3.11.2006

My Patron Ancestor

As an agnostic Jewish American, I realize I am not, strictly speaking, entitled to a Patron Saint. But I think I am entitled to a Patron Jew. I’ve chosen Anzia Yezierska.

Anzia Yezierska is an early twentieth-century immigrant Jewish American writer of Eastern European decent. Her stories and novels (and ficitionalized autobiography) center in the lives of first- and second-generation Russian Jewish immigrant women who struggle against religious, ethnic, and gender oppression and discrimination to build an America they can live with and in. She writes with high emotion in Yiddish-accented English of impoverished yet ambitious New York ghetto Jews, with liberal fervor, pleasure, and pain.

I love her work because it is earthy, intense, and witty. Though I rarely find her completely “honest” in her depiction of self or other, I am swept up in her “Old World” emotionalism and zeal for justice and equality.

This quotation, from her first novel Salome of the Tenements, speaks to me, for example, perhaps as a descendent of the author in spirit: “I am a Russian Jewess, a flame—a longing. A soul consumed with hunger for heights beyond reach. I am the ache of unvoiced dreams, the clamor of suppressed desires. I am the unlived lives of generations stifled in Siberian prisons. I am the urge of the ages for the free, the beautiful that never yet was on land or sea.”

And I also share some of the guilt and anxiety of Yezierska’s “Salome” (aka Sonya Vrunsky), who asks: “Why do I feel guilty when I’m happy? […] Is it because I’m a sentimental fool? Is it the craziness of Russian youth that feels a secret shame at happiness?”

Thus, I'd like to imagine that it is at times said of me, “Those Jewish intellectuals—those chaotic dreamers are a mystery to me.”

Does this ring true, or am I having delusions of the grandeur of my Russian Jewish heritage?

3 comments:

Kate said...

This is a marvelous idea! Of course you are entitled to a Patron Jew. Everyone should haved a patron. Why not? Ideals are what we aim for, and if there is someone out there, in the here and now or somewhere in the vast ether of the universe, why not strive to our best with their inspiration, their example, their words? Let's get drunk upon it, dance and do our damnedest! Whatever provides comfort, hope or joyous possibilities is a damned fine thing.

Elyce Rae Helford said...

Yeay! Ok, so who's your patron Kate? I know you used to be a big St. Anthony fan, yes? Anyone else you want to adopt?

Kate said...

One in particular? Can't say for sure. I've always been partial to Rosa Parks. The fact that she did what she did with careful planning and deliberation, takes my breath away. She could have been beaten or lynched, and nothing would have been done to rectify that, knowing this she took her (figurative) stand anyway.
That kind of courage leaves me breathless, stunned and humbled. Or Anne Frank who wrote that she still believed that people were good and kind. That kind of hope gives the same feeling. Then there is my maternal grandmother Frances, who could do anything she had to, but died a horrible alcoholic's death...
So many different women inspire me. So do you, my friend. With your boundless energy and analytical eye.