Page 177 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HELLERSTEIN / DOUBLE-BIND OF DESIRE
1 6 5
gates in the First Yiddish Language Conference in Czernowitz,
Bukovina. In New York, Halpern earned his living as a writer for
Yiddish satirical and humorist papers, in the nineteen-teens, and,
in the early 1920s, as a correspondent and lecturer for the Com­
munist
Di Frayhayt.
With his wife Reysl and young son, Halpern
lived in Coney Island , New York, Los Angeles, Detroit,
Cleveland, and the Bronx. After a bitter break with
Di Frayhayt
over political matters, in 1924, Halpern had to struggle to make
ends meet. A friend in Newton, Massachusetts, a wealthy shoe
manufacturer, became Halpern’s patron and provided him with
food and housing for over a year, in 1928-29 accepting in return
a proliferation of drawings, paintings, and poems by Halpern’s
hand. When Halpern died suddenly, of a heart attack in
Brooklyn, in 1932, he left a legacy of poetic influence and per­
sonal legend. His funeral was reportedly hugely attended. Photo­
graphs of the event show a long procession down Second Avenue
and a w reath-draped grave. The loss of Halpern echoed
through the Yiddish press in Europe and America, in the out­
pouring of elegies and memories from 1932 through the late
1970s.4
Both Halpern’s literary influence and the legend of his person
grew out of his involvement with
di Yunge,
the modernist young
writers and artists of the nineteen-teens. Mani Leyb, Zishe
Landau, H. Leyvik, Joseph Opatoshu, I.J. Schwartz, Joseph
Rolnik, and Anna Margolin rebelled against the earlier Yiddish
poets whose verse served the masters of political ideology and
popular sentiment. The poets of
di Yunge
redefined Yiddish
poetry by emphasizing the importance of the subjective, personal
voice and experience. The assertion of the poet as separate from
and/or in conflict with the collective, opened Yiddish poetry to
the subtleties and techniques of modern poetry. In one decade,
Yiddish poetry caught up with the rest of European and Ameri­
can poetry, as
di Yunge
imported Imagist and Symbolist notions
of the poem and became, in Eliezer Greenberg’s term, “word-
epicureans” who “cultivated the purely musical, compressed lyr­
ical poem.”5 These modernist writers were interested not in the
3 Photographs in the personal collection of the family of the late Yossl and
Bessie Drost, of Cleveland, Ohio.
4 A. Forsher, “Moyshe-Leyb Halpern: 45 Yor nokh zayn toyt.”
Forward,
July 10,
1977, p. 7, and Yankl Gutkovitsh, “Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, 45 yor nokh zayn
toyt.”
Tsukunft.
May-June, 1978, pp. 182-4.
5 Eliezer Greenberg,
Moyshe-Leyb Halpern: in ram fun zayn dor.
(New York: