference to Zhitlowsky,
An-sky wrote an occasional story with a Jewish theme or char­
acter. He also wrote some poetry and songs, one of which became
the official anthem of the
Lavrov’s death left a void in An-sky’s life. Again he was on
his own in search of his place in the complex world about him.
Politics still had a strong hold on him but he began to spend
more time with Zhitlowsky and his circle. Nevertheless, he con­
tinued to remain apart from Jewish life. If he had achieved
any identity, he could have been classified as an expert on Rus­
sian folkways, especially as it related to the cause of the Revolu­
tion. In fact, it was this specialty that brought An-sky back to
Russia in 1905 after the October insurrection. He was the party’s
folk specialist, writing essays and pamphlets for the edification
of other party members.
Almost at the time that he published
In the Stream,
reflected an interest and an awareness of Jewish folklore, An-sky
was induced to head an ethnographic expedition to Volynia and
Podolia in order to gather artifacts, legends, and sundry items
for a Jewish Ethnographic Society in Petrograd. Sponsored by
a Baron Horace Ginzburg, and accompanied by Joel Engel, An-
sky ventured forth to the heartland of the Jewish folk and
brought back forgotten treasures. More than material things, he
gathered a rich storehouse of legends and superstitions of Has-