Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
through unspeakable tragedy. His visions of triumph over tribu­
lation and meaning despite absurdity helped many to rebuild
lives broken and aspirations shattered following the Holocaust.
His championing of Yiddish in a period of decline fired the
determination of lovers of the language to continue their struggle
for its preservation and advancement.
Leivick’s impact on Yiddish readers is often compared to that
of Y.L. Peretz, one of the founding fathers of modern Yiddish
literature. Leivick, however, achieved an influence on Yiddish
readers from the 1920s on which far exceeded that ever attained
by Peretz. While Peretz’s significance was sometimes contested by
the Yiddish literati (especially in America), Leivick won almost
unanimous respect and admiration with his first book of poems
in 1918 and especially after the publication of
The Golem
in 1921.
HIS BACKGROUND
Leivick was born in 1888 and raised in Igumen, an isolated
White Russian shtetl in which legends of the Prophet Elijah, and
Messianic hopes and tales of the thirty-six hidden saints upon
which the world rests, still flourished. He grew up in abject pov­
erty — his mother baking bread and bagels which she sold in the
marketplace and his father teaching local girls to read and write
Yiddish. The oldest of nine children, Leivick witnessed the psy­
chological torment of his angry, frustrated father. When he was
six years old, he saw his four-year-old sister, who was blinded and
burned when her dress caught fire from the oven, writhe in pain
for an entire year before she expired.
We lower the silence into the g rave
As suddenly the storm subsides
R evea lin g
contorted an d fr igh ten ed
M y sister’s shining, go lden locks.
Like wanderers we return home
To the m ourn ing little house o f clay
B ea r ing bits o f earth from the touch o f the g ra ve
A n d an empty tray beneath our arm.
M o ther an d fa th e r remove their shoes
To mourn in stockinged fee t. I do the same.
As I s it I dream my stockings are blonde
W oven from the go ld o f my sister’s locks.
(Mayn Shvesterl)