Page 158 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
1921, whereas Shoffman produced short stories, sketches, and
essays until well on in years, the longevity and historic scope of his
work may be all the more readily appreciated.
The new element which Shoffman brings to Hebrew literature
is a universalistic
angst
broad enough to cover twentieth-century
man in general, as well as the Jew-in-the-void. In addition, the
atmosphere of alienation which Shoffman captures is often eroti­
cally tinged and far removed from any Judaeo-theosophic con­
siderations.
Utilizing delicate detail, pithiness of expression, and an inti­
mate lyricism to maximum effect, Shoffman is particularly adept
at describing the young ghetto-less Jew facing the universal “No!”
This negative imperative is not the result of mere rejection by a
young woman, but it is the summation of the complete emptiness
which the Shoffman hero faces as he flees from boundary to
boundary seeking the dubious thrill of vicarious involvement.
Thus, the inner balance of a young man such as Daniel Koran, of
the story “Ha-Palit” (The Refugee), is deeply disturbed by a
repressed rootlessness which drives him from border to border,
prostitute to prostitute, and jail to jail, until he finally hangs
himself. Here is how Shoffman epitomizes the ironic bleakness
and self-delusion of the young emigre:
Only he who has escaped from the hanging square can truly
taste the simple air, can love the black clouds, the mud in the
streets. He was alone and a stranger. There was no one
behind him. He was free, free to think of all, of everything,
to go wild, to continue to dream . . .
SORDIDNESS AND BEAUTY
Moreover, no other writer in Hebrew literature utilizes such
graphic and vivid descriptions of life in a brothel to capture the
depths of despair, the sordidness and futility of life, as does
Shoffman. His portrait of Manka, the young prostitute beaten to
death in “Be-Katsve ha-Krakh” (At the Edges of the City), and of
other young Gentile women, tired and abused, are sympathetic
and passionate evidence of Shoffman’s broad feel for life, its
beauty and its hideousness.
Yet if Shoffman is seemingly preoccupied with sexual perver­
sion and prostitution, it is a sign of the void. In Shoffman’s
writings both Jew and non-Jew flounder and stumble in their