Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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48
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
reproached Jewish separation from the land, it may be tha t Ben­
jam in ’s angel serves as a response. Benjamin examines Klee’s
painting, “Angelus Novus”: the angel’s face is tu rn ed toward
the past where ca tastrophe piles wreckage upon wreckage. T h e
storm o f progress blowing from Paradise propels the angel into
the fu tu re where he is powerless to control the moun ting debris.
His fragile wings cannot cope with a destructive materialism,
for he is caged with Babel’s pigeons.
These wings o f European Jewish birds and angels with their
spiritual implications may provide some background for an un ­
derstanding o f Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “Pigeons.”
Vladislav Eibeschutz, professor o f history at Warsaw University,
resigns his post because o f his students’ anti-Semitism. Widowed
and retired, he collects birds in his apartment and feeds pigeons
outdoors. “He had once read an excerpt from the Talmud in
which the Jews were likened to pigeons, and only lately had he
grasped the meaning o f the comparison. . . . The pigeon, like
the Jew, thrives on peace, quietude, and good will.” But Singer
is also concerned with exceptional cases: belligerent specimens
who deny their heritage, Jewish Communist students. Where
Eibeschutz had once searched for a philosophy o f history, he is
now content to study biology through the Spinozistic lens o f a
microscope. He is pleased that his winged creatures possess no
sense o f history, yet once again he finds exceptions — a parakeet
pining away after its mate’s death. For all his scientific investi­
gations, he finds no solution to the riddles o f existence.
One day while ou t feeding his pigeons he is struck by stones
thrown by neighborhood hooligans, and never fully recovers.
He is also struck by an epiphanic answer to history’s enigma:
reshaim,
the wicked who make history. Eibeschutz dream s o f
strange lands where he seems to be hanging in space, ou t o f
reach o f the e a r th ’s gravitation, bu t he sinks from this b ird ’s-eye
perspective into death . As the funeral cortege proceeds to the
cemetery, flocks o f pigeons begin to fly in over the roofs. “T h e ir
numbers increased so rapidly tha t they covered the sky between
the buildings on e ither side o f the narrow street and da rkened
the day as if du r ing an eclipse.” T h e delegation observes this
miracle o f Eibeschutz’s apotheosis as the b irds’ wings alternate
between sun and shadow, tu rn ing “red as blood and then dark
as lead” — a symbol not simply o f the professor’s dea th bu t
o f God’s eclipse and the Holocaust to follow. For the following