Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

Basic HTML Version

32
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
considered bringing to fulfillment. After Auschwitz, nothing
remained but to elegize a world whose loss forever altered the
course of Jewish history and Yiddish culture: a vanished Mother­
land (in more ways than one), a lost Atlantis which, with all
its flaws and failings, was an admirable world whose traditions
endowed life with human decency and dignity and warmth. This
mood is detectable not only in Yiddish writing, though it is
strongest there. Its echoes are detectable in the American Jewish
community at large and occasionally in American Jewish fiction
in English.
In Grade’s fiction the reconstruction of prewar Vilna continues.
Even the harsh realism of I. J. Singer was mellowed into mourn­
ing in his posthumously published
Of a World That Is No More.
In Isaac Bashevis Singer alone America begins to appear more
frequently as a setting. Indeed, his years in this country have
brought to the surface a new strain of humor, playfulness and
fun, a note of hope that is utterly absent from the terrified ex­
plorations of the human capacity for evil that were characteristic
of his earlier work.
To attempt to summarize American Yiddish writing during
the past century is to attempt a summary of America itself as
well as of a century of Jewish life. But one thing is beyond dis­
pute: Yiddish literature in America is inescapably American.
Every Yiddish writer who came here absorbed something of the
spirit of America and underwent the experience of America: the
hope of America, the pain of America, and ultimately, the
ambivalence to America.
Eras rarely end abruptly. They blend into new eras and
fructify them. While the era of the East-European born Yiddish
writer is drawing to a close, a new involvement with Yiddish is
sweeping through the American Jewish community and among
the Jewish students on the American campus.19 The implications
of this for American Yiddish literature remain to be seen.
19
At Queens College, CUNY, which has the largest enrollment, 500 students
are enrolled each semester. The Horace Kallen Center for Jewish Studies
(encompassing the Herzliah Hebrew Teachers College and the Jewish
Teachers Seminary) and its graduate school, the Horace Kallen Graduate
Center for Jewish Studies, which offer a baccalaureate and a doctorate in
Yiddish (as well as in other areas of Jewish learning) are in the process
of greatly expanding their course offerings. Other institutions—nearly forty
including YIVO—are likewise reporting greatly increased student interest
in their Yiddish courses.