Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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i n k i n
NCE in a great while a writer arises who is not only a literary
phenomenon but a moral and spiritual force as well. Thirty
years after his death, the most enduring elements in the works
of I. L. Peretz are the moral and spiritual qualities that make
him the foremost and best loved Jewish writer not only in the
language in which he wrote (Yiddish) but irrespective of tongue
or idiom in which Jewish writers have chosen to express themselves.
He lived in a great age, in the classical period of Yiddish literature
— which produced such figures as Mendele Mocher Seforim and
Sholem Aleichem. Yet there is a distinctiveness in his genius
which makes him unique.
There is ethical and spiritual grandeur in the works of all the
literary masters. The Russian Tolstoy and Dostoyevski possessed
it to a high degree, as did George Eliot among English novelists;
their books live on in consequence. In Mendele’s writings this
quality radiates unmistakably, although he devotes many pages
to the external foibles and frailties of his characters. The same
may be said of Sholem Aleichem, although he laughs, lampoons,
and loves to cut capers. But in the figures created by I. L. Peretz,
the moral and spiritual alone are of prime importance.
The great procession of life he projects contains no other focus.
He surveys the world with a keen eye; nothing escapes him. But
he searches within, not without; for that which is real behind the
make-believe, for the face behind the mask, for the soul within
the man. The result is greater richness, more abundant inwardness
and profounder spiritual insight than one finds anywhere else.
Indeed, for a true understanding of the spiritual greatness of
Polish Jewry, now crushed and well-nigh destroyed, one will do
well to peruse the pages of I. L. Peretz rather than the hackneyed
superficial histories.
Peretz was the poet of the Jewish soul, lover and revealer, and
protagonist of his people. He is their Song of Songs, their immortal
bard who glorifies and adores them. He loved all Jews, the un-