Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
describes his affirmation, his faith, in terms of struggle: “My
heart, that is neither courageous nor believing,/ [I will] command,
even with violence: Believe!”
Internal conflict is also the central problem in Grade’s long
narrative poem
Musemikes
(Musarists), published three years
later (1939). Grade himself had been a student in the Navaredok
yeshivah, where the ethical teachings of the Musar school, origi­
nally a movement to enlighten and inspire individuals to ethical
behavior in the spirit of Jewish teachings, had been brought to its
most extreme phase. In yeshivahs following the Navaredok
tenets, boys and youths were encouraged to suppress their sen­
sual and material longings, and adopt a rigorous way of life based
on the spiritual teachings of the founders of the Musar move­
ment, in the strictest interpretation of traditional ritual laws.
The “Musernikes,” including the autobiographical figure called
Chaim Vilner, struggle with themselves and with others in their
attempts to overcome such sins as secular temptation, personal
pride, envy, and sensual desires. Chaim Vilner, a newcomer to the
yeshivah, is publically chastised for possessing articles of secular
seduction (a nontraditional book found among his belongings,
and a comb and mirror that his mother tucked into his pocket).
He is forced to swear eternal allegiance to the yeshivah and to the
way of the Navaredok Musar.
In Grade’s later prose works, we find a continuing preoccupa­
tion with the themes of inner struggle and personal conflict. For
instance, in the stories of the poet’s childhood and youth in
My
Mothers Sabbaths
, the figure of the mother is drawn with great love
and devotion, but the writer does not obscure the growing ten­
sions between parent and child because of the latter’s increasing
tendencies to leave the path of traditional Judaism. The later
divisions of the book, describing Grade’s flight from the Nazis
through Russia, are always informed by his feelings of unease and
self-condemnation for leaving his wife and mother in Vilna. And
the final section of this memoir, in which the writer returns to the
ruins of the Vilna ghetto after the war, describes the private and
shared struggles of himself and other survivors to deal with their
guilt at having remained alive.
While the prose memoirs and stories present certain inner
tensions in a straightforward manner, appropriate to the genre in
which a writer relates his experiences directly, it is in the novels
that the various aspects of conflict are most fully developed and