Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
and Morris Winchevski; not only protests but exhortations to
revolutionary struggle for a new social order. They were not
merely “sweatshop poets,” as they have been called, who de­
picted the economic exploitation of the day. Their commitments
were socialist and libertarian, and their revolutionary note was
new to Yiddish literature.5 The fiction and drama of their con­
temporaries S. Libin, Leon Kobrin, B. Gorin, and Jacob Gordin,
and of Abraham Cahan in English as well as in Yiddish, reflect
the same dismay at the spiritual price America was exacting for
its freedom.
So overwhelming was the experience of uprooting and trans­
planting that it left little room for any other subject in the seri­
ous literature of the day. Scarcely a moment of the great process
of immigration was omitted, from the moment of decision to
leave the shtetl and the preparations for departure to the cross­
ing in steerage, the shipboard friendships with “shifsbreeder,”
the first sight of Ellis Island—the “Isle of Tears,”—the problems
of adjustment, the homesickness, the letters to parents, wives,
children, the constant expressions of regret, loyalty, love, devo­
tion, sorrow over the estrangement resulting from long separa­
tion, the sense of being bewildered, helpless, and forlorn. Story
after story depicted the daily suffering as well as the unexpected
tragedies of ghetto life—the Talmud scholar whose learning was
useless in America and who was reduced to peddling, the shop­
girls who supported young men through professional schools and
were then cast aside, the parents ignored by Americanized
children.
PROTEST AND LONGING ARE THE DOM INANT MOTIFS
Protest and longing for the world left behind are the dominant
motifs. Among the most popular poems of the day was Mikhl
Kaplan’s
“Tsurik Aheym”
which joyfully announced
“Aheym
vel ikh forn kayn vlednik—un take nokh shabes, i’rt zen
An­
other popular poet of the day, Shloyme Shmulevich, recorded
the tragedies of arrival in his poem “Ellis Island,” crying:
Then comes Ellis Island, the frontier of freeland
And says: Halt! Here’s as far as you go.
5 N. B. Minkoff,
Pionern fun der Yidisher Poezye in Amerike,
New York,
1956, vol. I, pp. 8-9.