Page 209 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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The Hebrew rebirth for Katzenelson was bound up from his
beginnings as a writer with the rebirth o f Jewish life in Palestine.
He gave expression to this conviction between the two World
Wars both in his poetry and plays, as well as through the close
bonds he established with the “Dror” and “Hechalutz” youth
movements in Lodz. In the pioneering effort he saw the only
hope for a solution to the problem o f Jewish survival in Poland.
The threat o f anti-Semitism and the hopelessness o f Jewish exist­
ence had already been portrayed by him against the background
o f World War I in his Hebrew play “Tarshish,” which was origi­
nally written in Yiddish. The Hebrew version was published in
the American Hebrew monthly
The capstone o f Katzenelson’s activity in the period between
the two World Wars was the elaborate Hebrew educational sys­
tem — from the kindergarten through high school — which he
headed. It afforded a livelihood to many members o f his family
who took up education as a profession. The entire undertaking
was intended to alleviate the drab Jewish existence through edu­
cation and to offset somewhat the existential fear o f the Jew. This
fear found symbolic expression in Katzenelson’swriting from the
outset in such images as death, boredom, muteness, individual
and group hopelessness, and fear o f the future. In the light o f
these recu rr ing symbols, the conventional opin ion o f
Katzenelson’s work in Yiddish and Hebrew literary criticism up
to World War II, which characterized him as the “young darling
o f Hebrew literature,” does not do himjustice. An abiding aspect
o f his creativity is a deep feeling o f the inadequacy o f individual
and group life because o f the exile. The joyful and bright ele­
ments o f his writing which so impressed his critics are but a
means o f self-examination and search for the vestiges o f vitality
within himself, within his shadow-filled life.4 This was already
brought out by the poet in the introduction to the three-volume
edition o f his poetry (Lodz, 1938), in which he summed up 38
years o f literary work as follows: “I have presented here not
poems, but snatches o f rhymed dreams which I have uttered in
my flight . . . in my flight from the present. I am in flight from
3 New York, vol. 5, 1921, pp. 23-41; 225-240; 421-436.
4 I have elaborated on this point in my Yiddish article, “Three Notes on a Lec­
ture About the Last Writings o f Yitzhak Katzenelson,”
Bay Zich,
Tel-Aviv, no.
12, Dec. 1978, pp. 113-123.