Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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Leivick’s Quest
On the Centenary o f His B irth
t h e P r o p h e t s o f I s r a e l
been exclusively poets, wise men,
or foretellers of the future expressing the divine will, our interest
in them today would be solely literary, historical or theological.
The existential hold of the Prophets on our hearts, minds and
consciences is the result of their unparalleled insight, courage
and vision, and the deeply moral and rational content of their
utterances. In modern Jewish letters, two writers particularly
may be said to have been similarly touched by the divine fire —
Hayyim Nahman Bialik and
Leivick. O f them it can be said
that their writings, both poetry and prose, conveyed such convic­
tion and authority as to border on the realm of “meta-literature.”
Despite the fact that more may have been written about Bialik
and Leivick than about most other twentieth century Hebrew and
Yiddish authors, critics are still unable to satisfactorily account
for the profound spiritual, psychological and literary appeal they
continue to have for their readers.
Bialik’s modern hymns of praise to the world of traditional
Judaism, which were simultaneously songs of farewell to a vanish­
ing way of life, eased the passage of masses of Eastern European
Jews into the modern world. His profound love of the Jewish her­
itage fortified the Hebrew renaissance of modern times. In simi­
lar fashion, Leivick’s Messianic poems and dramas restored con­
fidence in the essential relevance and significance of the Jewish
heritage in the modern world. They enabled Jews to come to
terms with a revolution against tyranny in which they had put so
much hope but which in the end rejected them. Leivick’s ability to
find comfort in suffering and hope in despair helped them to live
* Translations from the Yiddish and Hebrew in this essay are by the writer.
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