Page 138 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

126
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
acquaintances and passes them on to Velvele on earth. He ends
the third letter with the tale of an assimilated medical student
who leaves his studies and his family to lead a group of poor Jews
to
Erts-isroel
(the Land of Israel), where he dies. The still
benighted Leybele is amazed that a
treyfenyak
(a contemptuous
Yiddish term for a Jew who eats unkosher food) is to be admitted
to Heaven. This is the first appearance in
The Intercepted Letters
of
the Zionist motif, whose importance in the series, as will soon be
shown, cannot be underestimated.
In the fourth letter, we meet with a Reb Velvele who has a
remarkably developed set of views, strikingly similar to Rabin­
ovitsh’s and heretofore nowhere in evidence. Henceforth, echoes
of actuality, a common feature of the feuilleton and an essential
one of the newspaper, are heard. In the fourth letter, too, the
meaning of the significant theme of
madness
in the series is estab­
lished. Reb Velvele has been sent to the hasidic court at Blote
(Mud) to be cured of his supposed insanity. The rebe is quickly
convinced of Velvele’s sanity and in the relationship which devel­
ops between the two men, the rebe admits that Hasidism is a
hoax. A prisoner of his situation, he implores Velvele to tell him
what to do. Velvele’s reply sounds for the second time the Zionist
leitmotif in
The Intercepted Letters11.
The Zionist theme is repeated
again and again and rises to a crescendo in Berele’s secularized
droshe
(sermon) in the seventh letter, and, again, in Velvele’s bitter
appeal in the suppressed ninth letter. Can one find more power­
ful Zionist rhetoric anywhere in Yiddish literature than in
The
Intercepted Letters}
This renders it all the more strange that no hint
of this appears anywhere, not even in the most recent collection
of Sholem-Aleykhem’s Zionist writings.18
ZIONIST COMMITMENT
Yisroel Klausner wrote that Sholem Rabinovitsh became a
khoyvev-tsien
(Lover of Zion) “as far back as the beginnings of the
17 Idem, p. 73.
18 Tel-Aviv: See
A f vos badarfn yidn a land,
Bet-Sholem-Aleykhem/Y.L. Perets,
1978 (first published in Warsaw in 1898. The recent Hebrew version o f this
work,
Leshem ma tserikhim ha-yehudim erets mi-shelahem.
(Tel-Aviv: Dvir, 1981, as
well as the English translation,
Why do theJews Need a Land o f Their Own
? (New
York: Herzl Press/Cornwall Books, 1984), makes no mention o f the Zionist
theme in
The Intercepted Letters.
See especially
Ale verk,
Vol. 1, pp. 116-117 for
Berele’s Zionist speech.