Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
of pants for Passover because his father was jobless, had to face
his friends with two patches on the old ones (“The New Patch);
when a single postcard acquired at the sacrifice of a meal had
to serve two brothers, forlorn in a strange city as Talmudic
students, to pour out their hearts to their parents (“The Two
Brothers”); when Chaim, the baker of bagels, could not afford
to give any to his own starved children, and half-consciously
burned one so as to find an excuse for keeping it for his family
(“When Does Chaim Eat a Bagel”) ; when Avrohom, the cob­
bler, lived in mortal fear of the coming of paved streets that
would cut down his pitiful earnings; when there was only one
tree in the town, dry and withering, in front of the
melamed’s
home, and none besides himself cared what would happen to it
(“The Tree”).
What is remarkable is that Reisen depicted all this realistically,
that there is no false ring in his stories, that he did not veer
away from ugliness—and yet there are warmth and compassion
in his tales. He looked with a smile, at the town and its people,
at the twisted streets and the narrow horizon; with an aware­
ness of human frailty and weakness, he wrote his stories of the
town and its people without talking too much and without
pleading. He wrote about them with a wonderful economy of
words, poignantly evoking the atmosphere and suggesting the
social and psychological background. He was able to do it with
Koidanov and its people because he knew them so well and saw
them in their rootage, because they had a legacy of the past
flowing into their present, because there was a wholeness in the
community of which they were an actual part. How could this
too be otherwise? . . . when a grandchild was drawn to his grand­
father not only by physical bonds but also by a spiritual one—
the cherished desire to have his lantern, and on receiving it in
his grandfather’s hour of dying, the will to take it and to treasure
it (“Grandfather’s Lantern”); when the old preacher, replaced
in favor by younger men who talk of returning to the land of
Israel without the intercession of the Messiah, goes begging
cheerfully because it will not do, for the sake of his sermons,
to retard the deliverance of Jews even in a “sinful” way (“The
Old Preacher”); when the rabbi could proclaim—on burying the
wife and mother Rachel, whose husband’s name was Jacob and