So with every exercise of free-writing I set to set some ideas of what I want to say. But how do I put together all the pieces of this big puzzle that I barely know? I guess the first step would be setting some parameters. The final paper for this class is about Jewish literature and I’ve chose for some crazy reason: Children’s perspectives and the children as narrators in Jewish literature. It is funny I’ve chosen this since I don’t have kids myself and the only good reference I have about them is my own childhood (in other words, not the expert parent that know it all). But what it attracts me to the readings we’ve done, in which children are the main narrator, is the impetu, simplicity, brutal honesty and lack of inhibitions I find in their voices. It’s not so much about their innocence that I find interesting, but how despite all the oppressions, corruption, depravations, and horrific events surrounding them their resilience exhudes in every pore of the main character or narrator. In addition, there is an element of untouched human integrity (in the sense that their spirit has not been damaged) that I find fascinating, forget childhood trauma!
I suppose the next natural question would be: how do they represent the Jewish nation. How do they get to present the Ashkenazi uprooting from Eastern Europe in their Aliyah to America or ultimately to Palestine. Here I need to point out that, while these writings are narrated from the point of view of a child or as a reminecense of an adult’s memory of their childhood, these stories are not necessarily part of children’s literature. Certainly could be read by children, and the young reader might have the same reaction than a adult.
Certainly there was a reason why a child was chosen for many of these stories. Who else could be more veritable, more approachable, more candid and yet ultra optimistic and ultra frank? And who could negate a child compassion? Was it that these Jewish authors meant to cause compassion in the reader?
Let’s look at these young narrators a little bit closer. I will start with Sholem Aleichem’s almost 9 year old Motl. The Ukranian born author has brought to us one of the most iconic and best recognizable stories of all times: Tevye The Dairyman. Who??? THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF!!!! Mr. Abramovich (Sholem Aleichem’s real name) created the fantastic young character of Motl. What a caracter and what a narrator! So full of life, so funny! but what so funny about all Motl experiences??? because, come on! poor kid! if this had been a kid nowadays he would be taking some heavy drugs prescribed by a psychologist. Let’s review: Motl, is the youngest child of a family of four (small number family for a shtetl family) looses his father at a young age. His brother and older brother have sold pretty much everything they own to try to cure the bedridden father. Lets point here that the father represents the authoritative figure that would enforce religious education and practice in little Motl, just as his brother did. But no, fate would have it that Motl’s dad would die leaving a family impoverished. Of course, it is Motl’s older brother responsibility to help support the family, and Motl will follow him with curious eyes. Motl wants to know everything there is to know and of course this will get him into trouble multiple times. But times are desperate in Kashrilevke, the fictitious shtetl based on Voronkov, and the family decides just as we decide to have a cup of coffee to emigrate to America. See map!
But how is Motl different than any other little boy or girl of his time? A time when many children had to work, and only a few well-to-do families (including Jews and Christians alike) would have access to an education. So what’s Sholem Aleichem doing???? How a child that survives the death of a father (breadwinner in the Jewish family unit), put to work temporarily as companion of a crazy man that threatens to eat him alive, side-kick of his older brothers brewings and attempts to bring the family out of sheer poverty, a child that sees how the family house is sold so they family can start the journey to go to America! that impossible place, so unknown. This child that “steals across the border” because Jews without proper papers are not aloud to travel. A Child that witnesses all kinds of perils just to make it to England. A witness to a massive migration. A grain of sand los in the dessert. For me is simple, in the one hand Sholem Aleichem as a member of the Haskalah in Eastern Europe was showcasing the Jewish reality. Complex problems regarding Jewish identity, pressures of this community to assimilate, leaving behind superstition and religious practices at a minimum. He was showcasing the historical rise of nationalisms and all isms that have marked the world with all its might while weaving the fate of jewish people. To leave? where? To assimilate? why? to stay the same old way? are you kidding? If anything, Aleichem dared to write in Yiddish (reason why he also, just in case, got himself a nick name).
Thinking about Motl The Cantor’s Son I can’t help but think of an Epic adventure comparable to Tom Sawyer, or perhaps to Don Quijote de la Mancha (because of its Epic proportions). But Motl’s life was cut short upon arrival to New York due to Aleichem’s death. Come on Mr. Aleichem… why did you have to die?? (I’m being sarcastic here) we are left with unquenched thirst! If Motl had grow up and I believe could be a saga of books, he would have been as rich as Rockefelleh. This little character is the epitome of resilience and cheerfulness despite to the contrary circumstances.
