Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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KARP / EAST EUROPEAN JEWISH IMMIGRANT
31
week . . . the money was badly needed at home . . . ‘no,’ he
said, ‘ I must send him to college. H e shall have the chance
that was denied his father.’41
Having established a reputation through his fiction, Abraham
Cahan came to the defense o f the Russian immigrant Jew in the
pages o f the
Atlantic Monthly.
H e speaks o f the conditions which
impelled em igration from Russia, and he rebuts the accusation o f
filth, criminality, the “ sweating system” and the like. Cahan’s
main emphasis is on the positive features o f imm igrant Jewish
life: rich cultural background, patriotism, social-consciousness
and (from a doctrinaire Socialist) “ a relig ion full o f poetry and o f
the sources o f good citizenship.” 43 H e characterizes the imm i­
grant Jew as “ the sweatshop striker and the religious enthusiast
found in the same person.” 44 What better material fo r Am erica
could one find than those who strive and labor to change it fo r the
better, but are disciplined by religious tradition!
SWEATSHOP P O E T
A little volume o f poetry, the original Y iddish printed in Gothic
characters, with an English paraphrased translation, is by the
“ poet laureate o f the sweat shops,” Morris Rosenfeld. T h e trans­
lator was L eo W iener, instructor o f Slavic languages at Harvard
University. In his introduction, W iener writes:
T h e Judeo-German literature had its beginnings in the f i f ­
teenth century . . . Since the fifties, the Russian Jews have
developed a great activity, and there had arisen a long series
o f fo lk poetry . . . Th is poetry has . . . received its highest
perfection in Am erica by the consummate art o f Mr. Morris
Rosenfeld.45
T h e “ja rgon ” o f yesterday had now become the respectable veh i­
cle fo r literary creativity. Rosenfeld sings; W ien er paraphrases;
and America reads:
41
Ibid.,
p, 51.
42 “The Russian Jew in America,”
Atlantic Monthly,
vol. LX X X I I , July 1898, pp.
128-139.
43
Ibid.,
p. 138.
44
Ibid.
45 Morris Rosenfeld,
Songs From the Ghetto,
with Prose Translation, Glossary and
Introduction by Leo Wiener, Boston, 1898, p. V I.