4.11. Yoysef Tshaykov, drawing ‘Dawn’ (1919)

The shofar blower in Ephraim Moses Lilien’s drawing The Creation of Man *Chapter 4.3 (1902) is the herald of a new, shining ideal of Jewishness; the same is true for the shofar blower in the drawing Baginen (“Dawn”) (1919) by Yoysef Tshaykov (1888-1979). The points in common between the two shofar blowers are obvious and concern a denial of the image of the weak, oppressed Jew; the points of difference, however, are so great, that the two ideals are incompatible and every shofar blower in fact outblows the other one.



Fig. 3. Yoysef Tshaykov, Baginen. Khoydesh Zhurnal. Ershter Bukh. Oysgabe fun Alukrainishn Literarishn Komitet, Yidishe Sektsie. Yuni 1919 Kiev (“Dawn. Monthly Journal, Vol. 1. Edited by the All-Ukrainian Literary Committee, Yiddish Section. June, 1919, Kiev.”) Proletarier fun ale lender fareynigt zikh! (“Proletarians of All Countries, Unite!”). Print on paper. 24,8 x 15,5 cm. YIVO Archives, New York. Reproduced by permission.

Tshaykov’s drawing was reproduced on the cover of the Yiddish monthly Baginen, dated Kiev, June, 1919; the introduction of this monthly was a reaction to political and cultural events in Ukraine in the period of the October Revolution and the Civil War. Since 1918 there already existed a Yiddish literary magazine, Eygns (“Our Own”), edited by Dovid Bergelson and Der Nister, *Cf. Chapter 4.29 for a later work by Der Nister which represented symbolism and impressionism in literature without being affiliated to a political movement. *Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture 1918-1930 138. Baginen propagated political engagement instead of l’art pour l’art. Its publication was possible in the political developments of early 1919, which led to the establishment of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic with an Enlightenment Commissariat, that wanted to propagate socialist ideas among the Jewish community by means of a Yiddish literary magazine.

The list of Yiddish writers who contributed to Baginen is impressive and contains the names of Dovid Hofshteyn, Perets Markish, Leyb Kvitko, Sholem Ash, I.J. Singer, and H. Leyvik. *Cf. Chapter 4.13 for a later work by Leyvik. Unfortunately, the Dawn was immediately followed by a sunset, for the first issue remained the only one. The new Soviet regime and the Red Army could not hold against the Whites and moreover, under the regime of the Whites during the summer of 1919 there were a large number of pogroms, which drove away many Jewish artists who had contributed to Baginen.

In his article “Literatur un lebn” (“Literature and Life”), the editor of Baginen, A. Litvak, propagated art which served life, politics and revolution, as well as a Yiddish literature which kept pace with the real life of the Ukrainian Jews. “I’m not talking about these sweet, slick stories about every dirty worker’s house, and this ‘Oh, the proletariat, Boo, hoo, the proletariat,’” Litvak argued, “these have nothing to do with art. We need the spirit of battle, the psychology of the great many-headed personality—the masses and the psychology of the individual.” *Litvak, “Literatur un lebn.” Baginen 97-102. Quoted in Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture 1918-1930 141-2. “Boo hoo” is poetry written by workers, for workers.

The cover of Baginen, designed by Yoysef Tshaykov, is a hybrid work of art, revealing a stylized Torah scroll with the not-very-biblical motto “Proletarier fun ale lender fareynigt zikh!” (“Proletarians of All Countries, Unite!”), whereas the biblical motto would rather be “People of the Holy Land, unite with God!” Moreover, the words are in Yiddish, the vernacular of the Ukrainian Jews, instead of Hebrew, the language of Jewish religious tradition and also of Zionism, which was considered by the Bolsheviks to be a bourgeois-national, non-revolutionary movement. The drawing’s chronotope is a shtetl, sketched in a few lines. Nearly half of the image is occupied by a sun, which as a symbol of political emancipation is just as important as the pagan, life-bringing sun in Tshernikhovski’s sonnet Did I come too soon or was the Rock late who created me? *Chapter 4.12* and the messianic sun in the “Dawn” in Elgar’s oratorio The Apostles. *Chapter 4.5.

Before Tshaykov’s enormous sun stands a shofar blower, who is rather the archetype of an emancipated Soviet Jew than a character with individual features, like the shofar blower in Lilien’s The Creation of Man. Moreover, Thaykov’s nude hero has nothing in common with Lilien’s sensual, nude heroes; *Chapter 4.3 his muscular but slim body stands midway between two very different representants of Russian modernity: on the one hand, the dancers in Diaghilev’s revolutionary ballets, with which Tshaykov had become acquainted in France during his study at the Paris School of Decorative Arts in 1910-1914, and on the other hand, the agitprop (“agitation and propaganda”) actors, who had traveled Russia and Ukraine since the October Revolution to perform before workers and peasants. Whereas the hero strikes something like a variation on the third position in classical ballet and holds a shofar as an unusual stage-property, the very simple though heavily-symbolic setting, representing a better future, is characteristic of agitprop.

