Page 132 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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ISRAEL KNOX
Abraham Reisen
1876— 1953
A
b r a h a m
R
e isen
,
w h o
w a s
born one hundred years ago, was
truly during his lifetime the poet of the people. In the whole of
Yiddish literature, none except Sholem Aleichem, who died in
1916, had been so gladly accepted by the people and had so fully
won their hearts.
No one in Yiddish literature had used the short story with
such effectiveness, no one had dealt with such a wide variety of
themes. In his numerous tales and in his poems (some of which
have a narrative quality) he filled in the little and the decisive
details and traced the minor and yet often fateful marks of
milieu and surroundings upon character and conduct. It is thus
quite possible that, because he was not compelled to follow out
the pattern of large-scale novels, he was able to discern every
nuance of experience in a Jewish world at once stable and chang­
ing, both traditional and progressive.
There is a universal note in Reisen’s poems and stories. I t is a
universalism compounded of sympathy and kindness, of irony
and gentle despair and abiding hope. Nor is it a pseudo-
universalism, artificially decocted by choosing topics that have
ceased to be Jewish or that are presumed to be transnational,
having lost all concreteness and uniqueness. Reisen’s tales derive
their universalism precisely from their immediacy, their con­
creteness and uniqueness. It is because he absorbed his town in
all its modulations, because he knew with his heart as well as
with his mind what he was writing about, that his stories of their
sorrows and joys are as universal as are wind and rain and sun­
shine; are as universal, in their atmosphere, as are Chekhov’s
stories.
It is thus natural that his irony should be mellow, his humor
more like a smile than laughter, and his grief a prelude to an
affirmation. His universalism is neither spurious nor sentimental;
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