Just as he had been cut off from a writing environment, his fastidiousness with himself was so fierce that he tore up and burned all of his writings from this period.
The poems had a gentleness about them and concerning events in the city. There were skillful people who set these poems to melodies, and the people sang them and often did not even know whose poems they were. Concerning this era in his life, of which we know little from Perets himself, Ashkenazi explains: Perets was already at the time extremely interested in Jewish social issues. He in fact loved his people, especially the poor and lower strata of them.
There is nothing with which to help them. However, the ordinary folk, the working masses—this is a field in which to work. This is an unhappy but capable people.
There are many idealists here, but they need to be educated. Thus, I shall write in Yiddish; I want to create a Yiddish literature, to read and write for the people in their language. His lessons were a great success. People came from all over to hear him speak, even young Hassidim. The government closed them all down. On Perets alone fell suspicion of socialism, and this may have been the reason that later he was deprived of his permit to practice law. From Perets was living in Warsaw, and there he became closely acquainted with the circle of Hebrew writers. Friendship with these writers influenced him, so that after a lengthy interruption, he would begin once again to write.
The new items were in both content and form almost entirely free of Enlightenment and florid language. This poem, still in Hebrew, was at the time genuinely revolutionary. Perets was at the time under the influence of a type of nationalism, and in this poem he expressed his distaste and ethnic pain for Hassidic daughters who were the forerunners of assimilation in Poland.
This period was the beginning of intensive creativity for Perets in Yiddish. He had no place, though, to publish his work. Mendele came to know Perets only via a Polish translation. Generally speaking, Perets wanted at the time to bring to his Yiddish readers science and Jewish history.
Sholem-Aleichem harshly edited the ballad, and Perets was quite angry with his editor, and for many years Perets bore a grudge against Sholem-Aleichem. When the latter began to publish Di yudishe folks-biblyotek , Perets sharply resented Sholem-Aleichem, for it appeared as though Perets had enhanced his reputation therein.
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Other critics responded with enthusiasm. One of them was Yankev Dinezon, and from that point there began the great friendship between the two men, a friendship from which developed a close collaboration and a loyalty until death separated them. Perets was already thirty-eight years of age at the time. He departed for Warsaw and worked there for a short time with a relative who was a lawyer. He was subsequently invited to participate in the statistical expedition that the economist and philanthropist Jan Bloch was dispatching throughout Poland, to collect material on Jewish ways of subsistence, to demonstrate later that Jews were a productive element.
The work lasted a half year. Perets also assisted his son, Lucian, from his first marriage. In the field of statistics, Perets was no great expert, but he was able to grasp the lives of Jews in the towns, and especially to observe Jewish life with artistic, penetrating eyes. The material that he collected he later reworked in fictional images and published them in a book entitled Bilder fun a provints-rayze Images from a trip in the provinces.
This did not, however, earn him a living, and Perets had to look further for a footing to support himself. His Warsaw friends found him a position in the Jewish community, a post he continued to hold for twenty-five years—until his death. Initially, he was an expert at calculations with a salary of rubles per year, later becoming the official of the cemetery department with a salary that gradually rose to 2, rubles per year.
In fact, Perets became the great apologist for Yiddish and Yiddish literature, but he never abandoned Hebrew. He and Dinezon taught Hebrew for free to poor children. The more he was drawn into Yiddish creativity, the deeper he became immersed in Yiddish, especially when he was drawn to artistic experimentation in Yiddish literature.
Those times were brimful of ideological fermentation. The idea of folkism, which for Jewish intellectuals was close to Russian narodnichestvo , also fascinated Perets. In his own way, as an artist, he sought a solution for Jewish problems of the time. The unsettled, searching spirit brought him close to the ordinary Jewish people, as soon as he returned from the research expedition to the cities and towns of Poland. And, it was at this time that the expedition brought him into close contact with assimilated Jewish intellectuals, and he sought to influence them into coming closer to ordinary Jewish life.
Perets emphasized popular education and making the Jewish population more productive—a population that on the whole lived in great poverty without a firm economic foundation. Although Perets had a principal social ideal for the Jewish masses, he was first and foremost a writer, and the most radical means at his disposal for spreading images among the people was—literature.
The artistic word, he believed, was capable of carrying out a revolution in Jewish life. With the assistance of Professor Dikshteyn, Dr. Goldflam, and Leo Grosglik secretary of the Jewish community council , in he launched publication of Di yudishe biblyotek The Yiddish library , an anthology of literature and society. Yankev Dinezon played a major role in this undertaking. For the first volume, Perets penned a preface which now rings as somewhat behind the times, but at the time it bore genuine significance.
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Perets had arrived at an idea of Yiddish over the course of time, while his artistic expression in the Yiddish language became richer and the striving for artistic expression in him became ever stronger. The collections began to publish the writings of Avrom Reyzen, Yehoash, Sh.
Ben-Tsien-Gutman, A. Droyanov, and M. Trunk, and Menakhem later called Boreysho , among others. Supporter , he published in these collections popular scientific articles—for example, on magnetism, on electricity, even on cooking salt. In when cholera was ravaging Poland, Perets wrote a pamphlet entitled Ver es vill nisht, shtarbt nisht af kholyere Whoever does not wish to, will not die of cholera.
This booklet was fifty-two pages in length and contained general information about bacteriology and hygiene. A circle of Jewish students was forming around Perets, and they harbored the idea of publishing popular science books for the people.
At this time the social consciousness of Jewish laborers was beginning to mature—only three or four years from the founding of the Bund. The first Zionist congress in had immense significance for the awakening of communal consciousness among the Jewish people. Under the influence of the social stir among Jewish workers, Perets became more socially impetuous.
Yiddish literature became for him an entity unto itself, and with his overwhelming personality he affected others. When Mortkhe Spektor, after a break of some four years, published the third volume of Hoyzfraynd House friend , he began the issue with Perets: the novella Nile Neilah, the closing set of prayers on Yom Kippur and several poems.
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When Yitskhok Goyde B. Perets, Pinski, and Spektor conceived in those years of new literary publications, even lobbying for the publication of a daily newspaper in Yiddish, but they did not receive permission. It then occurred to H.
Epelberg how to evade the government prohibition: bring out monthly publications and have them conform to a holiday, or just a holiday event. From this idea evolved the Yontef bletlekh Holiday sheets , which played such a great role in the growth of Yiddish literature in its youth and also of the radical Jewish community. He was at the time fascinated by revolutionary ideas.