Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

My battle-song resounding like chains
Of enslaved Christians and Jews.
(“Mayn T savoe”)
34
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
SWEATSHOP POET
T h e greatest o f the Yiddish labor poets was Morris Rosenfeld
(1862-1923). A poet o f the working class, Rosenfeld was also an
intensely Jew ish poet. T h e national m o tif and religious sen ti­
ments expressed themselves in some o f his best loved poems.
Both his social and national poems were alike reactions to Jew ish
homelessness and suffering . In his poem on the fire in the T r ia n ­
gle Shirtwaist Company in New York in 1911, in which 146
workers, most o f them young Jewish girls, lost th e ir lives, he
wrote:
Kindle the
yortsayt
candles in the Jewish streets,
This catastrophe is the catastrophe of the Jewish masses,
Of our benighted and pauperized masses.
The funeral is ours, and ours the graves.
(“Di Royte Behole”)
Rosenfeld wrote o f Jew ish wandering , o f life in the ghetto , o f the
solidarity o f the Jew ish people, and o f the d ream o f Zion re ­
s tored . His poems dea lt with Jew ish sorrows and Jew ish hopes.
He wrote o f Moses and the p rophe ts , and o f T h e o d o r Herzl, who
had ju s t come on the scene.
Many o f the Jews who came to America from Eastern E u rope
did so with the hope o f escaping the narrowness o f
shtetl
civiliza­
tion. O ften this m ean t severing all links with Jew ishness. T o ­
g e th e r w ith R o sen fe ld a n d th e p o e t a n d B ible t r a n s la to r
Yehoash, Ab raham Walt-Lyessin (1872-1938) kind led Jew ish
p r ide and helped forge the national identity and self-awareness
o f the American Jew ish community. A rriv ing in America in
1897, he became the ou ts tand ing Jew ish national poe t in the Yid­
dish tongue . In his poem “Y idd ish” (1922), Lyessin reached
heights o f p rophe tic exaltation. At a time when the language
seemed doom ed to extinction in America, he had a vision o f its
lum inous significance in the he r itage o f generations.
I come to you, my child, from the silent exile,
From crowded, sealed-off ghettos.