Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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Gabirol. Goethe, to whom she devoted her novel
lished in 1874, was closer to her than Moses or David. Even
Heine, whom she translated, was to her a German and not a
Jewish poet. To her surprise and chagrin, this young lyricist,
who corresponded with the non-Jewish American writers Ed­
mund C. Stedman and John Burroughs, was reproached by them
for her apparent indifference to her own people and was ad­
vised to find her way back to her biblical roots. However, it was
the non-Jewish novelist George Eliot who stirred her latent
Jewishness into a radiant flame that infused her entire person­
ality. She saw in the author of
Daniel Deronda
(1876) the
artist who did most towards elevating and ennobling the spirit
of Jewish nationality. Love for her own Jewish people then
became the driving force within her.
In 1879 she translated the medieval Sephardic poets, not from
the Hebrew which she had not mastered, but from a German
rendering by Michael Sachs. She soared with Yehuda Halevi to
Jerusalem on wings of song in her rendition of his immortal
verses on this City of Holiness, the city of his heart’s desire and
now also of hers. Her next important work,
The Dance of
completed before 1882, was a Jewish tragedy dealing with
the martyrdom of Thuringian Jews in the fourteenth century.
Fiery pride coursed through the poet’s frail body. In her prose
and verse, the once reticent recluse became the champion of her
people. Boldly she called upon her coreligionists to awaken
from lethargy, to raise again the banner of the Jew, to embark
upon an heroic national revival, and to march forward to a
new, vigorous, historic life.
The transformation of Emma Lazarus from a shy lyricist who
sought to suppress her Jewishness during the closing years of
the first century of American independence to a dynamic pioneer
of Jewish rebirth at the beginning of the second century may
be viewed as symbolic of the transformation that came over
American Jewry. For a hundred years after the Declaration of
Independence, Jews avoided the limelight. With rare exceptions,
they sought to graft themselves on to the idealized Anglo-Ameri­
can trunk and to restrict their Jewish expressions solely to the
home and the synagogue. The second hundred years, which be­
gan with Jewish mass immigration from Eastern Europe, far
eclipsing the immigration of the Sephardic Hebrews and the