Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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GOLDSMITH /Y IDD ISH POETRY AND AMERICAN JEWISH IDENTITY
45
territo ry , the American Yiddish essayist and literary critic B.
Rivkin spoke o f it as an ersatz-religion in the m ode rn world .9
ZEITLIN’S STRIVINGS
T h e poetry o f Aaron Zeitlin was completely suffused with the
religious quest and with the doubts and conflicts o f the religious
soul. Philosophically and theologically more avan t-garde than
any o th e r m a jo r Y idd ish p o e t in th e yea rs fo llow ing th e
Holocaust, Zeitlin’s forays into the world o f trad ition , into the lit­
urgical mode, and into the mythologies and vocabularies o f
Kabbalah and Hasidism were jou rney s into the past o f a highly
self-conscious and sophisticated artist who recast the precious ore
o f a hoary antiquity into the startling and gro tesque designs and
s truc tu res o f the con tem po rary imagination.
Zeitlin was a mystical poet in the trad ition o f William Blake,
Meister Eckhart, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Nachman o f Bratzlav and
Abraham Isaac Kuk. Like them he was forever in search o f the
o th e r side o f things, the e terna l in the tempora l, the cosmic in the
e a r th ly . H e so u g h t co n ta c t b e tw een th e m a te r ia l an d th e
spiritual, the revealed and the h idden , the hum an and the divine.
Zeitlin’s metaphysical probings o ften collided with his grotesque
hum o r to p roduce statements typical o f m ode rn Jewish religious
sensibility.
I defy death with all my might.
Death is nothing but a name.
Are the six million really dead?
They are an ever-present flame.
My generation, you say, is in retreat.
I say: not so! In
Netsakh Yisrael
The past and present meet.
Even in despair there is a Levite’s song.
Just listen for the tune.
We shall all be there soon.
The road from Prophet to Sabra isn’t long.
* * *
I am but a thread in the weave.
9 Cf. B. Rivkin,
Grunt-Tendentsn fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike,
New York,
1948, pp. 145-189.