The Education of Abraham Cahan (and Seth Lipsky)

Ezra Glinter in Forward:

Lipsky-coverOn the morning of August 24, 1929, an Arab mob attacked the Jewish population of Hebron. Homes were pillaged, synagogues were desecrated, and scores of people were murdered or maimed. In the final tally, some 67 Jews were killed.

A few days later, Abraham Cahan, then at the height of his power as editor of the Yiddish-language Forverts, editorialized on the massacre. Although his words stood in contrast to those of the Communist newspaper Frayhayt, which considered the attack a revolt against British and Zionist imperialism, they expressed a nuanced point of view. The underlying cause of the massacre, he wrote, was a universal failing — a “dark chauvinism” that was at “the root of all wars, of all misfortunes.” But he also compared the tragedy to a “Third Destruction,” invoking the sacking of the temples in Jerusalem and placing the event in a history of specifically Jewish suffering. National identity could be the cause of conflict, he realized, but also its target.

Cahan had not always been so sensitive to Jewish trauma; 48 years earlier, when pogroms broke out in Ukraine after the assassination of Czar Alexander II, he was downright indifferent. “Even though the pogrom brought dread into the heart of every Jew, I must admit that the members of my group were not disturbed by it,” he later wrote in his autobiography,“The Education of Abraham Cahan.” “We regarded ourselves as human beings, not as Jews. There was only one remedy for the world’s ills, and that was socialism.”

More here.