Page 146 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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138
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
All of Jewish life in the old ghetto are encapsulated in these
richly colored drawings: the smithy, the
baca l-cagola
(teams­
ter), the store, the rabbi, pogroms, self-defense, the riot over
the blood-libel, the [supplicating] conversation with a
(Polish) aristocrat — down to the picture of the Jewish
battalion leader, Berek Yoslevich and down to the portrait
of his battalion flag — the flag of Poland upon which was a
shield containing the
shern ha-meforash
(name of God).
Jabotinsky’s understandable delight at finding a portrait of a
medieval Jewish soldier in the service of Poland is contagious,
particularly when he informs us that Szyk copied the authentic
flag of Berek Yoslevich, which used to be on view in the home of
Noah Davidson in Warsaw. From his loving description of Szyk’s
art work Jabotinsky then moves to the remarkable safeguards of
Jewish welfare contained in the Statute of Kalish: “I f a Jew cries
out in the night and his Christian neighbors do not come out to
help him in his distress, each of these Christian neighbors must
pay him a fee of thirty gold pieces.” The blood-libel was strictly
forbidden, but in the event of such cases the most painstaking
legal procedures were to be followed, and false accusers were to
be given the same punishment the acquitted Jewish defendants
might have received if convicted.
At the tail-end of this learned and calm exposition Jabotinsky
suddenly changes his tone. How ironic that in medieval times
Jews were able to negotiate such a contract of governmental
protection in exchange for their desirable citizenship and skills,
while today’s leaders preach only that Jews must give and serve
and be “a light unto the nations” in exchange for nothing — for
ingratitude and abuse. With an aggressive and defiant shift of
temperament, this article, which opened as a curator’s lecture on
rare manuscripts, concludes as follows:
Shylock
our grandfather, you who were a shrewd merchant,
you who were a proud citizen, you who established condi­
tions before you volunteered your services to anyone —
where are you, our forgotten grandfather? Return to us,
arise and be for us a guide for the perplexed.
Jabotinsky’s militant outbursts, reminiscent of his speeches,
need not make us forget the predominantly relaxed and elegant