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?