Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Levi places the tale of the
yeshiva bucherim
in the mouth of one
Pavel. Pavel is an actor, a born showman, an imitator of reality, a
wearer of masks, who, in order to survive, “makes a
strength and confidence” (p. 101, my emphasis). Pavel is moreover
a symbol for the members of the band of Jewish partisans. Meta­
phorically, this band may be seen as a wandering troupe of actors
playing their roles, in the tradition of the Italian
commedia deWarte
of the Renaissance, improvising their private lives as history goes
on about them. The troupe consists of a whole range of pairs of
stock characters. It includes the boastful
Pavel and the
true hero-warrior Gedaleh. There is the brooding lover Leonid
and the moonstruck lover Isidor. Among the women, there is
White Rokhele and Black Rokhele, seemingly there only for the
color contrast. There is the familiarly mothering heroine Bella and
the exotically erotic heroine Line.
All of these characters work their magic on reality, adapting the
conventionality of their roles to the real-life situation of the mo­
ment. It is when they abandon their masks and compose their own
scripts that they become fleshed-out persons in their own right.
Mendel, the thoughtful philosopher who balances Gedaleh and
Pavel, is obviously the central character of the novel. He presents
an example of the stock character who acquires, true personality as
the story develops.
Like the tailors, scribes, and cantors ofMartin Fontasch’s song,
Mendel is a mild Jewish artisan, a watchmaker who is “better at
mending things than at blowing them up” (p. 85). The frames of
reference ofMendel’s arts are exclusively Jewish. His allusions are
consistently to the Jewish religious and biblical context. He is
mindful, for example, that his Yiddish name, Mendel, comes from
the Hebrew name Menahem, a word for one who brings consola­
tion. Does the conversation turn to hospitality? Right away he
thinks of the midrash concerning the four doors of Patriarch Abra­
ham’s tent. What does he think of as he passes through a forest?
“The only wood in the history of Israel is the Earthly Paradise, and