Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hayyim Nahman Bialik (January 9, 1873)

Bialik’s Hebrew poetry and editing contributed to the development of modern Hebrew, as well as to the creation of the Israeli identity. During a key part of his life, he lived and worked in Odessa in a Jewish intellectual community that was a precursor of modern secular Jewish thought.

I'm not a big reader of poetry, so I won't repeat a lot of stuff about his poems. Just note that "In the City of Slaughter" about a pogrom in Kishinev in 1903 is a powerful and influential work. The poem expresses Bialik's first-hand indignation and horror at the destruction of a small Jewish community, to which he traveled to see the effects. Sadly, the most chilling fact about the poem that resonates today is that the death toll was 47 -- needless to say, the 20th century taught us all that racists could kill a much larger number than that.

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