Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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54
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
to the words o f Elie Wiesel. Lucy has an illumination, a rev­
elation, an ep iphany o f children in a park. “T h e room is still
levitating, bu t inside Lucy’s illumination the boys are chasing
birds.” They su rround a pigeon bu t do not touch it fo r fear
o f contracting meningitis, tha t sleeping sickness tha t afflicts for
six years not only a boy from New Jersey bu t all o f mankind
in the twentieth century. T h e room continues sailing upward
as someone utters the shibboleth: “a crow’s. Caw caw. . . . ‘Hol­
ocaust,’ someone caws dimly from above.” This cacophony o f
syllables and demonic causality links Old World and New, cen­
turies o f persecution over history’s panorama. “Overhead
Feingold and the refugee are rid ing the living room. T h e ir
words are specks. All the Jews are in the air.” And in he r latest
novel,
The Messiah of Stockholm
, Ozick pictures the Messiah giving
birth to a bird tha t touches everything with a strand o f hay
— a dove o r phoenix offering the possibility o f redemption .
Having been estranged from na tu re for so long, Jews were
unacquainted with all the names for species o f birds and horses;
they nevertheless painted them in a variety o f empathetic hues,
creating a reawakened species. To raise their decrepit, van­
quished nags from the g round , Jewish artists added wings: the
resultant Pegasus never attained an idealized Greek perfection
no r the beauty o f Pharaoh ’s steeds, for the historical distance
between Egyptian chariots and East European pedd le r’s wagons
was too great. Instead Jewish Pegasus tends to be an ironic,
incomplete crea tu re powerless except insofar as its talk u n d e r ­
mines established structures. A stable went in search o f a horse
bu t a cen tau r o r a winged creatu re emerged and ascended imag­
inatively. Secular kabbalists bridled mythological horses because
in their wild state they tramp led birds, the o the r ha lf o f the
Pegasus equation with whom Jews identified. O f birds and
horses, p rophe ts and bounders,
luftmenschen
and fall guys, heav­
en and cloaca, fantasists and realists, hasidim and maskilim,
there is no end. Forbidden from holding land while awaiting
their Messiah, Jews took to the air where the winds o f paradise
raged against their wings o f patience. When horizontal condi­
tions became unbearable, the vertical dimension with its nos­
talgic flight patterns became a necessary fiction, a coun te r­
mythology for the bearable lightness o f being. A neo-hasidic
tail wind o r anarchic breeze inspires the W andering Pegasus
from Vitebsk to New York.