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Y Zionist slogans young Isaac Kumer imagines the Land of Israel filled with the financial social and erotic opportunities that were denied him the son of an impoverished shopkeeper in Poland Once there he cannot find the agricultural work he anticipated Instead Isaac happens upon house painting jobs as he moves from secular Zionist Jaffa where the ideological fervor and sexual freedom are alien to him to ultra orthodox anti Zionist Jerusalem While some of his Zionist friends turn capitalist becoming successful merchants his own life remains adrift and impoverished in a land torn between idealism and practicality a place that is at once homeland and diaspora Eventually he marries a religious woman in Jerusalem after his world. Reading Only Yesterday in translation is not ideal Still a fair amount of the flavor of Agnon’s style including his freuent references to traditional Jewish sources comes through Only Yesterday is a lengthy satiric novel about the Second Aliyah—the movement of idealistic Jewish youth from Europe to Palestine during the 1905 1914 period Like Agnon the protagonist Isaac Kumer comes from an Eastern European Orthodox family In rebellion against his widower father Isaac insists on going to Palestine to work the land His indigent father goes into hock to grant Isaac his wish Isaac’s father makes this sacrifice to get Isaac out of the way so that he will no longer be a bad influence on his younger brotherOnce Isaac gets to Palestine he finds that most Jewish farmers would rather hire Arab laborers than young Jews so that making a living tilling the soil is almost impossible This was a couple of years before the birth of the Jewish Labor movement and the creation of the first kibbutzim Eventually Isaac becomes a house painter an occupation that is not envisioned in Zionist romantic mythology Settling in Jaffa Isaac falls in love with a charismatic young woman but is unable to capture her affections Eventually Isaac relocates to Jerusalem There he struggles to earn a living and eventually finds a mate but all does not turn out wellThis is the bare bones plot summary of a very extensive and multi dimensional tale which has spawned reams of analysis in books and dissertations The book has a uasi fairy tale uality and includes sections of considerable humor including a poem written by a dog I will focus on one theme Jaffa along with its newly born child Tel Aviv represents the secular center of the Zionist enterprise Jerusalem by contrast is the eternal Holy City where religion is at the core of communal life Isaac starts off discarding his family’s religious tradition in favor of the pioneering life but once he leaves Jaffa for Jerusalem his religious impulses steadily reawaken It’s as if Isaac is a flesh and blood representation of the view that the Chief Rabbi of Palestine Abraham Isaac Kook a friend of Agnon espoused Kook viewed the secular Zionist pioneers as containing within them the sparks of holiness that would ultimately lead to the revitalization of the Jewish people as a religious community Although Agnon’s lead character finds his way back to Jewish tradition Agnon aims sharp satiric daggers at the Jerusalem religious community of that time In contrast to the pioneers toiling in the fields the Jerusalem community lives a life of passive dependency on external forces For example their water supply often dwindles to the point of price gouging by water vendors Each group lives apart from the others with the Hungarians for example despising the Galitzianers like Isaac A prominent and popular rabbi attributes disease outbreaks and droughts to insufficient religious fervor on the part of the populace his sermon is a satiric masterpiece and superstition substitutes for medical practice Another rabbi takes pride in declaring meat unfit that other Rabbis deem kosher to the dismay and economic detriment of his communityEventually towards the end of the book Agnon introduces a second protagonist a dog named Balak Balak is condemned to wander from one part of Jerusalem to another feared and persecuted by the Jewish populace because Isaac has painted the words “crazy dog” on his back The lengthy dog sections provide us with an extensive canine perspective on Jerusalem’s neighborhoods and population Balak's presence also contributes to the plot through the role that Balak plays in Isaac’s fate Nonetheless the dog is a odd addition to the story and the explanation of his name Balak is especially odd from an orthographic standpointAt the end of the novel Isaac’s wife and mother in law apparently speaking for the author uestion the community’s belief in divine reward and punishment As far as Agnon is concerned Isaac’s life did not proceed according to the working out of Divine justice despite what the Orthodox say

