Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

Basic HTML Version

Berdichevsky, who in his last years abandoned Hebrew entirely
because he no longer thought it had a future, was an extreme
case, he was far from alone in his fear that the Jewish people
lacked the will and resources to resurrect itself in its own land —
or, what was tantamount to the same thing in Zionist eyes, to live
on at all in any more than a vestigial form; on the contrary, such
fears were endemic to his Hebrew-writing contemporaries, who,
precisely because they knew the Zionist movement and its sup­
porters from within, had few illusions about its real strength and
the obstacles that stood in its way. And because they realized per­
haps even better than its opponents how great the odds against it
were, which made their own writing a precarious gamble with
history too, the latter is pervaded with a systemic anxiety whose
source is both personal and collective. Perhaps nowhere else can
one find an entire literature with quite the same sense of radical
apprehensiveness, of existing on a narrow ledge between being
and annihilation, that the Hebrew writing of this period pos­
The greater the doubt, however, the more problematic it was,
for the doubter could not openly express it in his writing without
threatening to saw off the very limb of commitment to Hebrew
that both he and his readers were sitting on. Psychologically and
literarily, a measure of obliqueness was called for. For this indeed
fiction, with its multiplicity of characters and perspectives that
easily lend themselves to ambiguity, was an ideal medium. Thus,
when in Brenner’s story
, for example, the main character,
a neurotic Jewish settler in Palestine, relates in recalling his ar­
rival there
. . . So that when I was left by myself on deck with the sun­
beams glancing all around me off the eternally breaking
waves (I won’t deny what’s true) and Jaffa beckoning in the
distance (how pretty it can be from a distance!), its rooftops
climbing and falling like the steps of some great parapet, I
felt — I swear to you I did! — whisperings of glory in my
heart. How could it even have occurred to me that we might
not be allowed off the ship, that Jews might possibly be
turned away from the land of Judea? I don’t mean to say of