"I pity the poor immigrant
Who wishes he would’ve stayed home" by Bob Dylan
Like Irish Short Stories, one of my literary passions, many Yiddish short stories are about immigration and the forces that drive people from their homeland.
"Pour Out Thy Wrath" is the third story by Lamed Shapiro I have read. Yiddish literature is a largely new reading life area for me. My only real prior exposure was in a collection of stories by Isaac Babel.
Many Yiddish speakers, mostly from Eastern Europe, many from the Austro-Hungarian Empire or European Russia immigrated to America. Most left to escape terrible anti-semitism, culminating in the Holocaust. After the long ocean voyage, normally in steerage, almost all immigrants landed on Staten Island. Many never left New York City. "Pour Out Thy Wrath" begins with a harrowing account of the voyage to America. The son, who narrates the story, tells of a horrible night where his father was beaten and his mother may have been raped that was the final event that drove them to leave. It is on this day he learns the word "Goyem" and knows he must fear them.
Just as true today, the children of the family are the first too learn the language and adjust. The family lives in a tenement in New York City. The building seems about half Italian, half Jewish immigrants, . The son loves the streets of New York City, he has pretty much forgotten their old town in the Ukraine and their old ways. The action peaks on a high holy Jewish holiday. The mother is having the hardest time adjusting, having illness and depressions. She begins to cheer up a bit as she fixes a traditional holiday meal, not like at home but still it is something. Then something strange happens. I admit I did not feel I understood the close of the story as it draws on Yiddish culture and myths but does not say enough to allow me to unravel it with Google. A strange figure, a man, appears at the door. The mother begins to scream in total fear. The husband is deeply terrified also. The Italian neighbors do not understand at all as they see no mysterious sinister figure. I am assuming this is a reference to memories of Pogroms, nights of terror which the family thought they had left behind in Europe.
There is background information on Lamed Shapiro in my prior posts on his stories. There are fourteen stories in The Cross and Other Stories, for sure I will read all of them and I suspect I will post on many of them.
I wish to thank Yale University Press for a very generous gift that has opened up a new reading life world to me.
Please share your experience with Yiddish literature with us.