Page 226 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
Evaluation of American Hebrew Letters
Th is mood stands in contrast to the sober evaluation of Ameri-
can Hebrew writing offered by Eisig Silberschlag, himself a lead-
ing American Hebrew poet, in the volume
T h e Am e r ican Jew :
A R e a p p ra isa l
(Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1964).
The very title of his survey article, “Development and Decline of
Hebrew Letters," is enough to give us pause. After describing
the beginnings of American Hebrew literature, Silberschlag treats
its “Zenith: 1914-1960.” He indicates that many of the writers
who can be credited with the development of a specific American
Hebrew literature have now been removed by death. Those who
continue to write in Israel and in this country, he points out,
are past their literary prime and few replacements have come to
the fore.
Silberschlag’s judgment is borne out by the facts. During the
60’s alone, such recognized American Hebrew poets as H ille l
Bavli, Ephraim E. Lisitzky, Moses Feinstein and Abraham Z.
Halevy, and the competent novelist and short story writer Reuben
Wallenrod, have been lost to us. The only American born Hebrew
writer who issued a volume of poetry in recent years is Abraham
Band (1929-
), whose
H a -R ’ee B o e r ba-Esh
(The Mirror Burns
W ith Fire, 1963) is rich in imagery and modernist nuances.
While it is true that the flourishing o f Hebrew literature in
the State of Israel has profoundly influenced American Hebrew
authors, it still cannot be depended upon alone to serve as a
generative or revitalizing force in American Hebrew creative
writing. Some of the leading American Hebrew literary figures,
like Abraham Regelson, Yohanan Twersky, Simon Halkin and
Israel Efros, have settled in Israel and have published their latest
works there. T h e Chicago born poet Reuben Avinoam (Gross-
man) took up residence in Palestine as early as 1929, where he
has enjoyed a distinguished literary career. Another American
born writer, T . Carmi, has achieved recognition as a leading
modernist poet and has several volumes of poetry to his credit.
Reuben Ben-Yosef, who had published English poetry here, be-
came a member of a kibbutz and successfully made the transition
to Hebrew poetry. A ll this, however, is scarcely enough to indicate
that Israeli literature can in and of itself have a significant impact
on the future direction and development of American Hebrew
The field that has been most assiduously cultivated by Ameri-
can Hebrew writers is that of poetry. The primary contribution
of these writers consists in opening up Hebrew literature to the
influences o f British and American literary trends. Exh ib iting a
tendency to the intellectual and metaphysical, American Hebrew