Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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MORRIS A. MOSKOWITZ
Gershon Shoffman: Universal Artist
On the Occasion of the Centenary of His Birth
A
l t h o u g h
t h e
l it e r a tu r e
of the Haskalah was both an integral
part and a reflection of the emancipation process, it is the post-
Haskalah literature at the turn of this century which most touch­
ingly mirrors both the positive and negative aspects of the new
Jewish freedom. For it is then that we find such writers as Feier-
berg, Berdichevsky, Gnessin, Brenner, and Shoffman giving art­
istic vent to the Jew’s loss of tradition, his alienation from mean­
ingful custom and community, and his consequent nihilistic de­
spair.
Among the above group of writers Gershon Shoffman holds a
special position, both in terms of the longevity of his life and work,
and in terms of the unique synthesis which he was able to effect
between his Jewishness and his aesthetic response to the Jewish
predicament.
Born in 1880 in White Russia, Shoffman studied in various
yeshivot. However, while still a youth, and under the influence of
an older brother, he began to read secular Hebrew literature, as
well as contemporary Russian and German literature. Among the
authors particularly dear to him were Mendele, Chekhov, Dos­
toevsky, and Peter Altenberg. Commencing in 1901, Shoffman
served in the Russian army for three years, then managed to
escape across the Galician border to Lemberg, subsequently mak­
ing his way to Vienna and its environs. In 1938 Shoffman fled
Austria and arrived in what is now Israel, where he remained
until his death in 1972. Shoffman’s life-experiences, as reflected
in his stories, include the breakdown of Jewish tradition, under­
currents of the Russian revolution, World War I and its after-
math, the rise of Nazism, and the establishment of the State of
Israel. When one takes into account that, of the Hebrew writers
mentioned previously, Feierberg and Gnessin had passed from
the scene by 1914, and Brenner and Berdichevsky both died in
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