Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

Basic HTML Version

KABAKOFF / FIRST HEBREW-YIDDISH POETRY BOOK IN AMERICA
29
Be your name Orthodox or Reform,
You shall mount the ladder of success.
The poem in which Sobel most vividly expressed his feelings
of shock and disappointment over what he encountered in the
new world is entitled “A Polish Scholar in America.” Consisting
of twelve stanzas of twelve lines each, it opens on a note of
optimism and hopefulness concerning the new freedom which
pervades America. He goes as far as to write:
Though I have but only a cent,
My son may yet be president. . .
The scholar’s enthusiasm is soon dampened by his experiences
among his fellow immigrants. He perceives a stately building
which proves to be a disappointment. He had hoped that such a
structure would be used to educate the Jewish youth for pro­
ductive trades, only to learn that it was a Reform temple. In
keeping with his Haskalah ideals, he preferred to see emphasis
placed upon agricultural work and intensive Jewish education.
He should have liked his two older sons to learn useful trades
and to have his youngest son prepare for the rabbinate. How­
ever, the rampant ignorance and materialism of immigrant life
frustrated these hopes.
In desperation, the scholar sees no choice but to take up the
peddler’s pack until such time that he can achieve material se­
curity. The poem satirizes the efforts of the scholar’s fellow immi­
grants to become Americanized and to shed their Jewishness.
The poet’s barbs are directed not only at the disorderly syna­
gogue life, but also at the social clubs where the members express
pride in their newly acquired “Yankee” mores. In describing
the acculturation of one of the members, the poet describes him
as going so far as to boast that “my son is considered a part of
the Christian community.” In this immigrant milieu there is
scant need of Hebrew knowledge, and it is sufficient if a Bar
Mitzvah boy learns to chant one portion in public.
Sobel depicts the traumatic effect of the cultural shock upon
the Jewish immigrant
maskil
who could not help but contrast
the new attitude to the Hebrew language and Jewish learning
with that which he had known in Europe. This was to become
a recurring theme in the writings of the Hebrew poets and
maskilim
who followed Sobel to the United States. Sober con-