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The Cross and Other Jewish Stories

The Cross and Other Jewish Stories

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Cross and Other Jewish Stories
    Book Description:

    Lamed Shapiro (1878-1948) was the author of groundbreaking and controversial short stories, novellas, and essays. Himself a tragic figure, Shapiro led a life marked by frequent ocean crossings, alcoholism, and failed ventures, yet his writings are models of precision, psychological insight, and daring.Shapiro focuses intently on the nature of violence: the mob violence of pogroms committed against Jews; the traumatic aftereffects of rape, murder, and powerlessness; the murderous event that transforms the innocent child into witness and the rabbi's son into agitator. Within a society on the move, Shapiro's refugees from the shtetl and the traditional way of life are in desperate search of food, shelter, love, and things of beauty. Remarkably, and against all odds, they sometimes find what they are looking for. More often than not, the climax of their lives is an experience of ineffable terror.This collection also reveals Lamed Shapiro as anAmericanmaster. His writings depict the Old World struggling with the New, extremes of human behavior combined with the pursuit of normal happiness. Through the perceptions of a remarkable gallery of men, women, children-of even animals and plants-Shapiro successfully reclaimed the lost world of the shtetl as he negotiated East Broadway and the Bronx, Union Square, and vaudeville.Both in his life and in his unforgettable writings, Lamed Shapiro personifies the struggle of a modern Jewish artist in search of an always elusive home.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13469-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxxii)

    A Jewish immigrant stands on the deck of a ship bound for the United States. Behind him lies a home visited by violence and destruction; ahead of him, a new world beckoning with the promise of limitless reinvention. Searching for a means to express the push-and-pull of past and future, he finds a reflection of his inner turmoil in the ocean below:

    Restlessly, the thick-dark waves capped with gray heads of foam hurl themselves one upon another. Harsh is the gloom of the mournful sea, and great its vexation.

    Little man, where are you crawling to? Little man, what are...

  5. Pogrom Tales

    • The Cross
      (pp. 3-18)

      A gigantic figure, big-boned but not fat, thin really. Sunburned, with sharp cheekbones and dark eyes. The hair on his head was almost entirely gray, but oddly young, thick, lushly grown, and slightly curly. A child’s smile on his lips and an old man’s tiny wrinkles around the eyes.

      And then: on his wide forehead a sharply etched brown cross. It was a badly healed wound—two slashes of a knife, one across the other.

      We met on the roof of a train car which was crossing through one of America’s eastern states. And as we were both “tramping” cross-country,...

    • Pour Out Thy Wrath
      (pp. 19-26)

      True, it had been a terrible storm. Yet when you are nine years old you quickly forget even the most violent tempest. And Meyerl had turned nine a few weeks before Passover. However, it was also true that winds were always blowing through their house: biting, icy gusts which cut into him and reminded him of that storm. In fact Meyerl spent more time in the wild streets of New York than in the house. Tartilov—and then New York. New York had flooded over Tartilov and washed it out of his memory. The only thing he still remembered was...

    • In the Dead Town
      (pp. 27-45)

      A certain soft and peaceful quiet always reigns in the town of the dead.

      All the former people whose tents are to be found there, even the happiest among them, never enjoyed, down below in the town of the living, such joyful peace, such mild stillness as they do now. Throwing off their heavy bodies like tight, bulky clothes and leaving them under the tombstones, they, the freed, lightened souls go out of the graves and soar over the holy place of their eternal rest; they examine their kingdom and gaze far beyond it.

      Whatever their eye sees glancing northward,...

    • The Kiss
      (pp. 46-49)

      Reb Shakhne’s hands and feet were shaking and there was an unbearably bitter taste in his mouth. He was sitting on a chair, hearing the wild cries from the street, the whistling and cracking of breaking windows. It seemed to him that all the shattering, crying and ringing were inside his head.

      The pogrom had started so suddenly that he hadn’t even had the time to lock up his store. He had run home immediately. The house was empty. Sarah and the children had hidden somewhere, apparently, abandoning the house with its bit of silver and cash to God’s mercy....

    • White Challah
      (pp. 50-59)

      One day a neighbor broke the leg of a stray dog with a heavy stone, and when Vasil saw the sharp edge of the bone piercing the skin he cried. The tears streamed from his eyes, his mouth and his nose; the towhead on his short neck shrank deeper between his shoulders; his entire face became distorted and shriveled, and he did not utter a sound. He was then about seven years old.

      Soon he learned not to cry. His family drank, fought with neighbors, with one another, beat the women, the horse, the cow and sometimes, in special rages,...

    • The Jewish Regime
      (pp. 60-98)

      The wide oak door leading to the women’s section of the synagogue is always closed. In the center, at eye level, a small opening has been cut out. It is slightly larger than a human face, arched at the top and straight at the bottom. The piece of wood which has been cut out of the broad oak surface forms a little door hanging on two hinges.

      At the moment it is open, revealing a young woman’s face framed by a white silk kerchief. The face is rather long and plump like a plum, a little pale after the fast,...

  6. The Old World

    • Smoke
      (pp. 101-107)

      At the first puff his face turned deep red, as if he were straining to lift a heavy load. He broke into a violent cough. Still, there must be something to it: the grownups smoked. He grew stubborn—and got used to it.

