Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
course that I wasn’t perfectly aware even then of all the
painful falsehood in this cliche (what on earth do we and the
land of Judea really have to do with each other?), but I was
happy, I was wrapped in the gossamer threads of a dream
the likes of which have never touched me a second time be­
fore or since,
The suggestion (“what on earth do we and the land of Judea re­
ally have to do with each other?”) that Zionism may be only a ro­
mantic fantasy is doubly hedged, once by the rest of the passage,
with its insistence on the reality of romantic emotions too (though
they are, as the speaker slyly observes, somewhat realer at a dis­
tance from their object), and once again by Brenner’s ironic treat­
ment of the speaker himself, a man who is portrayed in the story
as an unbalanced depressive with a strong tendency to exagger­
ate. Similarly, in Hayyim Hazaz’s striking short story
The Sermon,
a critique of Zionism more devastatingly brilliant than any anti-
Zionist could possibly invent is spoken by a character who is not
only an ardent Zionist himself but is laboring under an emotional
strain that makes him less than entirely accountable for what he
says — in which case, it would seem, so is Hazaz. This sort of Dev­
il’s advocate, who could voice an author’s deepest fears without
making him responsible for his opinions, is a common figure in
the Hebrew fiction of these years.
Nor is putting words in the mouth of a dubious character the
only fictional way to both say and not say the unsayable at one and
the same time. Symbolism and the symbolic manipulation of plot
is another. It is certainly no accident that a number of the major
Hebrew novels o f the late n ineteen th and early twentieth
centuries, all written by Zionist authors, end with the incapacita­
tion or death of a hero who is himself an embodiment of the Zion­
ist ideal. In Feierberg’s
Whither'?,
which portrays the self-
education of a young shtetl Jew as he progresses from Orthodox
pietism to Haskalah liberalism to a final conversion to secular
nationalism, the protagonist goes mad and dies in the end. In
B renner’s
Breakdown and Bereavement
an idealistic settler in
Palestine proves incapable of living the life of a pioneer on the
land and, moving to Jerusalem, is sucked back into the life of a
traditional Orthodoxy that is if anything more deadening than
that he has left behind in Europe. The hero of Agnon’s
Yesteryear,
also a pioneer
manque,
undergoes a similar fate, in the course of