Lamdan, Yiẓḥak

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LAMDAN, YIẒḤAK (1899–1954), Hebrew poet and editor. Born in Mlinov, Ukraine, Lamdan received a traditional and secular education. During World War i he was cut off from his family and wandered through southern Russia with his brother, who was later killed in a pogrom. These grim experiences made Lamdan rally to the Communist cause and he volunteered for the Red Army at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. Disillusionment, however, soon set in because as a Jew he could not feel at home in the revolutionary movement. He left the army and returned to Mlinov, which had been annexed to Poland. There he became a teacher at the local Hebrew school and published his first poem in Ha-Shilo'aḥ (1918). Immigrating to Ereẓ Israel in 1920, he spent his first years as a ḥalutz, building roads and working on farms. His poetry, now imbued with a ḥalutz spirit that grew out of his experience, was published in various literary journals in Ereẓ Israel and aroused great interest since it reflected the hopes and despair of the Third Aliyah and also the struggles and inner conflicts of the individual ḥalutz. He later gave up physical labor and devoted himself exclusively to literary work, from 1934 until his death publishing and editing his own literary monthly Gilyonot. He was a member of the central committee of the Hebrew Writers Association for many years.

Lamdan's magnum opus, Massadah (1927), an epic poem in blank verse of six cantos, comprising 35 poems, established his reputation. The poem reflects the spirit of the young pioneers of the 1920s who had left behind them not only the memory of the brutal senseless murders of defenseless Jews, but also their shattered illusions about the possibility of establishing a free, revolutionary society in Eastern Europe. Massadah, the last fortress which continued to hold out against the Romans even after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 c.e., in Lamdan's poem symbolizes Ereẓ Israel, the last stronghold of the destroyed Eastern European Jewish communities.

The voice throughout the poem is the "I" of the poet who embodies both the horror experienced by his generation and its vision for a new future. In the first canto (the prologue) the poet, standing in the midst of the ruins of his home, at the height of the Russian Revolution, receives a message about Massadah: "face of the adverse fate of generations" the sons of Massadah have thrust out their "breasts in revolt and roared 'Enough!'" He sets out for the Promised Land in order to join them. His path to Massadah is obstructed by three friends who symbolize the various anti-Zionist or Diaspora-oriented ideologies and who try to turn him back. By an overwhelming act of will, the speaker frees himself from his friends and scales the barriers blocking access to Israel's stronghold. The second canto is a series of short poems in which the different Jewish refugees who came to Massadah describe their tragic experiences.

Cantos three, four, and five are movements from joyful hope to despair. Night, "in which the air is heavy with blood," transforms into a time for kindling fires, dancing, and the renewal of faith. Night thus becomes a symbol of strength and hope while day is a time of despair and disillusionment. The fortress itself weeps for her listless sons. The ecstasy of the early movement is passed, the verve of pioneering among the weaker is spent and they fall to the wayside. Fewer and fewer of those imbued with the spirit of freedom throng to Massadah, and peddlers, longing to engage in commerce, increase. Not only the fires but also the "flames of revolt" brought to Massadah as "holy Sabbath candles in the twilight of the worlds" flicker faintly, yet they are not extinguished. There are always those who stand guard over Massadah watching "every cloud rising somewhere over the horizon." In the sixth canto the poet turns to these sturdy souls, calling out to them that their sacrifice is not in vain and that all roads trodden by the Jewish people lead to Massadah, none lead away.

The poet's "I" of the first canto, with its clear biographical references, later merges into the collective consciousness of the Jewish people, but even in Canto i it is not intrinsically individual. A symbolic poem of moods and situations, rather than heroes and plot, Massadah is rich in expressionistic images and rings with the cadence of biblical rhetoric.

The poems published after Massadah had far less of an impact on the reading public. Some were collected in Ba-Ritmah ha-Meshulleshet ("Triple Harness," 1930) and Be-Ma'aleh Akrabbim ("On Scorpions' Pass," 1945); others appeared in literary journals. In these later works, though more individualistic and less rhetorical, Lamdan remains fervently nationalistic and adamant in his belief that the individual must serve the cause of national rebirth. The poet-narrator assumes the role of man of destiny and denounces those who refuse to hearken to his message of redemption. Lamdan's poetry remained social poetry in which the poet's rhetorical rather than lyrical skill predominates. His sincerity and idealism to some degree cover this artistic flaw, of which he was aware. His later works carry a note of personal tragedy. The poet is fully conscious of the fact that his devotion to the national renascence is at the expense of his art as a poet. In the preface to his series of poems Mi-Shirai she-me-Ever la-Daf ("My Songs on the Other Side of the Page," in Gilyonot, 25 [1951]), the conflict is starkly exposed with the poet apologizing for his inner urges and drives not rooted in the national consciousness. He declared that his conscience, which has totally surrendered itself to the nation, prevents him from retreating into purely individualistic poetry; underlying the statement, however, is an almost imperceptible sadness and yearning at an inevitable loss.

The same integrity manifested itself in his editorship of Gilyonot, a literary periodical which he founded and which propounded his national ideals. Lamdan insisted on the independence of his periodical, and refused to allow it to be controlled even by political groups whose ideology he shared. During the 1930s and 1940s, Gilyonot was one of Ereẓ Israel's leading periodicals.

[Gideon Katznelson]

Kol Shirei Yiẓḥak Lamdan, the collected poems of Lamdan, including hitherto unpublished poems, with an introduction by S. Halkin, was issued by Mosad Bialik in 1973. A. Lipsker edited (with an introduction) Lamdan's letters (1998).

For Eng. trans. of Lamdan, see Goell, 974–1000.


L.I. Yudkin, Isaac Lamdan (1971), incl. bibl.; S. Umen, The World of Isaac Lamdan, Pioneer, Poet (1961), incl. bibl.; B. Kurzweil, Bein Ḥazon le-vein ha-Absurdi (1966), 100–9; I. Keshet, Maskiyyot (1953), 158–68; G. Katzenelson, in: Haaretz (Nov. 26, 1954; Nov. 11, 1955); E. Schweid, Shalosh Ashmurot (1969), 93–106; idem, in: Me'assef le-Divrei Sifrut, Bikkoret ve-Hagut, 7 (1967), 384–92; I. Rabinowitz, Be-Ḥevlei Doram (1959), 48–61; B.Y. Michali, Le-Yad ha-Ovnayim (1959), 80–99; Waxman, Literature, 4 (1941), 327ff. add. bibliography: H. Barzel, Shirah u-Morasha (1971); M. Ungerfeld, "Al Kol Shirei Lamdan," in: Hadoar, 52 (1973), 519–520; A.A. Steinbach, "Of Two Jewish Poets: N. Sachs and Y. Lamdan," in: Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Pursue (1975), 179–196; E. Shmueli, "Ha-Maavak al ha-Ye'ud be-Shirat Lamdan," in: Hadoar, 57:7 (1978), 101; M. Steiner, "Shirato shel Y. Lamdan," in: Haumah, 56 (1979), 92–101; H. Hoffman, "Ha-'Af al pi khen' ha-Brenneri be-Shirat Y. Lamdan," in: Ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit u-Tenu'at ha-Avodah (1989), 158–177; D. Hadari, "Ha-Yahas le-'Massadah' shel Lamdan ke-Vitui le-Gishot Shonot el ha-Ẓiyyonut,"in: Shorashim, 8 (1994), 147–154.