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Ly girlfriend in Jaffa rejects himLed astray by circumstances Isaac always ends up in the place opposite of where he wants to be but why The text soars to Surrealist Kafkaesue dimensions when in a playful mode Isaac drips paint on a stray dog writing Crazy Dog on his back Causing panic wherever he roams the dog takes over the story until after enduring persecution for so long without understanding why he really does go mad and bites Isaac The dog has been interpreted as everything from the embodiment of Exile to a daemonic force and becomes an unforgettable character in a book about the death of God the deception of discourse the power of suppressed eroticism and the destiny of a people depicted in all its darkness and promi. I have to admit I went into this book feeling than a little bit self conscious It is after all widely accepted as the masterpiece of an author who is not only considered to be one of Israel's greatest authors but also a notoriously difficult writer Would I be able to identify all the cultural references Would I be able to completely understand the context in which it was written Would all the linguistic subtleties and intrigues be lost on me Considering my doubts I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying the book right from the start Something about the style of writing which I've been told Barbara Harshav's translation managed to capture very well if not in all it's Hebrew glory and the author's playfulness and sense of irony which was somehow sharp without being mean spirited drew me into the story and despite the book's considerable length kept me interested throughout I say all that to say if you're considering reading the book don't be intimidated or allow the pursuit of perfectionism in being able to analyse every single detail to stop you from enjoying it sometimes things don't have to be all that complicated That being said I would imagine that a reader without any very basic knowledge of world history particularly the first and second World Wars and the different influential ideologies at those times might have a difficult time with the book and not just because they wouldn't be able to place it in any relevant context But I assume and hope that such a reader would be something of an anomaly The book was written in 1945 and even though it's set in the specific historical moment of the Second Aliyah 1904 1914 the “heroic” Zionist period when idealist Jews moved to Palestine with the dream of establishing settlements working the land etc the shadows of both the past ancient history and Jewish life in “exile” and future historical events the World Wars etc weigh heavily on it It is if you like an informal history and social commentary of the time Despite the plot being so firmly placed in a specific time and place there are some universal existential conflicts and themes that are played out on the backdrop of the context and ultimately transcend it which is what made the book so interesting for me As for my interpretation of the book I think one way of looking at it is that the story of the protagonist Isaac Kumer a young man who left his home and family in Galicia in the Austro Hungarian Empire to go to Palestine is played out in the historical realm of the book while the story of Balak the dog the second main character is simultaneously played out in parable form in the existential realm of the book and in the end the two realms forcefully collide and explode their contents into the realm of the here and now reality not only the reality within the book or Palestine at the time or Israel now but even the reality of every individual reader whenever and where ever they're reading the book The conceptual base of Isaac's world could take form of a coordinate graph with four uadrantsdivisions in which the different people in the book can be placed based on the strength of their beliefs and motivations The axes would look something like thisHorizontal x axis modern political Zionist aspirations and the things that come along with it depending on one's interpretations of itVertical y axis ancient religious messianic longings and the things that come along with it depending on one's interpretations of itThis graph could actually be placed on a physical geographic landscape in the contrasts that the narrator paints between the modern lifestyle in the Zionist city of Yaffa and the traditional one in the religious city of Jerusalem While some characters thoughtfully plot their coordinates on the graph and form lines curves or even circles as they navigate the changing world around them the naive Isaac is not one of the mindful introspective characters in the book and instead forms a clumsy circle with the forces of complacency euanimity and necessity either weighing him down in place or blowing him haphazardly across the graph The narrator's deprecation of Isaac is balanced by his sympathy and empathy towards him – Isaac's inability to either recognise or confront the forces that either move him or frustrate his desires is not uniue after all and some may argue cannot be helped Isaac is a mediocrity through and through – his actions are not the result of any introspection or careful planning but neither are they obviously ill willed therefore according to the narrator Isaac deserves at least some of our sympathy In short Isaac is an all together unimpressive unheroic protagonist for a book that is set in the “heroic” period of Zionism While some authors of turn of the century Hebrew literature saw the conflicting two worlds of modernity and tradition as fertile ground for heroism in which the archetypal literary trope of the “talush” the uprooted man was born Agnon presents what is perhaps a much realistic and perhaps much common alternative Isaac is essentially the mediocre poor man's “talush” The “talush” is a character who in search of self fulfillmentindividualism cuts himself off from Jewish traditionobservance of religion and yet also becomes disillusioned and disaffected from modern secular socialcultural pursuits The result is a deep sense of estrangement and alienation not only within social groups but also within his personal relationships with his family acuaintances and women In essence he ends up in a social vacuum of his own conscious creation – he is aware of the price that he has to pay for his spiritualintellectual integrity His acceptance of the conseuences including his eventual decent into madness and ultimate destruction are what endow him with his heroic stature While Isaac undergoes similar emotional turmoil his struggle has not been consciously chosen and in fact at times even seems to perplex himThe contrast between Isaac and the “talush” is similar to that between Isaac and Balak the dog Despite the narrator's own protests against the over analysis of the Balak parable and his mockery of those who tried to interpret the allegory in a satirical account of different “opinion makers” – one can't help but do so anyway Interpretations of the parable vary; a particularly amusing one being from the Freudian perspective in which Balak is a representation of Isaac's sexual frustrations and unfulfilled erotic drives etc Perhaps it isn't all that crucial to resolve and reconcile all the ambiguities to create the perfect allegory My own opinion is that Balak provides an outlet for the narrator to explain what Isaac's own empty personality does not allow him to and saves the narrator from going on what might otherwise have been a pretentious philosophical rant Balak supplements Isaac's character deficiencies in order to give the reader a fuller picture of the story because unlike emotionimpulse driven Isaac Balak is uite the dialectician Even though I suppose it is possible to diagnose Isaac with a host of psychological dysfunctions and to view the book as a psychological study of an individual whose empty vessel of a conscious allows him to become a passive victim of his own psychological limitations perhaps the story is of a look into the effects that culturalhistorical upheaval and tension can have on a passive mediocre and weak psyche Perhaps the most frustrating element of the book is the implied futility of both ignorant powerlessness against the circumstances of history and of the conscious struggle to understand those circumstances and to find meaning in them In other words whether we consciously or subconsciously decide to either evade the “truth” in this particular context of identity belonging etc or to confront it ultimately we're all susceptible to the forces of a greater “fate” and the naive efforts made to discover this “truth” are not only futile but can even take on a somewhat ridiculous farcical ualityThe story of both Isaac and Balak in a sense the talush of the story end in a form of madness; one the result of knowledge and disillusionment with human nature ideologies etc the other the result of ignorance and delusion in an attempt fulfill emotional unconscious and even perhaps atavistic desires to cling on to the past So in the end does it really matter whether one is a talush or an Isaac I suppose it is left up to the reader to decide whether or not the difference is worth anything in the end The narrator does present us with a glimpse of a rare and in the narrator's opinion far superior alternative in the character Menachem who manages to transcend the limitations of having to choose between the two types of characters – so perhaps there is hope yet