The drawing unites the “psychology of the great many-headed personality” with the “spirit of battle,” *quoted in Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture 1918-1930 142 propagated by Litvak in his article in Baginen. Tshaykov’s hero displays the vision and the courage which Bontshe Shvayg in Perets’ story *Chapter 4.1 lacks. The artist pictures four symbols of physical and mental raising or elevation: the rising sun, the stairs, the extended arm, and the shofar. The cubist style enables him to picture different moments or poses at the same time: the raising, indicated by the bended left leg; the action, symbolized by the extended left arm; and the connection with tradition, symbolized by the shofar. The head of the man has two different sides, a traditional one with peyes and a modern, close-cropped one; the idea behind this may be either diachronic, expressing a development from traditional religiosity into secular modernity, or synchronic, with the two sides as different aspects of a new Jewish identity. The historian Kenneth B. Moss considers the figure as “half traditional Jew (with an earlock, blind) and half modern (shorn, open-eyed), blowing a shofar and looking to the right (the old world?), but with the naked body facing leftward and upward into the new.” *Moss, Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution 172. Leaving apart the question of what is left and right in this drawing, that of the shofar blower or that of the viewer, it seems that left and right in Tshaykov’s drawing do not have any symbolic meaning, because the traditional peyes and the extended arm to the sun are on the same side, just as the traditional shofar and the modern hair style. The side of the head with the peyes, which Moss considers as blind, might well be lighted by the blazing sun. Therefore, synchronicity of tradition and modernity is more likely, and religion, symbolized by the shofar and the peyes, is connected with renewal. This interpretation is corroborated by a preliminary drawing from the same year, *in Van Voolen, Modern Masterpieces from Moscow 106 in which one side of the head has no peyes at all, while the other half has a wealth of hair.

Tshaykov’s preliminary study and his definitive version differ in many details. In the preliminary study, the sun is much smaller and partly hidden behind stone buildings. The stairs are a less striking symbol, more integrated in the diagonal lines in the drawing. The facial expression of the man is less militant. The flowing lines out of the shofar are larger and run into the flamboyant characters of the title Baginen, in this way connecting traditional religion with political renewal. The motto “Proletarier fun ale lender fareynigt zikh!” is not written on a Torah scroll but much smaller, on the wall of a building. All these details demonstrate that the final version of the drawing is more symmetrical, more monumental and more political. *The symbols of the sun, the scale and the man with his extended arm return in Tshaykov’s sketch of sculpture Electrifier (1921) with a new meaning on a politically higher level: man revolutionizing society by turning solar energy into electricity, according to Lenin’s statement “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country[.]” Cf. Lenin, “Our Foreign and Domestic Position and Party Tasks” (1920). Despite the contrasting world views in Tshaykov’s drawing and Tshernikhovski’s poem cycle To the Sun (Chapter 4.12), the latter contains a kindred idea in Sonnet 14, v. 9: Ve-niklad sod ha-ḥom, ha-ḥashmal ve-ha-ʾorah (“And the secret of heat, electricity and light will be grasped”).

In Tshaykov’s drawing, the Past of the shofar tradition is altered by the Present of the Revolution. The shofar blower does not blow the authoritative discourse of the biblical prophets or military commanders, but an internally persuasive discourse combining biblical militancy with a revolutionary, socialist content. The biblical announcement of the new moon in Ps. 81:4: “Blow the horn on the new moon, / on the full moon of our feast day” turns into the announcement of the sun of Enlightenment and Revolution, just as the radiant sun/eye above the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (“Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”) from the French Revolution. The shofar blowing that symbolizes the exodus from Egypt in Ps. 81, in Tshaykov’s drawing represents the deliverance from exploitation and oppression. Whereas the shofar in the Bible is blown at the coronation of a king, as in 1 Kings 1:39, where the people shout: “Long live King Solomon!” the shofar and the stairs in Tshaykov’s drawing may pertain to the upcoming leadership of the people themselves. The biblical symbolism of shofar blast, banner and storm in Zech. 9:14-15: “the LORD God will sound the shofar, / and will move in stormwinds of the south” and Blessing 10 of the Amidah: “O God and God of our ancestors, / sound the great shofar for our freedom, / raise high the banner to gather our exiles” *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 542 resembles Tshaykov’s revolutionary symbolism, though the superaddressee is different.


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