The Wandering Jew has Arrived
By Albert Londres
Published by Gefen, 2016
203 pp. NIS 55.20
Reviewed by Gloria Deutsch
‘Jews are News’ is an aphorism that newspaper editors cottoned onto years ago. How else to explain the disproportionate amount of newsprint dedicated to what goes on in our minuscule country? We can always be relied on as fodder for interesting copy.
Hence, French journalist Albert Londres’s decision, in the mid-twenties, to pursue Jews all over Europe with a view to documenting their lives. Whether in the fetid ghettoes of Europe, or in the slightly more salubrious setting of London’s East End, he shows us Jews going about their daily business, in their homes or out amongst their gentile (though not always gentle) host communities.
These communities mostly tolerated their Jews, except for the odd pogrom, until the Nazis came along, intending to finish us off once and for all.
He is bemused by the idiosyncrasies he discovers amongst his subjects and admiring of their unwavering faith, even in the face of horrible adversity.
He has done his homework and understands his subject well – whether it is the stooped ghetto Jew, struggling to earn money to feed his family and keep them warm in Europe’s deathly winter – or the new Jew, the straight-backed proud pioneers he meets in Tel Aviv, a totally new species of Jew the contemporary world had not yet seen.
It is a fascinating glimpse into the position of Jews in the twenties. The book first saw the light of day in 1929. Gefen are to be commended for choosing to republish this remarkable document, and for choosing Helga Abraham to translate it from the French. The Egyptian-born Helga, who has worked as a journalist and translator for many years in Israel, has produced a remarkable work. Reading the mellifluous polished English, there is not the slightest hint that this is a translation.
Footnotes keep the non-Jewish reader informed on Hebrew and French words which find their way into the text.
Literary but immensely readable – and a true insight into the lives of our recent forebears which I for one thoroughly enjoyed reading.