Judah Leib Gordon – 1830 Lithuania – 1892 Russia
Gordon was very involved in the revival of Hebrew language and culture. Although he studied the Torah for many years, he was attracted by the Hashkalah (Enlightment movement) and studied foreign languages.
1. Awake My People 1866 .- In this poem, Gordon clearly advocates the adoption of the Enlightment movement or Hashkalah by his fellows. Exalting them to leave their traditional ways and to look around to their fellow russians who are waiting for their transformation with open arms, “this land of Eden [Russia] now opens its gates to you, her sons now call you “brother”! “.
He ends this poems with a strong invocation to conform and adapt, ” Be a man abroad and a Jew in your tent, a brother to your countrymen and a servant to your king…”
1. For Whom Do I Toil 1871 .- In this poem Gordon reflects on the situation of Jewish people in relation to their language and traditions. Perhaps, his mournful language reflects some regret in the abandonment of traditional values.
I.L.Peretz – 1852 Poland – 1915
Although this author was raised as an orthodox jew, he pledged his allegiance to the Haskalah when he was fifteen. He wrote in Yiddish and tried to write from a perspective rooted in Jewish tradition and history.
“Raised in the sphere of Polish, Peretz modeled his idea of Jewish cultural renaissance of Poland’s struggle for independence, which compensated for the Poles’ political dependency by promoting national language and culture.” (Yivo 2013). His participation on a ethnographic project to debunk antisemitism “inspired Peretz to encourage the collection of Yiddish folklore and its integration into contemporary art, music, and literature. He undertook and encouraged translation of Polish positivist writers. Peretz also championed the ideal of a culturally autonomous Polish Jewry against proponents of assimilation and those who called for emigration, including to Palestine. Although he became increasingly disillusioned with Polish politics at the turn of the century, he upheld doikayt—the continued presence of Jews in Poland—while polemicizing vigorously against antisemitism.” (Yivo, 2013).
A writer of both Yiddish and Hebrew, he wrote The Dead Town 1895. This story was written during the “radical phase” of this writer. Peretz was a socialist, who advocated for an autonomous Polish Jewry against those who called for assimilation and/or emigration.
A critique of traditional Jewish community that seems to continue living life without questioning anything. The language is intriguing. I personally think that the omniscient narrator is self-reflecting on traditional life and questions its viability in a tumultuous, radicalized and antisemitic world.
H.N. BIALIK – 1873 Ukraine – 1934
After his family’s business failed, they moved to a Zhitomir where his father opened a TAVERN. Bialik’s father died a year after opening the tavern and was sent to live with his grandfather. While living with him, he was able to attend a prestigious yeshivah to study Talmud and Torah, while being exposed to secular education. There he learned Russian and immersed himself in the study of Russian literature.
In 1891, he traveled to Odessa with the hope of meeting prominent and admired Hebrew writers and to get his poems published. One of the first one was “To the bird.” This interesting poem lists a series of questions posed by the narrator to a “bird” that has come to visit from Palestine. The questions inquire about the estate of Jewish affairs in the new land. The tone of the poem, is hopeful yet dispassionate. Hopeful for change and for good news, dispassionate due to the estate of affairs in what could be anywhere in Imperialist Russia. This poem almost looks like a letter that has received no answer.
In 1903, after participating in the investigation into the Kishinev pogrom, Bialik wrote “In The City of Slaughter.” This long poem ” shocked its readers with the power of its condemnation of the behavior of Jewish victims. This long poem is commonly seen as the motivating force behind the formation of the movement for self-defense among Jews in Russia, as well as one of the factors that gave rise to the Second Aliyah movement.” (Yivo 2013).
S.Y. Abramovitsh – 1835 Belorussia – 1917 aka Mendele Mocher-Sforim
This writer was born into a middle-class family, but in his teen years he lost his family support. After that, he studied in different Yeshivas. His life path would allow him to get in touch with the reality of the poor people. He got involved in the Hashkalah movement.
In his early writings, he decided to write in Yiddish under the penname of Mendele Mocher Sforim, due to the negative connotations of writing in this language, however Abramovitsh thought it a practical language to use. His goal was to help