The New Hebrew Culture in Warsaw


and his followers ( the leading Hebrew critic of the period also wrote extensively in Yiddish ; almost all of the writers of that generation were bilingual ) was especially striking . There were “ literary open houses , ” a sort of literary salon or meeting place , held either on a regular schedule or on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays . These attracted hundreds of maskilim and Hebrew writers , who came for visits of varying duration from throughout Russia , the Land of Israel , the United States , and Argentina . The most prominent of these open houses was hosted by I . L . Peretz , on Ceglana Street , where the prestigious writer conducted a sort of court that was also a courtroom , where the fledgling writers who submitted their manuscripts with trembling hands were either judged favorably or found wanting . The gatherings at the home of Hillel Zeitlin or in the halls of Yitzhak Alterman’s school were less judgmental , but much more exuberant and emotional . In the summertime the writers would gather in the various resorts on the outskirts of Warsaw , where a unique summer literary atmosphere reigned . The Zionist ideological activity that took place in Warsaw also took reached strident tones . In 1903 Yitzhak Gruenbaum , Jan Kirshrot and Joseph Sprinzak founded the Hebrew-Zionist Ha-Tehiyyah society . This society soon split into the Democratic Zionist Faction led by Gruenbaum , the Poalei Zion group headed by Yitzhak Tabenkin , and the Sha’arei Zion group led by Sprinzak . The groups may have quarreled among themselves , but they also cooperated ( for instance , on the resolution in favor of Gegenswartarbeit - “ work in the present” – among Diaspora Jewish communities , adopted at the Helsingfors conference in 1906 ) , laying the foundations for the growth of a Zionism of a liberal and socialist bent . This activity was dealt a stunning blow upon the conquest of Warsaw by the Germans at the beginning of the First World War . This blow was intensified at the end of the war , with the establishment of the Polish Republic , and particularly when Jewish Poland found itself separated from the Jews of the Ukraine and White Russia , which remained on the other side of the border with the Soviet Union , as drawn following the Red Army’s defeat near Warsaw (“ The Miracle on the Vistula” ) in 1920 . The fundamental weaknesses of Warsaw’s Hebrew center , which had seemingly flourished prior to the First World War , now became evident . It lacked a natural environment in the very location in which it operated , that is , in Warsaw itself and among the Polish Jews living in areas surrounding the city . It had acted almost as a branch of Ukrainian and Lithuanian Jewry . Not only did most of its activity come from these regions , but most of the consumers of its cultural output lived neither in Warsaw itself nor in its close environs , but in the territories that now remained on the other side of a hostile political and cultural border . This severance from the Russian hinterland struck a blow from which the Warsaw center could not recover . During the first years following the war , with Warsaw becoming the capital of Poland , it seemed that Hebrew cultural life was returning to normal . The Stybel publishing house , founded in Moscow during the war , was now active in Warsaw , distributing numerous titles , comprising the best of original Hebrew literature and of world literature ( which it began to translate into Hebrew at a pace and on a level heretofore unknown ) , as well as the massive volumes of Ha-Tekufah , the prestigious Hebrew literary quarterly founded by David Frischmann ( who died in 1922 ) . Other publishers were also active in Warsaw . Hebrew elementary schools and high schools were established . Veteran poets , from the generation of Bialik’s disciples , such as Yaakov Cahan and Itzak Katzenelson , continued their creative activity until the eve of the Second World War . It was in Warsaw that Hillel Zeitlin , a member of Joseph Hayyim Brenner’s circle , developed his unique combination of religious existentialism and mysticism , through his bilingual poetical and philosophical writings . The Hebrew modernism of the post-First World War period was evident in periodicals such as Kolot

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