From Yosele and The Crisis, Buenos Aires, 1959
Translated from the Yiddish by Miri Koral
Jacob Dinezon, one of the most famous and popular sentimental Yiddish folk-romantics, was born in Nay Zager near Kovno in the year 1856. Already a writer of a novel, The Dark Young Man (1877), published in the tens of thousands of copies, he arrived in Warsaw in 1885. He became I. L. Peretz’s closest and most devoted friend in a truly life and death manner. In later years, S. An-ski joined this friendship. Though he was an inhabitant of Warsaw for more than thirty years, the Warsaw Jewish community and society rarely featured in Dinezon’s works. For that matter, in the last fifteen years of his life, he wrote very little, bestowing all his talent, energy, and time to Peretz. He died in August 1919. Above his, Peretz’s, and An-ski’s graves is a “Peretz mausoleum.” This letter of Dinezon’s that we bring here is a document of the most eminent Warsaw Yiddish literary friendship.
“A Letter to S. An-ski”
Warsaw, April 26, 1915
Dearest, Most Beloved and, after our eternal Peretz, now my one-and-only friend S. An-ski!
I had no words to express to you my pain, my grief. I still have none. But what more can the words say than what is relayed by your own devoted heart? I am ashamed before you, as before everyone, knowing as much as you do, how tightly bound up my life was with his. I’m ashamed that I am still alive while he, who for an entire twenty-eight years was the wellspring of my life, is no longer alive and does not enliven my spirit and soul as he always did in the past while he was still alive.
But my life would truly be an embarrassment if I were as bad as everyone else and believed as they do that Peretz, both of ours, and especially my Peretz, has really died! I don’t begin to believe that; all letters and signs that remind me constantly of his death are too weak to convince my heart of the reality of the interminable tragedy! This heart of mine, which, with such affection and devotion, felt and pulsed so much for him, feels him still alive within and longs for him as for a living person. The same when I stand near his grave; he stands alive at my side and reads along with me the temporary wooden grave marker: “Here Lies Yitzhak Leybush Peretz z”l, Who Died on the 19th of Nisan, 5675 (1915).” And when a hot tear rolls from my eyes, he notices it immediately, and with his reassuring little smile, he laughs at me for having the temperament of a woman to so easily cry.
“So, why are you crying?” he asks. “What do these few words on the wooden marker tell you? Silly man, they were written here by your gravedigger who knows no more about life and death than a corpse! For him, perhaps, Yitzhak Leybush Peretz is dead, but for you, he yet lives, for here I stand beside you! Don’t you feel me? Or can you, or do you want to, forget me as one forgets the dead?”
And when I tremble at hearing the word “forget,” I imagine that I hear his immediate consolation: “Don’t be angry, my dear Reb Yankev. You are neither able, nor want, nor will for even one moment of your life, forget me. I know this and have never doubted it.”
And in so hearing his sweet words in the voice of my own heart, I feel comforted, and I leave his grave with this promise: to come again tomorrow, the same promise that I was accustomed to making every day of the past twenty-eight years.
My dear An-ski! Not only there at the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery at the grave with the grave marker, “Here lies Yitzhak Leybush Peretz” do I feel lonely and orphaned, but also there at Yervalimsko 89, where I still go every day, drawn by such lengthy habit. It is there that my suffering heart weeps and laments. That is where the shekhinah is missing that had always lit up all four corners for me. There nothing is left of the luminous Peretz except for a dark cloud of mourning, a ruin—and that’s when I begin to feel what I have so suddenly lost. And each day, my sorrow here is harder and darker upon my soul. A few days ago, at least his workroom was intact and clean. Now an unexpected neighbor lives there for rent of a few rubles. And on Peretz’s chair, near Peretz’s desk, the altar of art and holy service for his people and its literature now sits a Christian student, or perhaps someone with a rosette, and whistles some insolent melody, an echo, of course, of a coffee house ditty.
Observing this, my heart expires from pain and anguish, and I am unable to endure this offense.
Peretz left a son as an heir, but no more than an heir who has the right to everything that remains from his great father, whom the heir did not know and did not want to understand and know, not during his lifetime and even less so after his death.
And this, dear friend, is the most painful, the most bitter and tragic thing that I am now suffering through, and about which I am writing to you personally, only to you, and I would like to ask you whether it is possible to accomplish that Peretz’s workroom with everything that was beloved and dear to him, be purchased for the Jewish Folk Museum wherever it is established, whether in St. Petersburg or in Vilna. Just his workroom in which he created for the Jewish folk so many beautiful and worthy treasures, brought so devotedly and sincerely to Yiddish literature, so I want it to remain as something belonging to the people, a folk-reliquary.
I beg of you, give this some earnest thought, and, if you want to find me at least a bit of succor, you can find it only in actualizing this fervent wish of mine.
I am unable to write you any more now but know that I have written you more than enough. But you must, firstly, reply as to whether my letters are reaching you, and tell me, secondly, the true reason for your not writing me even one word this entire time, though you, yourself, know how I long for your words of comfort and how essential your words are now for the state of my soul. Give me your hand, dear friend, let me squeeze it and spill hot tears over it.
How lonely I feel nowadays thinking that perhaps you are already not who you were before we lost him. May God forgive your silence.
I kiss you warmly,
Your J. Dinezon
z”l. “May his soul be bound to the bond of life.”
shekhinah. (Hebrew/Yiddish) The feminine aspect of the Divine that is closest to the human realm.