Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
in many others, we have the drama of divided identities — a
drama which became more agonizingly central as the men of the
new age sought to liberate themselves from what they conceived
to be the dark inheritance of the past, only to find that the past
was within them and they could not easily be rid of it.
But, where non-Jewish examples are concerned, the point is
that very often wholeness and liberation are, in the end, seem­
ingly achieved. The Captain in Conrad s novella rids himself
of his “secret sharer,” and gains his freedom. The Jewish writers
of the
Haskalah
dreamed of freedom but, in their case, the desire
seemed to remain unfulfilled. However hard they tried, they
were unable to throw off the Jewish burden. Bialik remained
immured in the
Bet Hamidrash
long after “all the others” had
emerged into the light and wind of a new dawn. This is the
burden of his lyric “Levadi.” David Levinsky, long after he had
shed his “Yidishkeit” and successfully adapted himself to the
new American environment, acknowledged that he was still spir­
itually confined within the walls of the Talmud-Torah in the
Russian township of Antomir. And he concluded:
I cannot escape from my old self. My past and my present do
not comport well. David, the poor lad swinging over a Talmud
volume at the Preacher’s Synagogue, seems to have more in com­
mon with my inner identity than David Levinsky, the well-known
cloak manufacturer.
But, if I am not mistaken, there is a change in the mid-century,
coinciding with the end of the Second World War. The new
writers, many of whom are still with us, continued to exercise
themselves with the issue of “double-living” but it had become
far less serious. In Bernard Malamud’s brilliant short stories,
“The Last Mohican” or “The Lady of the Lake,” the pattern
is used with a measure of lightness and fantasy. Henry Levin
has another personality symbolized by the name he prefers to
use, Henry R. Freeman — a witty choice for the would-be eman­
cipated Jew. Freeman, the American abroad as in some Henry
James novel, falls in love with a fascinating Italian girl whom
he takes to be the scion of an old, but impoverished, aristocratic
Italian family. When she asks whether he is perhaps Jewish he
stoutly denies it. In fact, she gives him three chances to declare
his identity, but, like Peter in the gospel, he denies the tru th
three times. At that point, she reveals that she is not an Italian