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Sandor Goodhart ??? ISAAC WAITING TO BE SLAUGHTERED": HALPERN LEIVICK, THE HOLOCAUST, AND RESPONSIBILITY I have seen—we have all seen—six million Isaacs lying under knives, under axes, in fires, and in gas chambers; and they were slaughtered. The angel of God did come too late. Six million slaughtered Isaacs are beyond my comprehension. But I can comprehend one Isaac waiting to be slaughtered and thereby living through the horrors of six million slaughtered, as though he were himself slaughtered six million times. . . . Have we not had enough of sacrificial altars? —Halpern Leivick Yiddish literature has never been a stranger to the problem of suffering, and Halpern Leivick in particular may, in this regard at least, be considered something of a Yiddish poet's Yiddish poet. The above passage, drawn from a speech he gave in Jerusalem in 1957— on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel—is no exception.1 It comes at the end of a talk in which he has urged his listeners to give up a batde that has been raging between Jews of the galut (or Diaspora) and Israeli Jews, and in which to strengthen his point he draws upon an event from his individual childhood experience that "left a permanent imprint upon my entire life and became the undertone of all my later poems and plays." In the essay that follows, I would like to look at some of the ways in which Leivick weaves together these four themes—the Holocaust, Biblical imagery, childhood experience, and his career as a writer—in the anecdote that he tells as a way of handling this decisive "event," and then I would like to compare Leivick's response to alternative apPhilosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 88-105 Sandor Goodhart89 proaches to the same themes within other more philosophically or historically grounded writers. A certain playfulness regarding insideness and outsideness is already built into this speech at a writer's conference which takes place at the foot of Mount Moriah (the site of the Biblical akeidah), and the title of the talk, "Der Yid—Der Yichud" ("TheJew—The Individual") similarly contains in Yiddish a play on the word Yid ("Jew"), which is both contained within and frames the word Yichud ("individual"). In concluding his talk, the writer asks: why compound our difficulties? Have we not all witnessed enough tragedy in the world around us that we should give up arguing among ourselves? Let us recognize the sanctity of the individual Jew wherever he is, and treasure whatever individual experience he brings to his Judaism: And now, may I conclude by telling you something about myself as an individual and as a Jew, something that has followed me for a lifetime. It happened when I was no more than seven years old, and now, when I am on the eve of seventy, it stands as fresh before me as if it had occurred yesterday. . . . Yes, I was about seven. One day I went off to kheder. It was a bright, sunny winter day, cold and quiet, as often happens in the towns of White Russia. And I walked, in the early morning, to the kheder on the synagogue street. I passed a large market square and turned off into the street on which stood the Polish church. As I passed the church entrance a tall burly Pole bounded over to me, slammed his fist across my head, tore my hat off and threw both it and me to the frosty ground. He beat me, shouting, "Dirty Jew! When you pass our church you have to take your hat off! You dirty Jew!" I got up with difficulty, grabbed my hat from the ground, and ran off to kheder in tears. My heart cried out within me: why did that big Pole beat me, a child of seven years? And why is it that when he, a gentile, passes a synagogue, no one makes him put on a hat? I walked into the kheder, choked back the tears, and sat down to the study of the Pentateuch. The teacher began the lesson for the day, the verses about the sacrifice of Isaac. Isaac...


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