The calf by Mendele Moche Sforim is a short story narrated in fist person by an also young boy who has become infatuated by his calf. To the extent that he describes the calf as the heroine of the story. This caracter’s personality has some commonalities with Motl in terms of the tone, but the theme in this story has to do more with religious practice of the yeshivah student and his obligations to his family than an epic tale of a family that crosses the world to become part of the Jewish American tradition. The tragic death of the main character is provoked by his long hours of study that will go into a shock after learning that her beloved calf’s calf was killed by his mother. There is moral to this story, the question of the role of tradition that shapes the identities and behavior of young jews at a time when there was pressure to assimilate while living in the Pale of Settlements. This story brings to light the need for a physical and mental transformation of the traditional shtetl. Of course, that was most Haskalah writers more or less aimed. It is worth mentioning the archetype of the mother. The mother in this story is different from Motl’s mother (maybe more on this)
I’d like to add Orphanhood to this comboluted free writing exercise. Hayim Naham Bialik’s writings were as crucial as Mendele Sforim and Sholem Aleichems for Jewish literature because they dealt with the role of Hebrew and Yiddish in literature in addition to many other issues of the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Eastern Europe. I see Mendele Sforim and Haim Bialik’s these two stories as the ones that best represent of the existence of Jews in Eastern Europe as an “unwelcome guest” community in brewing Europe before anyone decides to emigrate. They also capture the living conditions in the shtetl (fabricated to fit each author’s purpose) as a auto-critique of the Jewish community living in rural imperial Russia.
I see The calf as a push to renew the Jewish spirit – become less traditonal?
I see Orphanhood as the story that represents tensions between traditional jewish existence with gentile.
I see The Story of My Dovecote as the best one representing an actual pogrom.
I see Motl as the story that best represents Aliyah to America in response to living conditions.
I see Bridal Veil as the story that best represents the lives of Jews in newly created Israel.
I see Shoes as the story of all so far that best represents the need to connect with the past.
The question is how do I weave this story with out miss-representing actual history:
Ok, now let’s look at possible structure of the project:
Title: The forced uprooting
Alternative thesis: voicing perspectives and experiences through the eyes of a Jewish child
A literary portrayal of traditional jewish life – The Calf by Mendele Sforim
Ah… never mind… Mendele did write it with an adult narrating his childhood memories… :(
Ashkenazi Jews had not assimilated into Eastern Europe mainstream culture (gentile culture) with whom they co-existed with for different reasons, yet muskilim authors such as Mendele Sforim influenced by texts produced by the Enlightenment movement in Western Europe saw the need to initiate this transformation through literature. Industrialization’s push trough the region and waves of migration provoked typical paterns of population movement from rural to urban provoked a new thought into the muskilim writers adhering to the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah: The Ashkenazi community need to become less traditional and more assimilated to the surrounding gentile culture. Mendele Sforim dealt with this question through his metaphorical short story “The Calf.” In this story, we become acquainted with a young Yeshiva boy that feels torn between with love for nature and his duty to study to become a proper Hasidic man.
A literary portrayal of coexistence of traditional jewish life and gentiles – Orphanhood-
Nope, this wont work either… adult rememoration
A literary portrayal of an actual pogrom – The Story of My Dovecote
oh no… another rememoration…
A literary portrayal of Aliyah to America – Motl The Cantor’s Son
2. A family will sell everything to save a loved one.
1. Unsustainable shtetl life:
We are able to take a good look at the literary image of the Shtetl created by Sholem Aleichem in Motl The Cantor’s Son. Motl is the ever-optimistic child through which eyes we are able to experience the life on Kasrilevke, the prototypical shtetl for Sholem Aleichem based on Voronkov, the village where he grew up as a child and center of his litarary works. At first glance, this shtetl is like any other, people have houses, they work, they trade, etc., but soon enough through Motl’s eyes we start getting a decaying image of this Jewish village in Eastern Europe.
A literary portrayal of Newly created Israel – Bridal Veil
1. Growing up in new Israel
2. Coming of age
3. Life in Israel is not as difficult as in Shtetl
A literary portrayal of Remembrance and connection – Shoes.
1. Connection with past
In the eyes of a child… Breaking the pig.