Page 93 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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Y E H U D A B U R L A—N O V E L I S T
WHO O P E N E D W I N D O W S
TO THE J EW I S H O R I E N T
By
I
t z h a k
I
vry
Y
e h u d a
B
u r l a
who died in Jerusalem on November 8th, 1969,
was the first modern Hebrew novelist of Oriental Jewry. He
was born in Jerusalem in 1886, scion of an old Sephardic family
of rabbis and scholars who settled in the Holy Land two centuries
earlier. He attended the yeshiva, his parents intending him to
become a rabbi. But young Yehuda, imbued with the wish to
write, turned to secular Hebrew literature. He studied at the Ezra
teachers seminary in order to earn a living by teaching, seriously
doubting the possibility of doing so as a writer. He therefore de-
cided to complete his studies at the teachers seminary before turn-
ing to writing. This mixture of realism, bordering on pragmatism
and romanticism and colored by oriental mysticism, accompanied
him throughout his creative career.
In his memoirs about Yosef Chaim Brenner, Burla discloses
what a decisive role Brenner played in his life. As a young student
at the seminary, Burla wrote his first short story, “Luna.” Unsure
of himself, he submitted the story to Brenner, resolving in advance
to discontinue writing if his judgment would be adverse. Brenner
was generous; he advised Burla to continue writing and to add
a few chapters to the end of the story. He is said to have remarked
to friends, “We have a new story teller; a new Chekhov.”
“Luna” relates the tragic fate of a gentle Sephardic girl who
is caught up together with her widowed mother in abject poverty
and is forced to marry a rich but greedy and tyrannical Bokharian
Jew, Ovadia Atalyui. It also portrays community life in Old Jeru-
salem during the period before World War I. The story is realistic,
the description of characters and events incisive, and the approach
psychological and humanistic.
Elements of Conflict and Tragedy
Burla’s first story reflects the main elements of soul conflict and
tragedy that preoccupy him in most of his subsequent works. He
looks for the tortured soul, for the bitter disappointments of cruel
fate. He regards the individual’s emotions as of crucial importance;
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