Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
stream of Yiddish writing. This is the broad river upon which
literary manifestoes and revolts are but paper boats, and it is
this concern that finds repeated, troubled expression. It is the
central concern of the historical novels of Opatoshu, and of the
triple-decker novels of I. J. Singer, I. B. Singer, and Sholem
Asch. Unlike their nineteenth century European counterparts,
these novelists do not aim to hold up for examination the way
we live now nor to depict a society. They are troubled by the
questions: how did Jews get here and what lies in store for us?
—movement not stability, history not social mobility. Once the
timeless traditional world of the shtetl is shattered, time and
place, modernity and geography are thrust upon the Jewish
experience and the Jewish consciousness. And from American
soil, past and present began to look different and the fu tu re -
disturbing.
As a result, the note of shtetl longing first struck during the
nineteenth century is heard again with renewed strength, and a
rose-colored haze again begins to envelope the shtetl world that
was left behind. Its traditions, its holiday warmth, its people-
moral and pious despite their poverty—its wholeness, its mean­
ingful existence contrast with the well-known ills of an urban,
indifferent, competitive, alienating world. It is this American
situation that provides Peretz Hirschbein with the perspective
for his idyllic portraits of Jewish farmers in
Green Fields;
in this
perspective is seen the old world in so much of the poetry of
Joseph Rolnik, Reuben Eisland and Mani Leib, in the fiction
of Israel Metzker, in untold volumes of memoirs. It is this per­
spective that is evident in scores of popular musicals that played
in the Yiddish theaters along Second Avenue, the Yiddish Broad­
way. “Mayn shtetele Belz” became the most popular of the
shtetl songs of nostalgia; it was, however, only one of dozens
that were sung about the long-lost home towns and peaceful
fields and mighty woods of Roumania, Galicia, Poland, or
Russia. But whether Vlednik or Belz, the longing for an integral
world was unsubdued in belles lettres as well as in popular
literature.
THE IMPACT OF THE H ITLER DECADE
The anxieties of the twenties were succeeded by the shattering
impact of the Hitler decade. The very security of the American