Page 61 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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LIBERMAN / AUSTRALIAN JEWISH FICTION SINCE WORLD WAR II
53
a journalist there. He had there also rubbed shoulders with the
rising lights o f Yiddish literature o f the time, and, following
Markish, Ravitch, and Uri Zvi Greenberg, had experimented
with various themes and styles.
Coming to Australia in 1928, he traded companionship for
loneliness, the warmth of home for the local hard-edged terrain
and the struggle for survival. For nearly ten years after his
arrival, he was, as it were, struck dumb. He worked as a dyer and
edited the first weekly Yiddish paper in Melbourne, finally pub­
lishing his first story, “Oif a Farm” (known as “The Pioneer”) as
late as 1937. His pessimism is already blatant here.
In the story, a young man, the embodiment of faith, idealism
and upbuilding, seeks, in a way that is reminiscent of Tolstoy and
A. D. Gordon, to sink roots into the rural soil o f the Australian
wilderness. His Gentile neighbors regard him with astonishment,
but it is not they who defeat him. Rather the Jews themselves dis­
appoint and reject him. City types, they retu rn in time to the city.
Thus defeated in his purpose, he turns back to the daughter of
an Irish neighbor, she being the one person who understands
him and his purpose.
Goldhar saw only darkness when he looked upon the Jewish
reality in his adopted land. Yet, for all that, he called for a display
of obstinacy, of standing firm, nowhere more potently than in his
more poignant story, “The Last Minyan.” Here, a rabbi travels to
a gold-mining town called Wattlehill to lead a congregation. In
due course, the gold runs out, the Jews depart. Wattlehill re­
mains without a minyan. The rabbi hires a minyan, bringingjews
from an old-age home nearby. The minyan falls out on strike,
demanding more pay. The rabbi is left as good as alone in the
empty abandoned prayer-hall refusing to leave his post, standing
firm like the captain of a sinking ship.
And there are other stories in which the same basic blackness is
depicted — stories of deaths and funerals on strange soil rep re­
senting the final culmination of the many disappointments en­
countered in this golden land; stories of conflicts between old
and new immigrants, between members o f families, between old
age and youth.
Goldhar may have had a blind spot in his perception of Aus­
tralian Jewish society in his day. There were, after all, Jewish in­
stitutions in existence, particularly philanthropic ones; and Jew­
ish newspapers and journals were being published; and there was