Yosef Haim Brenner (1881-1921) was a Russian-born author of Hebrew stories and one of the outstanding pioneers of modern Hebrew literature, a man who inspired other Israeli writers. He portrayed the grim realities of life with emotive punctuation and ellipses that moves his readers, as we will see below.

His life and death

In 1902, Brenner was drafted into the Russian army where the officers were encouraged to wipe out the Jewishness of Jewish draftees. When the Russo-Japanese War began two years later, he deserted, was captured, escaped, and fled to London.

He immigrated to what was then called Palestine in 1909, a name given to Israel by the Romans who did all they could to make Judaism and its people disappear, calling the land Palestine after the Philistines, salting its ground so that nothing could grow, changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitalina, murdered many of its inhabitants, and more. He worked as a farmer, but then left the farm and devoted himself to literature and teaching.

His writings mirror his own experiences in graphic detail and give readers a deep understanding of the early difficulties involved in recalaiming the land. He wrote six novels, many short stories, and articles. He was murdered in May 1921 by Arab rioters in Jaffa, and his lose is mourned.

Travel Notes

His fifteen-page fictional short story “Travel Notes” portrays the stress he underwent in his escape from Russia.

There were three people at the border-town together with a guide who would hand them over to a “leader” who would lead them across the border.

“Whoever has not experienced the silence of those border-towns cannot imagine what it is like…would not know or understand. The very air was charged with suspicion…hush! No one passes…who goes there?” (The ellipses and exclamation mark are by Brenner.)

The guide told them that the leader said it was impossible to cross that night. “We remained where we were…oh yes, we remained there to pass the night…”

They were frightened. An old woman mocks them for their fears. “Moreover, the old woman went on, why are you so frightened. Where we babies, small children? So help her, she thought it a shame for grown men to be so cowardly.”

There was a delay. They were supposed to leave an hour earlier with the leader, the time set with the “army man.” “But at the right moment some housewife brought her flour to be baked, causing the delay. It was matzah-baking time at his house.”

Then the left and were lost. They are almost at the border but walk in circles and find themselves back in the border-town. Then they must bribe again and must give up all their money.