No Roof Has Weighed Me Down, But Chains Threaten My Fingers

By: Carina P. Alexandroff  

The Jewish Haskala movement in the 18th century introduced to the world a new elite which strived to embrace Western culture, its liberty of mind and creativity. This eager quest after change was also accompanied by an identity crisis and a loss of a sense of belonging. Jewish scholars of the Haskala viewed their families as "a folk of wild grass grown on foreign earth/Dust-bearded nomads/grandfathers of dearth…" (Mani Leyb) . Feeling spiritually uprooted, they failed to adopt a new kinship. For some, the idea of Zionism and the revival of the holy land, Eretz Israel, became a new secular religion. Nevertheless, those who chose to immigrate to America found no such spiritual replacement. These displaced Jews were still struggling to fashion their identity in the context of religion and its ideology. My paper will examine the way this conflict is reflected in a selection of poems composed by Yiddish American poets in the turn of the 20th century. It will demonstrate the creative ways poetry dealt with this fascinating contradictory desire - to let go of religion, while at the same time to go on being artistically nurtured by it, form the center of this paper.

Identity, Crisis, Religious, Conflict, Poetry, Creative Writing, Struggle
Religious Foundations
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Carina P. Alexandroff

Leading educator, English, Ministry of Education, Israel