Shining and Shadow: An Anthology of Early Yiddish Stories from the Lower East Side

Shining and Shadow: An Anthology of Early Yiddish Stories from the Lower East Side

Shining and Shadow: An Anthology of Early Yiddish Stories from the Lower East Side

Shining and Shadow: An Anthology of Early Yiddish Stories from the Lower East Side

Synopsis

Shining and Shadow is a translated anthology of Yiddish short fiction of the Lower East Side, the center of a vibrant Jewish (largely Russian Jewish) life. Waldinger's goal is to present both the past and present of a population forced by poverty and pogrom to leave its homeland, resettle in America, and adopt its ideals (and hopes) as well as its difficult urban realities, all while wrestling with the desire to preserve its cultural identity and system of beliefs and expectations.

Excerpt

Historical memory functions as the set of stories that people tell themselves, and others, to explain where they came from, and what are the places they have been” (from Hasia Diner’s Lower East Side Memories: a Jewish Place in America [2000], 129). Consequently, the short story writer committed to this people had to train his lens on the “places” even when his vision was blurred by emotion. His goal was to compare the old and the new while dramatizing the clashes.

He had to remember that the old was frequently dark. the Russian Jews at the base of the Jewish Community of New York had suffered all of the deprivation and atrocities of forced residence in the Tcherta or Russian Pale of Settlement. in fact, the very notion of a Pale (“the vast area of allowed Jewish settlement ‘beyond the pale’ of major cities like Moscow”) seemed to legitimate pogroms by local peasants who chased the “usurious intruders” from their rural Russia, Ukraine, White Russia, and Lithuania (Dubnov 1918, 39–40). a pogrom, after all, meant a popular as well as government-inspired riot with a verbal basis in Russian grom or thunder and Ukrainian pogromishe or destruction, and it attacked and destroyed Jewish towns or Shtetlakh at will, thereby creating a population of homeless who flocked to their new home on the Lower East Side of New York. Thus wrote Abraham Cahan (1860–1951), editor of the Forverts or Jewish Daily Forward from 1897 to 1951 and one of the victims from Lithuania (see his autobiography translated in 1969, 182–87).

In other words, the State encouraged anti-Semitism. Czar Alexander III’s advisor, Pobedonostsev, decreed that “autocracy and pravoslavnost [Russian Orthodoxy]” were to become the law of the land as of April 29, 1881 (Dubnov 1918, 245–46), so that “one third of the Jews were to be permitted to die, one third to convert to Christianity and one third to emigrate” (Karp 1969, viii). the first two “opportunities” only meant two kinds of death, material and spiritual, leaving “life” and a new, uncertain, and shadowy future.

Given this comprehensive squeeze, it became all the more necessary to defend oneself psychologically, presenting “Russian culture” in the Yiddish press in the manner of Cahan and the “realistic” theater in Yid-

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