Its position as the great Jewish theater piece remains unassailable; its debut performance of the Dybukk a memorial to its creator who had died several weeks earlier. Ansky had conceived and organized the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition of 1912-1914. The Great War aborted that effort.. The indefatigable Ansky then organized an extensive War Relief project for the Jews of Galicia and the Pale of Russia and wrote a book about The Destruction of Galicia, which is a masterwork. At the onset of World War I the Russians had occupied Galicia which is the name for Austro-Hungarian Poland and had reigned terror on the small Jewish towns. Before the shelling had even started the Russians and particularly the Cossacks killed and destroyed what Jewish settlements they passed through. These settlements were poor and vulnerable and the misery inflicted once again in the Russian retreat elevated the casualties and left them with nothing.
Into this carnage and misery Ansky entered with eyes and ears acutely open and his heart breaking.
The terrible pogroms of 1903 and 1905 in Russia had instigated the Great Ethnographic Expedition. Ansky had anticipated thae oblivion that loomed over the authentic shtetl Jewishness Ansky fled from the Yeshiva before he turned fifteen.. He had then organized a commune for other yeshiva refugees on the outskirts of his town, Vitebsk.which is Marc Chagall’s hometown as well. Ansky worked various jobs. He left Vitebsk.. His name still Shloyme-vanyl, he eked out a meager subsistence tutoring young Jews in various Pale of Settlement towns.He had been a Yeshiva wunder-kind. Leaving the Pale Ansky worked as a miner where the miner’s changed his name to Semyon Akimovich, a Russified version of his birth name
My grandfather too, David Leventhal , abandoned his Yeshiva studies at fifteen, entered the world of Revolutionary politics and exiled himself from his family, birthplace and relation with Judaism. His scope was much smaller than Ansky’s, the impulse the same. For my grandfather the words of the Bundist Hymn were an ethos, as written by Ansky,-and like Ansky his life had been sacrificed on the plane of revolutionary politics. The Bolshevik Coup took everything away from him and left him a hollow man ranting about “racketeers” and “comes the revolution” at the dinner table where he barely ate anything and endured my own father’s alkaline criticisms.
Ansky had what looks like an ambivalence to traditional Jewish life up until the pogroms of 1903 and 1905. The poem Oath to the Bund starts by saying “ Messiah and Judaism-both have died, another comes-the Jewish worker….but by 1910 he said to his friends at a dinner in his honor in St. Petersburg in all transparency that his life had been fractured and broken by his neglect of his own people. His own people needed every ounce of help and support it could get.
If his encounter with the writing of I.L Peretz in 1901 had begun his shift toward the Yiddish culture he had previously ignored his salvation came during the Great Ethnographic Expedition he had conceived and implemented in 1912.
“Do you believe that when the last shovel hits the earth , the dead man forgets everything?”
“Have you ever heard any stories of a dead corpse that left unattended disappeared?”
disappeared by Bolshevik authority he himself smuggled out of Russia in a priests habit to Vilna. His play “The Dybbuk” was inaugurated by a performance three weeks after he died of complications from pneumonia.