Page 224 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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A Q U A R T E R C E N T U R Y OF A M E R I C A N
H E B R E W B E L L E S - L E T T R E S
B
y
J
acob
K
a bak o f f
O
ver
a
h a l f
c e n t u r y
ago
,
in
1910, a group of American
Hebrew poets, headed by Benjamin Nahum Silkiner, issued
a collective volume o f poetry which ushered in a new era
American Hebrew letters. Th e volume, aptly entitled
S’n u n i t
(Swallow), contained a brief introduction by Reuben Brainin,
noted critic and editor. Brainin greeted this promising effort with
enthusiasm and hope. He also stressed that in order to grow and
develop, American Hebrew poetry required the help of many
outside factors and especially o f a suitable spiritual climate.
Because of the influx of additional literary talents who were
fired by the enthusiasm of the Hebrew rebirth, American Hebrew
poetry made considerable advances in the period follow ing World
War I. A little over a quarter century after the appearance of
S’n u n i t ,
Menachem R ibalow was able to compile his
A n to lo g ia
Shel ha-Shira ha -Ivr it ba -Am er ika
(Anthology o f Hebrew Poetry
in America, 1938). In addition to bringing examples from the
work of such pioneers as Jacob Zvi Soble, Gerson Rosenzweig,
Menachem Mendel Dolitsky, Isaac Rabinowitz and Naphtali
Herz Imber, this volume offered representative creative samplings
of as many as 18 modern poets, from Silkiner down to Gabriel
Preil.
The writings o f these poets reflected an impressive variety of
thematic material and literary accomplishment. Here was a vocal
group of poets that had come to America from various centers
of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. A number of them had arrived
in childhood and early youth and were caught up by the spirit
of English and American literature. Their work not only ex-
hibited the influence of Bialik and other leading exponents of
the Hebrew rebirth, but represented an effort to incorporate
elements of the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition and to deal with
specific American themes. Sometimes their quest for American
color led them to deal romantically with such subjects as the
Indians and Negroes, or with the varied American landscape. Yet
collectively, these poets, who made notable contributions to other
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