Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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the colony o f Moises Ville. He spoke Spanish, read Russian and
Yiddish, and deeply adm ired and loved the life o f the gauchos
which su rround ed him. He though t o f A rgen tina as “the p rom ­
ised land” fo r Jews, in te rp re ting tha t concept not traditionally,
bu t politically, in tha t A rgentina prom ised the Jew freedom and
tha t the “prom ised land” for the Jew is anywhere where he is free.
His book, though an tiquated in its pastoral style and tone, is
importan t fo r many reasons. It is a valuable expression o f the idea
o f Zionism as love o f na tu re and land, a rem inder tha t the Jew,
long denied land and the righ t to farm , originally sought the unity
o f na tu re and history, not the reverence o f history at the expense
o f nature. What was im po rtan t fo r G erchuno ff was tha t love o f
land was not a new value for the Jew, not a new mold fo r his
personality, bu t his historical mode. This theme is stated at the
beginning o f the book.
I t was in Spain tha t the Jew left o ff cultivating the land and
growing livestock. You must no t forget, my d ea r Rabbi,
what is said in [the] Zeroim about life in the country. In tha t
first book o f the Talmud , farm life is re fe rred to as the only
healthy one, the only life worthy o f God’s grace . . .
His novel is im po r tan t also because it attests to the presence of
Sephardic Jews with the ir memories o f Spain, who constitute a
crucial and recu rr ing link between the Russian Jews and the new
country they are going to, tha t o f Spanish colonial descent. This
Jewish presence in Spain is im po rtan t to G erchuno ffs theme
regarding Zionism as the last vital link with the land; it is the
bridge back, the means o f “. . . re tu rn ing to the soil in the true
spirit o f the T a lm ud .”
Los gauchosjudios
was immensely popu la r when it first appeared
in 1910. It won praise from such writers as Marcel Proust and
Ruben Dario, though its popularity, it must be conceded, was
based at least partly on the literary and historical appe tite for
seeing Jews as biblical figures, as elders and pa triarchs and
prophetesses. G erchuno ff himself idealized the Jew as a blend of
biblical patriarch and A rgentinian gaucho, as disparate as tha t
blend seems now; and the fact tha t his own fa ther was m u rde red