Page 139 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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movement, around 1883.”19 Klausner also quotes a letter from
Rabinovitsh to Ravnitsky from 1886, which records a lapse in the
young writer’s commitment to the Zionist ideal: “I can’t tell some­
one to believe when I have little faith myself. I want your idea to
be adopted, no less than you do. But what shall I do when I know
my people Israel so well that I can’t believe it will take it to
heart.”20 Rabinovitsh took pains to create no fewer than three
characters in
The Intercepted Letters
who are reported to be mad.
All three are authorial spokesmen. Velvele, Berele and Hershele
are intellectually and morally superior to the people about them.
As in the title of Sholem-Aleykhem’s Zionist-utopian fiction,
“Meshugoim,” the word
mad
in
The Intercepted Letters
is a seal of
authorial approval. This tells us something of the young Rabino­
vitsh’s views and feelings in 1883. Zionism seems mad, he says
here, but to oppose it
is
mad. The Zionist ideas which the misan­
thropic Berele and the caustic Velvele of the suppressed ninth
letter plead for are not deserted by Rabinovitsh in 1886. Rabino­
vitsh expresses his skepticism regarding public support of Zion­
ism; Berele and Velvele savagely flay the public, which refuses to
take the colonization of the Land of Israel seriously. The
exhausted fictitious Berele and the intrepid letter-writer Velvele
of 1884 foreshadow the skeptical Rabinovitsh of the 1886 letter to
Ravnitsky.
The seventh letter is a vivid recreation by Velvele of Berele as
Zionist
magid
(preacher). The atmosphere surrounding the ser­
mon is drawn as well as the full oration. This is, it seems,
Rabinovitsh’s first attempt at exploiting the traditional text-based
droshe
(sermon) genre for literary purposes. Berele in powerful
rhythmic prose tells his audience that Jews are persecuted every­
where because they are Jews and that it will be too late tomorrow
to prepare a refuge. Now is the time. Tomorrow may be too late.
Only possession of a homeland will restore Jewish dignity among
the nations. Jews can again learn to till the soil of the Land of
Israel. Velvele, with no less passion, writes, “It is time we looked
about in the world and determined where we stand and found a
place for ourselves and not have to be a guest for a day, or a dog in
the courtyard of all Europe. No! No one is thinking about such
PRAGER / SHOLEM-ALEYKEM’S FIRST FEUILLETON SERIES
127
19 Klausner, “Scholom Aleichem the Zionist,” in
Why Do theJews Need a Land of
Their Own>,
p. 13.
20 Idem, p. 13.