Page 127 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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Yosef Hayyim Brenner
On the Centenary o f His Birth
t h e m a j o r c u r r e n t s
in Jewish history th roughou t the last one
hund red years, at least three can be traced to the wave o f anti-
Jewish violence in Russia which followed the assassination o f Czar
Alexander II in 1881. In the first place, many young Jews finally
gave up all hope o f achieving emancipation by peaceful means
and threw the ir energies behind the revolutionary movements, in
which many o f them gained p rom inen t positions. When the Bol­
sheviks seized power in 1917, the control o f Jewish affairs was
placed in the hands o f Jewish revolutionaries, whose primary aim
was to achieve total assimilation in an atheist society. It was largely
due to their efforts tha t the social, cultural, religious and national
hopes of Russian Jewry were effectively destroyed and tha t the
Jews o f Russia were denied any real contact with their fellow Jews
abroad. Second, in the years between 1881 and 1914 almost two
million Jews left Russia in search o f grea ter freedom and oppo r ­
tunity in Western Europe and the Americas. The great majority
found its way to the United States, thus gradually shifting the
main center o f Jewish activity from East to West. Th ird , a small
but steady trickle o f Jews made its way southwards to Palestine
and began to establish agricultural settlements which formed the
backbone o f the new
and paved the way for the creation of
the State o f Israel.
All three o f these momentous events were reflected in the
personal odyssey o f Yosef Hayyim Brenner. B renner was born in
1881 in Novymlini, a little town in the south-east portion o f the
Russian Pale o f Settlement, and was killed in Arab riots outside
Ja ffa in 1921. At the age o f twenty-three he fled from Russia and
lived in the East End o f London for four years prior to settling in
Palestine in 1909. During his own lifetime he was recognized as a
major figure in m odern Hebrew literature , and after a period of
comparative neglect his repu ta tion has grown steadily in recent
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