Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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LANDIS / AMERICA AND YIDDISH LITERATURE
29
to attract the estranged young Jewish men and women back to
Yiddish and Yiddish culture.17
If the broad river of American Yiddish literature during the
first three decades—indeed, during the first three quarters—of
the twentieth century reflects the naturalization of Jewish life
in America, it also reveals an ambivalence towards the American
home. The affirmation of America, the sense of belonging here
seems to run deep and strong after the Yunge asserted themselves.
The American landscape is painted with love and wonder: the
great cities, the overpowering natural wonders, the West and the
mid-West. American historical times, people, and places from
the early years of the Republic strike sparks in the Yiddish
imagination. But along with the acceptance there is a sense of
disquiet, of not being wholly at ease in Zion, a disaffection that
goes beyond that alienation which is indigenous to literary crea­
tivity. It goes beyond the protests against the oppression of
Blacks and Indians, beyond the outcries on behalf of Sacco and
Vanzetti, beyond the proletarian sympathies in such plays as
Leivick’s
Shmates, Shop,
or
Keytn,
beyond the sharp criticism
of American values in Lamed Shapiro’s short stories and the
gentle satire in Ossip Dymov’s
Bronx Express.
It is evident in
these works, as it is also in the deep concern about intermarriage
in such novels as David Pinski’s
Arnold Levenberg
and
The Gen­
erations of Noah Edon
and in Sholem Asch’s
East River.
It is a
sense of uneasiness which in popular culture recreates the old
East Side as a shtetl surrogate and finds expression in theater
songs such as one Ludwig Satz made popular, singing
“oy, vey,
s’iz mir g it/ ikh bin shoyn krik af atorni s t r i t
as though it
were a reprise of
“aheym vel ikh forn kayn vlednik.”
There still remains the Jewish situation as outsider, a renewed
awareness of the price America continuously exacts in surrender
of ethnic and moral identity. The hopes for the development of
a Jewish folk life in America, for the growth of a Jewish cultural
world here did not long survive the act of immigration. The
worries grew increasingly grave about the fate of Jews as an
entity, about the sense of Jewish commitment, an uneasiness
about Jewish destiny that is the underlying concern of the over­
whelming majority of Yiddish writers and constitutes the main­
17
Elias Schulman, “A Kultur-Tkufe fun Undzer Noentn Ovar,”
Di Zukunft;
vol. LXXXI (March 1975), p. 101.