Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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62
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
In a work centering upon a prolonged stay in a German city, a
longing for his native town in Galicia wells up in the persona, and
that longing enables fantasy to prevail over his sense-perceptions
of the environment around him. For Agnon, the biographical
author, the nostalgia for Bucacz was a nostalgia for the Jewish
milieu of the town, its Jewish population with its once-vibrant life.
The author and master storyteller voiced that longing in such a
striking and grotesque tale of a non-Jew and a criminal who,
exiled from his native town, experienced the pangs of exile in all
their depth. Agnon himself left Bucacz for very different rea­
sons: to realize his aspiration to settle in the land of Israel. But
nevertheless he, too, experienced the separation from Bucacz
and from its world as a kind of exile, and he translated those
pangs of exile into art.
T he re is, however, another, a deeper and more ultimate
dimension of Agnon’s nostalgia for his birthplace. For him, the
town of Bucacz in which he was born and spent his youth came to
bear archetypal significance as a kind of metonym of the Jewish
past. Life in the Jewish community of Bucacz represents the chain
and force of tradition; the Old House of Study with its sung and
unsung heroes exemplifies the larger tradition of Torah-
learning as an historic Jewish vocation. And the life of the Jews of
Bucacz, as many have pointed out in reference to Agnon,26comes
through as a moral, stable world, as a lost wholeness vis-a-vis the
modern world which lacks those same firm foundations. Bucacz,
ultimately, then is not only a place but also an embodiment of a
moral and spiritual order whose basic rhythms are often akin to
those of the pious tale. A good deed generally merits another in
an ongoing, orderly universe until, suddenly, with the events of
World War II, all moral order is devastated and dissolves in
irony. Agnon’s stories of Bucacz breathe the underlying sense
that the destruction of his town signals the emergence of a broken
universe.
But after the sojourn and the inner dilemma described in
A
Wayfarer fo r the Night,
Agnon never translated his love for his
town into an active wish to return to it. Bucacz was born, we are
informed, so many centuries ago when Jews from the Rheinland
25
Ibid.,
pp. 173-174.
26 In particular Dov Sadan. See his collection,
AI Shai Agnon
massah, iyyun
veheker
(Tel Aviv, 1967).