Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

Basic HTML Version

untouched by the influence of Mendele in Odessa or of Sholem
Aleichem in Kiev or of Peretz in Warsaw, which were becoming
major centers of literary activity. The second generation refused
to follow their patterns. “There is a rhythm in the United
States that is alien to Europe,” remarked Opatoshu,15 and Amer­
ican Yiddish writers were responding to that rhythm in their
poetry, in their experimentation, in their new forms and their
new subject matter. Whitman’s catalogues are puny in compari­
son to the geographical atlas of America that could be compiled
from the works of American Yiddish writers. They turned to
America with love and with hope; and they created verse and
prose as patriotic as any that has ever been written in this
Literary revolt followed upon literary revolt. The concentration
on self of the Yunge was, a decade or so later, denounced by the
Urban and intellectual, they emphasized
the importance of ideas and rejected the concentration on self
and mood. And they proclaimed their derivation from the Amer­
ican Imagists. But for all their literary declarations, “The fathers
of the Insikhistn—Leyeles, Glatstein, Minkoff—would have felt
just as much at home among the members of Young America,
and vice versa.”16
If the first two decades of the century seemed to thrill with
the spirit of optimism, the twenties began to give freer expression
to underlying, persistent doubts. There was, for one thing, much
uneasiness about the state of Yiddish and Yiddish culture, about
the continuity of the Yiddish renaissance. As the twenties drew
to a close, Shmuel Niger, addressing a group of student activists,
was urging that their “work among students is the crown and
justification of our cultural activity in this country. Your duty is
the hardest and the finest of all duties; your duty is to build a
bridge to the future, and I hope that you will be brave, believing,
and energetic builders.” Other writers and critics addressing the
same group reiterated the hope that its members would be able
15 Opatoshu,
op. cit.,
p. 80.
p. 79.