Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
ican Yiddish poetry is the image o f the Yiddish poets themselves.
Poetry may be said to have but one hero — the poet himself. O f
Moyshe Leyb Halpern, Eliezer Greenberg writes that “th rough ­
out his life H a lpern was indefatigable in draw ing but one
portrait, that o f Moyshe Leyb: the poet who revolted against a
superficial materialistic civilization which he could neither adjust
to nor become part of . . . He accomplished his mission with so
much pa tience and conscientiousness tha t , while d raw ing
himself, he included in the painting the contours o f his entire lost
generation.”13
American Yiddish poetry provides the most complete, most
condensed and most authentic record of the changing image of
American Jewry and of the Jewish people as a whole in the twen­
tieth century. It is a complex and often bewildering image. The
horrors o f persecution and physical annihilation, on the one
hand , and the processes o f identity-erosion and language-
assimilation, on the other, wreaked havoc upon the thousand-
year-old Ashkenazic Jewish civilization. Yet what was essentially a
scattered, backward, medieval people at the dawn of the century,
attained national self-consciousness, forging a this-worldly politi­
cal and cultural identity that is one of the wonders of Jewish his­
tory.
Together with the emergence of the modern Jewish religious
movements, the rise of Jewish Socialism, Zionism, the Hebraic
renaissance and the birth of Israel, the flowering of modern Yid­
dish literature and culture all over the world in the first half of
the twentieth century is a miracle of Jewish creative survival. The
significance o f Yiddish culture in the totality o f the Jewish experi­
ence and in the vastness of the 4,000 year old Jewish heritage is
still only vaguely realized. But the magnitude and significance of
the Yiddish cultural achievement have made it an absolutely vital
and essential dimension of modern Jewish identity. It is the Jew’s
map and compass amid the Scylla o f all antiquated, anachronistic
forms o f Jewish identity, and the Charybdis o f individual and col­
lective self-denial that inevitably leads to anomie and spiritual
self-destruction.
13 Eliezer Greenberg,
Moyshe Leyb Halpern inRam funZaynDor,
New York, 1942,
pp. 133, 135.