Page 93 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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couth, the poor, the wretched, the hungry, the obscure, the men
and women of the abyss. Like the Berditchever, whom indeed he
resembled, Peretz was their pleader and defender. He saw some-
thing good and lovely in every Jew •— a golden heart, a warm
spirit, a tender and glowing soul, regardless of external crudities.
And this love of his people was not naive idealization of imag-
inary qualities. I t was based on an intimacy of knowledge and
experience vouchsafed to few. For but few others had a better
opportunity to know Jews, to observe and study them. He saw
Jews in every conceivable circumstance and condition — on the
street and in their homes, in offices and cafes, in squalid dwellings
and in sepulchral-looking synagogues, in large cities, in small
towns and villages, the boulevard Jews and the submerged denizens
of the dark courtyards and alleys.
His life was spent between Zamozc and Warsaw. He was em-
ployed as a clerk in the then largest Jewish community in the
world. His daily routine brought into his ken Jews of every type
and description — scholars, dreamers, Talmudists, Kabbalists,
fanatics, sceptics, Zionists, Bundists, aristocrats, proletarians,
paupers, vagabonds, men of affairs and n’er-do-wells. He beheld
life in its myriad forms; he saw its tragic and grotesque sides,
its heights and depths. And when he described what he saw, he
neither exaggerated nor minimized; he worked with the inkpot,
not with the painter’s brush. But being the artist that he was,
he viewed things with eyes of love ■— he looked from within.
Hence, he saw greatness behind pettiness, tenderness behind
gruffness, kindness behind harshness, and holiness behind profan-
There was greater love for Peretz than for any other Jewish
writer. Crowds followed him wherever he appeared; he was never
alone; he was always surrounded by people, whether on walks or
in his home. Like a Hassidic saint, he passed through the streets
of Warsaw dispensing blessings, his every word being heeded with
almost religious awe. His admirers regarded him as an oracle.
His house was a kind of Hassidic court where all classes of men
gathered for wisdom, guidance, hope, and courage. The young
people were particularly attracted to him. They brought to him
their starved hearts, restless spirits and their yearnings. He was
master at kindling in them that spiritual discontent which made
even the indolent rebel against their bitter lot.
I. L. Peretz was the creator of the Hassidic story. Indeed, he
was its greatest master. Nahum Bratzlav was a great Hassidic