      His father was a poverty-stricken teacher, and besides boys aren’t supposed to smoke—so he picked up butts.

      Later, studying in the synagogue, he would occasionally have a pack of tobacco. He never denied anyone a cigarette when he had it; he was never ashamed to ask for one when he didn’t.

      His name was Menasha.


    • Tiger
      (pp. 108-116)

      I was fourteen when I met Tiger. I went to kheyder but I was a very poor learner. Yet I was really good at playing tricks. Well, actually, it wasn’t I who played tricks. I was always full of good intentions and wanted to make everyone happy with me, but there was something or other inside me which often played tricks against my will, so that no one was satisfied with me, including myself.

      I didn’t have a teacher of secular subjects, but, with the help of some friends, I gradually taught myself to read and write Russian. I didn’t...

    • Eating Days
      (pp. 117-141)

      I was on eating days at that time, and Tuesday was a blank in my schedule.

      The full name of the little town was Zagorie-Vitrok (or, Beyond the Windmill Hills), but the Jews had shortened and changed this to Zahoria.

      When I came into the street the first afternoon of my arrival, the tiny place lay suffocated under the July sun. Jewish men and women sat dozing in the doorways of their shops. Near the meat market the dogs were lying with their tongues hanging out, their glazed eyes looking upon the world without any interest—not even for the...

    • The Rebbe and the Rebbetsin
      (pp. 142-143)

      Once upon a time there were a rebbe and a rebbetsin. When the rebbe studied Torah the rebbetsin would say she heard angels chanting, and when the rebbetsin cooked fish for the Sabbath the rebbe was certain that he smelled the odors of Paradise. Both the rebbe and the rebbetsin were equally good, pious, and wise. If there ever was a difference between them, it was that the rebbetsin could almost issue rabbinical judgments, while on the subject of cooking fish the rebbe claimed no knowledge.

      God had closed the womb of the rebbetsin. The rebbe would sit in one...

    • The Man and His Servant
      (pp. 144-147)

      He seemed really out of place among the people strolling in the fresh air of the park, and so he always attracted stares. Anyone who looked at him was immediately beset by an indefinable fear. Several times each day his wheelchair appeared in the avenues, pushed by a sturdy, fair haired young servant. He lay slumped in it with his legs wrapped in a warm rug and a kind of cap on his head. He had a rather swollen pasty face with a large nose and gray eyes which seemed almost too calm. He stared straight ahead of him, not...

    • Between the Fields
      (pp. 148-150)

      The sky on the eastern horizon was dark red like a glowing iron when it is beginning to cool down. The moon was just rising. High in the sky Jupiter was gleaming, and lower down, in the northwest, the Plough spread out. Its distorted square and long broken tail looked as if they were disobeying all the normal rules of design. The Milky Way stretched over the earth like a light gauze ribbon which a fickle hand had carelessly thrown away. Stars twinkled everywhere.

      Down below it was still dark, or rather dark gray, and in this gray darkness there...

    • Myrtle
      (pp. 151-156)

      (From a letter)

      . . . And if you imagine that you already know the truth—do you really know it?

      I can give a thousand replies to your thousand questions, a different reply for each one. Each answer will have within itself, no, each one willbe,a droplet of the truth, and you will stand bewildered in the midst of this clamoring horde of truths and . . . Oh, what nonsense! There has to beoneanswer if you really want to know anything. I say: theremustbe. I believe in this as I believe in...

  7. The New World

    • At Sea
      (pp. 159-182)

      At sea—overcast and desolate as though God had not yet created the world. Between the dirty sky and the blank surface of the water, over the full breadth of the chaos that is the globe, hovers the spirit of Almighty God—a severe, hostile, careworn spirit. Restlessly, the thick-dark waves, capped with gray heads of foam, hurl themselves one upon another. Harsh is the gloom of the mournful sea, and great its vexation. Little man, where are you crawling to? Little man, what are you striving to reach? You’ve set off over the mighty waters in the shell of...

    • The Chair
      (pp. 183-197)

      At twilight the airplane flew over Union Square, its red banner proclaiming to the world: “Children Cry for Castoria!” In equally fiery letters the Amalgamated Bank trumpeted to the world her mission and tidings: “4-½%!” The crosstown 14th Street trolley rumbled from west to east and cut loose a hoarse rasp. From a window over Child’s Restaurant someone whooped into the street below, “You won’t put that over on me! I hate smart-alecks!” Under the bridge, the express subway thundered and shook the bowels of the earth like a sharp earthquake.

      A gramophone emptied into the street the lamentation of...

    • New Yorkish
      (pp. 198-212)

      At dusk, a man with a sullen face ordered some pancakes at the hot food counter of The Automat.

      A girl with bare, brown arms, in a white apron with a linen cap over her hair, flung the order over to the cook, turned toward the far side of the counter, and suddenly gave the customer a warm, open, let’s-befriends smile.

      The face stayed sullen, the rounded shoulders tried to hump themselves, to express still more sullenness, but the belly made that impossible. The girl’s mouth drew back and tightened, the smile was gone—automatically, as is only fitting in...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 213-222)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 223-226)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)