Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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West, Tillie Lerner, A lbert H a lper , Daniel Fuchs, Michael Gold,
H en ry Roth, Nelson Algren, Meyer Levin, and Edward Dahlberg
were some o f those in whose novels social and economic and
generationa l and religious problems appeared . W riting abou t
intellectuals and workers, hoboes and farmers, they concen tra ted
on the attemp ts o f people to identify with the poo r and the
oppressed . Some glorified the new energy o f the Soviet Union o r
the Communist Party at home, as alternatives to what appeared a
sick society. Michael Gold’s
Jews Without Money
(1934), a novel
from an ideologue, surprisingly kept to its last pages a plea fo r
Communist b ro therhood . Most, characteristically, reflected the
ex ternal pressures o f a depression-ridden society in which Jews
struggled to be Americanized and survive. Many also jo ined in the
decade’s widely suppo rted protests, spear-headed by President
Roosevelt’s New Deal fo r some and the Communists’prog ram for
others. Exchanging religious attachments fo r secularism, they
sought new answers, perhap s new messiahs, in the social o rder .
As Mike Gold wrote, “We had not Santa Claus, bu t we had a
Messiah.” No wonder he prom ised his mo ther, ideologically, “I
must rema in faithful to the poo r because I canno t be faithless to
Caugh t up in the conflict o f generations, young Jewish writers
sometimes moved beyond acculturation, N athanae l West, escap­
ing from Nathan Weinstein, was refused admission to a gentile
fra tern ity at Brown University and expanded his rebellion; tu rn ­
ing his ange r inward, he attacked Jews in his novels. Ben Hecht,
on the first page o f
A Jew in Love
(1931), described “Jew faces in
which race leers and burns like some biologic disease.” Within a
few years, however, he had become an a rd en t Zionist; spu rred by
H itler’s horro rs , the inability o f the West to act, and the efforts o f
Jews to escape to Palestine and elsewhere, Hech t strongly crit­
icized those who did no t act as quickly as he. As o th e r examples o f
questionable taste or Jewish anti-Semitism, Ornitz, Halper, and
Dahlberg were named. Even Ludwig Lewisohn was criticized by
fellow Jews, though he early became a Zionist and a Judeoph ile .
T h a t the ir motives were good, they argued , rang ing from a belief
in assimilation to a belief in class over religion, m ean t little. To a
people recently arrived from Eastern Eu ropean persecution, sen­
sitive to overt anti-Semitism in America, excuses o r rationales
were ha rd to accept.