read & download ´ eBook or Kindle ePUB Ù S.Y. Agnon

Israeli Nobel Laureate SY Agnon's famous masterpiece his novel Only Yesterday here appears in English translation for the first time Published in 1945 the book tells a seemingly simple tale about a man who immigrates to Palestine with the Second Aliya the several hundred idealists who returned between 1904 and 1914 to work the Hebrew soil as in Biblical times and revive Hebrew culture Only Yesterday uickly became recognized as a monumental work of world literature but not only for its vivid historical reconstruction of Israel's founding society This epic novel also engages the reader in a fascinating network of meanings contradictions and paradoxes all leading to the uestion what if anything controls human existenceSeduced b. Only yesterday he was willing to argue about every Zionist issue but today since he is going to fulfill his words in deeds all words are superfluous and superciliousA young Jewish man Isaac Kumer leaves his hometown in Galicia around PolandUkraine border to “ascend” to Jerusalem firmly enthralled by Zionist ideas Only Yesterday is a window to the land of Palestine Not the Zionist nation but the land itself The setting of the Second Aliyah 1904 1914 even the year that the novel was published 1945 all occurred before the country of Israel came into being 1948 Although Zionism is part of the plot little of the story is political Instead it is a glimpse into Jewish beliefs religion culture and lifestyle This one is funny The Messiah Son of David comes only in a generation which is all innocent or all guilty and since it is easier to sin than to keep the Commandments so they sinThis is Isaac’s story his bildungsroman We see him develop from a naïve unskilled dreamer to become a mature skilled worker Look at Isaac his hands are delicate as a maiden’s but they are eager to do any workHe starts with his head in the Zionist clouds but is pulled down to earth by the inhospitable environment He had several benefactors like Rabinovitch the Baron and Sweetfoot along the way to set him on his feet He does regress at one point when he makes a pointless journey back to Jaffa to make it up to Sonya He naively thinks that he has a relationship with herBut he eventually returns to Jerusalem and finds his way again At the end of his journey he is pretty far from his original Zionist ideals He does not find success in Palestine either Rather he finds euanimity Milk and honey Isaac did not find in Jerusalem but he did attain a state of euanimityCommon Identity The returning Jewish diaspora are from different countries mostly Russia and backgrounds Despite the different languages and culture they have a common bond and support each other like a Tower of Babel in reverse All the sons of Israel are comrades especially in the land of IsraelContrasts The most striking contrasts were between the cities of Jaffa and Jerusalem Jaffa is developing and growing while Jerusalem is static and ultra orthodox These cities are also represented by Isaac’s love interests We have the modern liberated Sonya in Jaffa and the modest conservative Shifra in JerusalemMetaphors There are probably many different metaphors running through the story The most enigmatic of which is Balak the dog Halfway through the novel the narrative swings from Isaac over to Balak which is a bit bizarre Isaac paints “Crazy Dog” onto Balak and so Balak becomes labeled for the rest of the story Balak is allegorical but what or who it represents escapes me Balak is constantly seeking acceptance but is often ostracized view spoilerBalak is also the one who ultimately causes Isaac’s death hide spoiler

  • Paperback
  • 688
  • תמול שלשום
  • S.Y. Agnon
  • English
  • 12 December 2017
  • 9780691095448

About the Author: S.Y. Agnon

Nelly Sachs He died in Jerusalem Israel