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Muki Tsur’s "Wind of Sorrow": In the Footsteps of Yitzhak Katzenelson: A Review

Tali Shner on Muki Tsur’s Wind of Sorrow: In the Footsteps of Yitzhak Katzenelson[1]

 

Published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Ghetto Fighters’ House, and Shalom Aleichem House.

 

Wind of Sorrow was written in order to restore Yitzhak Katzenelson to the literary and educational discourse of contemporary Israel, to provide a fresh reading of his poems and essays, and to confirm the decisions of the founders of Ghetto Fighters’ House to name the museum after him. Yitzhak Katzenelson was a source of inspiration to members of the youth movements and the Pioneer movement in Lodz and Warsaw, and he was the close friend of Yitzhak Zuckerman, Zivia Lubetkin, Havka Folman-Raban, and their friends in the Dror commune in Warsaw. His diverse writing, both serious and humorous, provides a window into the lives of the Jews in Poland between the two world wars and gives special meaning to the concept “spiritual uprising”.

 

In Wind of Sorrow, the author attempts to draw a comprehensive picture of this poet, author, playwright, educator, and intellectual, who began life in a Zionist family in Lodz, where he grew up and established a Hebrew school system, and his encounters with writers and pioneers. The book closes with the final stage of his life in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Vittel camp in France, where he wrote The Vittel Journal (in Hebrew) and “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People” (in Yiddish).

 

The book contains previously unpublished letters from the archive of Ghetto Fighters’ House written by Katzenelson to his friends – the writer Yosef Haim Brenner, movement activist Yitzhak Tabenkin (who was also his cousin), the writer and editor Menachem Poznanski, and of course members of his own family.

 

The structure of the book follows stations of time. Poems and excerpts of his work are interwoven as well as many photos from the archive of Ghetto Fighters’ House.

 

The book closes with a special chapter about the author’s 2011 visit to the Vittel camp, where he found the room in which Katzenelson was incarcerated for several months and taught his friends Bible and Hebrew literature.

 

In one of his essays included in the book, Katzenelson writes about the role of the Hebrew teacher when the child is born into another language ‒ Yiddish: “The Hebrew teacher comes to him with medicine. He comes with Hebrew, nourished by the dew and warmth of an eastern sun…The Hebrew teacher has committed to impart a healing drug through kindness, playfulness, and gleeful laughter…It is the obligation of the Hebrew teacher to teach the child through joy and special love, out of love for the child as a child…” (p. 88). Although Katzenelson focuses on language teaching in this passage, one can sense his love for the children, his commitment to teaching, and his sensitivity to Hebrew as a culture and creative space. In this day and age, when the vocabulary used by our students is dwindling and many speak in codes and abbreviations, one may draw strength from a teacher of Hebrew who views the language not just as a form of communication, but also as an artisan’s workshop.

 



[1] This is a translation of the title of the book in Hebrew.

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