Saturday, 22 June 2024
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    A CENTURION’S CENTENNIAL

    May 19 marked one hundred years since the passing of a great Jewish scholar and poet, Abraham Elijah Kaplan (1891-1924). His father had been a celebrated scholar, who had passed away in his 30s, leaving young Abraham fatherless. His father’s best friends was Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953), who saw to it that the son was well educated in the schools of Lithuania. Abraham studied under great Jewish thinkers and by his late 20s and early 30s he had written several beautiful essays in scholarly journals.

    by Jay D. Homnick

    May 19 marked one hundred years since the passing of a great Jewish scholar and poet, Abraham Elijah Kaplan (1891-1924). His father had been a celebrated scholar, who had passed away in his 30s, leaving young Abraham fatherless. His father’s best friends was Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953), who saw to it that the son was well educated in the schools of Lithuania. Abraham studied under great Jewish thinkers and by his late 20s and early 30s he had written several beautiful essays in scholarly journals.

             After the passing of Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), Abraham was chosen to replace him for the deanship of the Berlin Rabbinical Academy. Unfortunately, he only lived three more years.

             My father told me that the writing of the poem “The Sun Is Setting” was inspired by Rabbi Kaplan’s fear of dying young as his father had, a fear that was sadly realized before very long. I did meet his son, who worked with my late uncle in a Jerusalem research facility, and the son looked sixtyish to my young eyes. In any case, he had clearly eclipsed his ancestors’ brief lifespans.

             Sometime about 20 years ago, I remember translating this epic poem. However, I can neither locate the file on my computer, nor do I recall where my copy might be in my files.

    So I sat down to translate it again from scratch – an adaptation in rhyme, not quite a translation – and reproduce it here to commemorate this great man and to give us a taste of his poetic afflatus. (Oh, and May 19 is my birthday, too.)

    The sun is setting; My soul is settling

    Into abyssal ennui, broad as the sea

    Falling to the floor, casualty of its war

    On appetent flesh, and blood afresh.

    My days do pass, through the hourglass

    They take naught, nor is anything bought

    If it’s this very strife, that You will call Life

    Tell me, O Lord, what is ‘death’ as a word?

    Let Your mercy show, ‘cause I do not know

    How I can longer endure, living so insecure

    Just close my eyes and enjoy, life as a toy?

    Or feel all so deep, then just sit and weep?

    Revive me on the morrow, despite my sorrow

    Let the daylight stream, to enlighten my dream

    Sun setting down so low, only clouds still show

    As my night of sleep, rises fitfully from the deep.

    HISTORICAL WORDS OF WISDOM