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[Page 445]

Chapter 5

Culture

 

[Page 465]

Poetry from the Purest Spring

by Alexander Melechson

Translated by Susanne Kaplowitz

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

It has been 10 years since he left us forever–the Yiddish folk–poet and writer, Efraim Auerbach z”l (blessed be his memory), a plant from the healthy and full blooded Bessarabian earth, from the town of Beltz. He belongs to the chain–the Chut Hameshulash [“the eternal triangle,” lit. the triple cord] of the other two Bessarabian Jews, also from Beltz, Yakov Fichman and Chaim Greenberg, and just like them, Auerbach is rooted in the soil of Yiddish folk–life, in the song of hardscrabble Yiddish life. These chords echoed in all his poems, in all that he created. He is the quiet Borchi Nafshi prayer singer, who beneath his emotions and glittering fantasy stands with a fanatic faith in Man.

Auerbach's poems are really festive, part of them from real prayers, like Modeh Ani, Krias Shma, Ashrei Yoshve, Vayiten Locho, Elake N'tzor, V'eschanan, Bamme Madlikin, Lecho Dodi and on and on: “The body is Yours and the soul is Yours/ even the yearning for You in the morning/ the dust that covers my life/ is my Modeh Ani” (I thank You). With such lyric and still–voiced melody he brought to the Yiddish poetry the wonderful synthesis of Chabad's inner enthusiastic joy with Bessarabian simplicity, with the smell of wheat and corn and the Wallachs' joy and sorrow. He takes his heritage from the Chabadniks to Rashi.

Efraim Auerbach z”l was born, as I mentioned before, in Beltz, Bessarabia in the year 1892. In 1908 he made his debut in literature. He lived for a while in Warsaw and in 1912 in Eretz Israel. He was recruited to the Jewish Legion in the brigade Nehage Hapredot in Gallipoli. He went through the war; after a difficult illness, as a result of the hard fighting on the front, he had to leave the Land and he established himself in America. He published about 15 books, poems and essays. In all of the 55 years that he lived in America, he stood at the apex of the Yiddish printed word; was one of the editors of the “Tog–Morgen Journal” where he wrote a daily column, “On the Scale” about literature and culture problems, criticism and memories.

After the establishment of the State (Israel) he came often on a visit to the Land and wrote tens of poems and articles for the “Tog–Morgen Journal” about Israel. Among his works was the well–known poem “The White City” which was translated into Hebrew. In 1970, the family moved to Israel: Efraim, his wife, Chana (may she live a long life), their daughter, Ada with her husband and children. Auerbach z”l passed away in Tel Aviv. The family lives in Eretz Israel. Efraim Auerbach wrote more than 15 books. I will mention here the greater part in chronological order: “Caravans,” “The Red Thread,” “From the Old Well,” “Pure is the Old Spring,” “The Voice of the Turtledove,” “Ada's Songbook,” “In the Footsteps of Redemption,” “Jacob's Tents,” “Thought with Hebrew Translation.” “Golden Sunset,” “In Late Autumn,” “Awake in the Steppe” and an anthology of his poems with the title “A Life Between Tablets,” which he was able to publish before his death. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew by the writers: Eliyahu Maitus z”l and (may they live a long life) Shimshon Meltzer, Israel Zmora, K.A. Bertini, L. Kupferstein, Avigdor Hameiri, Yochanan Twersky and others.

From his “Ani Ma'amin” [I believe]: “I believe that Justice will come. Even if it tarries, I will wait for it every day, in difficult nights, in days of bloody storm, and will say like I say now: ”Ani Ma'amin.” I believe with my ancestors in faith and with the purity of my parents, that Evil will pass from this world, and the end will come with clear thoughts and will uncover the Good alone–Ani Ma'amin.

With great mastery, the writer expresses the various nuances of his feelings and experiences in his lyrical, deep–felt poems. The tremendously rooted love for the hardworking Bessarabian, which identifies, of course, with Jewish simplicity and his unique and authentic way, the so–called “Bessarabian Way”, remains with us forever in memory. His poetry from the purest spring gave a healing to the dispersed Bessarabian Jewry which was so earthy and fertile, and a vital support to the Jewish culture, to the Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and to the building of the State of Israel. In his poems of Israel, the writer sings in his lyrical mode about his feelings and experiences on the earth of Israel, the same earth on which he worked in his youth in the colonies of Judah and bled as a Legionnaire on the front, when the Jewish homeland was still hunted and threatened from all sides; his Israel poems shine with his warmth.

Together with the whole nation in Zion, the writer suffers on the thorny way to Redemption, the obstacles to a complete Redemption. Everything that he saw in the land, in towns and villages, in the kibbutz and by the sea, in the Galilee and in the Emek, in near–far South and in Jerusalem, he preserved for generations, in a lyrical way, lines that breathe, with gentleness and delightful rhythm that reads like the “Song of Songs:”

And here I am, paging with satisfaction through the letters that Auerbach and I exchanged through the years and I find a few lines with which I will end my eulogy.

“…for now you feel that the time is short and there is yet so much to do. But for whom? For the few special ones. There is a strength, however, that is stronger than the common sense.”

“…what else can I say, my dear and beloved Sender; I admit, I would say more, but I remember how you chided me and think that perhaps you are right.”

“…perhaps your word will one day bloom on a stone, with your sad mood, perhaps a little sand will guard you from a Jew of a future generation.

 

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