Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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2 8
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
alents in Hebrew for the exotic style of the Negro. I t was no t
the Negro
per se
who interested Bavli bu t the Negro as symbol of
Jewish destiny. T h e response to injustice and to rootlessness
differed in Hebrew and in Negro poetry, bu t the basic feelings
showed an indubitable identity.
O ther Hebrew poets in America emulated Bavli’s example.
Reuben Avinoam translated Negro spirituals, Ephra im E. Lisitzky
adapted Negro sermons, Negro folk-tales and Negro spirituals
to Hebrew rhythms. He has projected and developed Negro
themes in his book
bo-Ohale Kush (In Negro Tents).
As a resident
of New Orleans, he had unusual opportunities to observe colored
people: “I have gone to their meetings, their clubs and their
get-togethers for many years. I have heard the speeches of the ir
spokesmen and the sermons of their preachers in their churches;
I have listened to their prayers and their spirituals which are
sung by their congregations and choirs with the enthusiasm and
absorption of
Hasidim.
When I understood the life of the Negro,
as much as a man who is not a member of their church and
their race can understand it, I said to myself: here is poetic
stuff tha t can have a beneficent influence on Hebrew poetry
in America.”
He used tha t poetic stuff w ith abandon. He translated beau ti­
fully part of the famous spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chario t” ;
he imitated the folk-songs of the Negroes, especially songs w ith
biblical overtones; he tried, in a burst of empathy, to feel as
they feel and to write as they write. In contradistinction to o ther
Hebrew poets, he let the Negro speak for himself and he let the
reader draw an implicit analogy to his own fate. Thus he achieved
a subtler integration of the Negro into Hebrew poetry. I t was
because of his preoccupation with the Negro and because of the
interest of o ther Hebrew poets tha t the Negro theme has become
an important ingredient of contemporary Hebrew lite ra tu re in
America, even as it is a significant factor in the literatures of
the world.
Hebrew Anthologies of American Li terature
When America emerged after the Second W orld W a r as the
world’s most powerful nation, the country’s achievements aroused
an insatiable appetite in Europe, in Asia, in Africa. Books by
American authors—good, bad or indifferent—were translated in ­
discriminately. Anthologies of American poetry and fiction in
Hebrew translation sought to transm it the cu ltura l riches of
America to the Hebrew-reading public. T h ree books in par ticu la r
must be singled ou t for their diligent efforts on behalf of
American literature:
A Hebrew Anthology of American Verse,