Page 94 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
82
A LITERARY CHAMPION OF HER PEOPLE
A great change had come over Miss Lazarus. She was trans-
formed into a literary champion of her people. She would now
divert her talents to more altruistic purposes than singing about
the beauties of nature and legendary figures. Shy as she was, she
would emerge from her ivory tower, take up the trumpet and
blow a blast that all Christendom would hear. The opportunity
soon came when she was asked to contribute a poem for the
closing exercises of the Temple Emanuel Religious School in New
York in the late spring of 1882. The very title of the poem was a
challenge, “The Banner of the Jew.” The last three stanzas in
which she called for an Ezra to rise anew electrified the audience.
The poem printed in the
Critic
, June 3, 1882, marks a new period
in the life of Miss Lazarus and reflects the new era in the life of
her people as well. I t was reprinted in the
American Hebrew
,
June 9, 1882 and is her best known poem. The issue contained
another poem by her “ In Exile,” based on a letter by an immigrant
who had found happiness in one of the colonies in Texas, written
to Michael Heilprin, the Polish-American scholar, author and
philanthropist. The poem is an idyllic picture of a Jew enjoying
his freedom in southern surroundings. Emma Lazarus now became
a steady contributor to the
American Hebrew
, then edited by
Philip Cowen, who has since published his reminiscences of her.
For the next three years and intermittently thereafter, products
from her pen appeared in the pages of the
American Hebrew.
These included her previously mentioned masterpiece
The Dance
to Death
, a historical tragedy dealing with an episode of persecution
in May 1349 in Nordhausen. The plot and incident were taken
from a German narrative with the same title by one Richard
Reinhard who worked on authentic documents communicated to
him by Professor Franz Delitzsch. When Miss Lazarus wrote this
story of Jewish martyrdom and courage, she was merely drama-
tizing an episode far away from her in time and distance. She
attached no obtruding moral, for the implications were clear. She
was writing as an artist, not even believing that the conditions in
her play would be repeated in her own days. This however
actually happened when the Russian pogroms broke out, and the
play thus became timely.
Next to this play, the most important contribution of Emma
Lazarus to the
American Hebrew
was “An Epistle to the Hebrews,”
a series of articles which ran from November 3, 1882 to February
23, 1883. They were not published in separate form till 1900 by
the Zionists. Naturally she wrote here about alleviating the
sufferings of the Jews, but she suggested the organization of a