Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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LIPTZIN / THE JEWISH WRITER IN AMERICA
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was also identified as the author of the ballad
The Battles of
Joshua,
which circulated anonymously. It portrayed Joshua as
a cruel warrior who committed a series of atrocities, enslaving
the Gibeonites and treating abominably the conquered inhabi­
tants of Canaan.
THREE WOMEN LYRICISTS
Only in Jewish periodicals of the decades in which the Sephar-
dim were dominant and only in books directed to a Jewish
audience did Jewish poets, narrators and essayists give expression
to their pride in belonging to their religious and historic com­
munity. Three lyricists are still remembered while the others are
deservedly forgotten. All three were sensitive women: Penina
Moise, Adah Isaacs Menken, and Emma Lazarus, and only the
last-named rose above mediocrity.
Penina Moise (1797-1880) began under the inspiration of her
Charleston townsman Isaac Harby, whom she hailed as the light
of her youth. Throughout her long life, she was deeply stirred
by Jewish events and reacted with verses in various Jewish peri­
odicals. In 1833 she published a volume of her poems under the
title
Fancy’s Sketch-Book.
For her Reform temple in Charleston,
she composed the first American Jewish hymnal and verse rend­
erings of the Psalms. Some of her hymns are still sung in Am­
erican congregations. These hymns breathe resignation and sub­
mission to God's will no matter what fate might befall. Her
own fate was not without affliction; poverty and blindness over­
took her. Nevertheless, in her final poem, “A Farewell Message
to All Friends,” the old, blind, impoverished lyricist expressed
her gratitude for a life well spent and for friendships that made
her existence happy despite her frailties.
Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868), actress and lyricist, was a
much more romantic and turbulent personality. During her
brief life she fascinated her contemporaries. Her twentieth cen­
tury biographers included her among the outstanding enchanters
of men. They entitled their biographies of her “The Reckless
Lady,” “La Belle Menken,” “The Enchanting Rebel,” “Queen
of the Plaza.” Swinburne immortalized her under the name of
Dolores, the Lady of Pain, and he hailed her as one who was
the world's delight. She was adored as a goddess of the stage and
communities waxed wild with enthusiasm, especially when she