Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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AM ISHAI-MAISELS/STEINHARDT AND BIALIK
149
Know,” where he contrasted the suffering o f the Jews with their
faith:
I f thou wouldst know the mystic fount from whence
Thy brethren going to their slaughter drew
In evil days the strength and fortitude
To meet grim death with joy, and bare the neck . . .
I f thou wouldst know the bosom whither streamed
Thy nations tears, its heart and soul and gall. . .
I f thou wouldst know, O humble brother mine,
Go to the house o f prayer grown old, decayed . . .
Mark well and hearken, humble brother mine:
This house is but a little spark, a remnant
Saved by a miracle, from that great fire,
Kept by thy fathers always on their altars.
Who knows, perchance the torrents of their tears
Ferried us safely, hither bringing us?
Perchance with their prayers they asked us o f the Lord,
And in their deaths bequeathed to us a life,
A life that will endure fo r evermore!
(Translated by Harry H. Fein)18
This belief that sustains the faithful and shines forth through
their misery was expressed by Steinhardt in similar scenes of the
synagogue, the Beth Midrash and the Sabbath (e.g. A-M 92-95,
126-34). Here the poverty-stricken, mournful Jews huddled
around a table, studying or celebrating the Sabbath, are illumi­
nated only by the light of candles whose rays symbolize their faith
(fig. 6).19
Both Steinhardt and Bialik had, in the final analysis, ambiva­
lent feelings about the shtetl, and ultimately rejected it as a way of
life, espousing Zionism as an answer to the problems inherent in
the shtetl situation. But both of them constantly returned to the
shtetl in their works, not only for the sad, often tragic note
involved, but because they believed that it was there they could
find the spark which kept the Jews alive and the embodiment of
the soul of Judaism through the generations. It is this similarity
of viewpoint which led Steinhardt to find a sympathetic literary
source in Bialik during his Lithuanian period and to dedicate his
Pogrom III
to the poet.
18 In
Selected Poems o f Hayyim Nahman Bialik,
pp. 70-72.
19 See also Nadel, pp. 20-21, 34, 37 and 42-43.