Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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Th is dilemma may yield a sense of pride and limitless
self-assertion—the note of much of the earlier Zionist poetry—
bu t it can also yield frustration and despair. T o be alone on the
dark road of Jewish history is evidently a fearful thing. I t is
not a question simply of believing or not believing, bu t of how
to find one’s way in the dark, of how to face and overcome
despair. This is the existential crisis of modern secularism.
T he most tragic and radical statement of metaphysical loneli­
ness, as well as the most determined confrontation with its cause
and remedy, are to be found in the highly complex modern
Hebrew poet, Shin Shalom. I t has been suggested tha t his poetry
is uniquely egoistic and ultimately nihilistic. He broods upon
the self and nothingness, identifying the “I ” with God-Man.
This would make him somewhat like the English poet William
Blake, for whom divine transcendence has disappeared so tha t
dialogue is no longer possible, and God is absorbed in humanity
But this will not suffice for Shin Shalom. His poetry is more
dramatic than that; it is steeped in tension and struggle, for the
Jew is always Jacob wrestling with the angel. There is always the
challenge of history itself, and in history the “I ” does not meet
the Myself which confronts mighty and inexorable events over
which the “I ” has no control.
I t is precisely in wrestling with the imperatives and agonies of
Jewish history that Shin Shalom realizes he has come to the end
of the egocentric road. If we are alone, then what are we runn ing
from and towards what are we running? Why the sweat, the toil
and tears? And why Zion? Love and devotion may no longer be
possible as we embrace a stone or the shadow of a stone, bu t
whence the ache and whence the emptiness? What pulls the
lonely unbeliever to the Wall of the Temple Mount?
Shalom is too honest a writer to nourish himself on the time­
worn cliches of secular Zionism—“a territorial solution of the
Jewish problem,” “a peopleless land for a landless people,” “auto­
emancipation,” and the like. These do not explain the lover’s
passion and the lover’s frustration, nor do they explain the irra­
tional violence of the opposition. These are irreducible factors
of modern Jewish experience and the poet feels called upon to
wrest a meaning from them.