Yosef Haim Brenner: A Life (Stanford Studies in Jewish History and C)

Yosef Haim Brenner: A Life (Stanford Studies in Jewish History and C)

Language: English

Pages: 488

ISBN: 0804785279

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Based on previously unexploited primary sources, this is the first comprehensive biography of Yosef Haim Brenner, one of the pioneers of Modern Hebrew literature. Born in 1881 to a poor Jewish family in Russia, Brenner published his first story, "A Loaf of Bread," in 1900. After being drafted into the Russian army, he deserted to England and later immigrated to Palestine where he became an eminent writer, critic and cultural icon of the Jewish and Zionist cultural milieu. His life was tragically ended in the violent 1921 Jaffa riots.

In a nutshell, Brenner's life story encompasses the generation that made "the great leap" from Imperial Russia's Pale of Settlement to the metropolitan centers of modernity, and from traditional Jewish beliefs and way of life to secularism and existentialism. In his writing he experimented with language and form, but always attempting to portray life realistically. A highly acerbic critic of Jewish society, Brenner was relentless in portraying the vices of both Jewish public life and individual Jews. Most of his contemporaries not only accepted his critique, but admired him for his forthrightness and took it as evidence of his honesty and veracity.

Renowned author and historian Anita Shapira's new biography illuminates Brenner's life and times, and his relationships with leading cultural leaders such as Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Israel's National Poet, and many others. Undermining the accepted myths about his life and his death, his depression, his relations with writers, women, and men—including the question of his homoeroticism—this new biography examines Brenner's life in all its complexity and contradiction.

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poured cold water on the youngsters who wanted to write fine literature, Berdyczewski encouraged them to create a Hebrew corpus of belles lettres. With his stories Berdyczewski heralded a new direction taken by Hebrew literature, focusing on descriptions of the protagonists’ spiritual and emotional life, in contrast to the Hebrew classicists of Bialik’s and Mendale’s generation, who described the social and physical environment. His admiration of Nietzsche and his application of Nietzschean

personality. “The man is a true poet and a precious soul,” Berdyczewski noted in his diary.9 Brenner’s visit lasted only a few hours, which were devoted to talking, touring the old city, and playing with Emmanuel, Berdyczewski’s son. Brenner insisted on buying the boy a present, a wooden boat he could sail in the bath. The Berdyczewskis were shocked by Brenner’s lifestyle: he was homeless, a vagrant with no fixed livelihood, forced to do physical labor as a typesetter for ten hours a day. The

to do it. At the same time, Rabbi Benjamin came to Galicia from Palestine to win people over to the idea of settlement in Palestine. Brenner made a special trip to Drohobych, to the south of Lvov, to meet him. He waited for him in the railway station, surprised him, and even carried his suitcase. They were both emotional at meeting again, “in the lamplight and in front of strangers and with a slight trembling in both of us,” according to Rabbi Benjamin in his recollection. That night they had

notion of “conquest of labor” through agriculture and establishing a Jewish society that lived by the sweat of its brow was the central tenet in Hapoel Hatzair ideology. The party’s leader and editor in chief of its journal was Yosef Aharonowitz. Born in 1877, ­Aharonowitz was four years Brenner’s senior and ten years older than Berl Katznelson and Ben-Gurion. He was as straight as an arrow, a realist who did not flinch from sober observation of the Palestine reality and its complex issues. He

from the eyes of their parents, relatives, or acquaintances, not many allowed themselves to cohabit out of wedlock. Starting a family under the impermanent conditions of a worker’s life—with work one day and unemployment the next, unable to provide for a wife and children even when he was working—was irresponsible. This resulted in abstaining from sex for years.26 There were probably young people who did not repress their urges, but the vast majority maintained their innocence. “We were a group

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