Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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The Interpreter of Rumanian Jewish Culture
Shlomo Bickel (b. 1896), the best interpreter of Rumanian
Jewish culture, did not stem from Rumania but from Eastern
Galicia. He reached the climax of his career in New York as lit­
erary critic of the Yiddish daily Der Tog, as co-editor of the Yid­
dish monthly Die Zukunft, and as head of the research activities
of YIVO. However, during the two decades before his arrival in
the United States on the eve of the Second World War, he was in
the center of the Yiddish literary revival in Cernauti and Buca-
rest. At the former city he studied law after his demobilization
from the Austro-Hungarian army and edited Die Freiheit, Buco­
vina’s Labor Zionist weekly, from 1920 to 1922. After obtain­
ing his doctorate in jurisprudence, he moved to Bucarest. There
he practiced his legal profession and at the same time edited
Yiddish literary periodicals together with Jacob Sternberg, Eliezer
Steinbarg and Moishe Altman.
The best essays of Bickel’s Bucarest period were collected in
his book In Me and Around Me (In Zich un Arum Zich, 1986).
His nine other volumes belong to his American period, but much
of their content deals with Rumanian and East Galician Jewry.
The vanished culture of the Galician town of Kolomea, where
he spent his boyhood, is depicted in his two books A City of Jews
(A Shtot Mit Yidn, 1943) and We Were Three Brothers (Drei
Brieder Zeinen Mir Geven, 1956). In his book of history, literary
criticism and reminiscences, entitled Rumania (1956), he surveys
the struggle for Jewish rights since the 1870’s, sketches portraits
of political, social and literary figures, and depicts the Jewish
uniqueness of Bucarest, Marmoresh, Kishinev and Cernauti. In
his historical novel Family Artshik (Mishpokhe Artshik, 1967),
he brings to life Bukovina Jewish villagers of the mid-nineteenth
century and the problems and legal disabilities Jews had to over­
come when seeking to eke out a living among peasants.
As a literary critic, Bickel is both impressionistic and profound.
In addition to recording the facts and ideas of writers, he frames
them within their specific cultural milieu and communicates the
unique atmosphere about each of them. He is at his best when
dealing with Rumanian contemporaries with whom he shared
comparatively happy years and who either perished or were wide­
ly dispersed. His greatest admiration is reserved for Itzik Manger,
whose beginnings he acclaimed and whose growth he accompanied
with interpretative essays.
Although Manger was born in 1901 in Czernovitz, the capital
of Bukovina, when this province was still part of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire and its name had not yet been changed to