Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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T H E J E W I S H W R I T E R
H i s W
ork
A
n d
H
is
P
ubl ic
*
By M
eyer
L
evin
T
HERE are still people among us who wonder why American
Jewish writers so cherish their Jewish identity as to meet
together in a group. Those who fail to understand so natural an
impulse must fail to understand the basic cleavage in world
thought today.
On the one side, we believe in self-determination for the indi-
vidual and the group. This is the deepest quest of man, the
“Who am I and what am I” that is asked by every sentient
being. We believe in the free, wholesome development of the
human psyche, unsuppressed, undistorted, drawing in each per-
son upon his particular heritage, so far back as may be reached.
The opposing world-idea requires a belief in molding persons
and cultures, changing them when and if desired, even killing
them according to political plan.
In this ideological struggle it has been the lot of the Jewish
writer to serve as a prime example. We must remember the
fifteen Jewish writers of the Soviet Union, executed five years ago
because they wrote as Jews. But this is not a Jewish question
alone. We must pay attention to the plight of the Hungarian
writers today under arrest for writing as Hungarians. We must
see clearly that the issue here goes beyond the identity of any
one group to the broadest question of every human identity.
The question is often presented as one of nationalism, but I
believe it is basically neither national nor religious, but founded
on a fear of any deep emotional allegiance that could surmount
obedience to a political ideology.
Universality in literature, in art, comes through the recognition
of what is universal in what is particular. No one would deny
the universality of Dostoievsky, the most particularly Russian
of writers; no one could deny the universality of Sholom
Aleichem, the most particularly Jewish of writers; no one could
deny the universality of Shakespeare, Balzac, Dante, Goethe.
We in America live in a developing culture drawn from multi-
pie sources. Various national traditions are imbedded in it, as
are a multiplicity of religious traditions. Some seem to fade,
*Address delivered at Conference on Jewish Writing and Jewish Writers,
sponsored by Theodor Herzl Institute and Jewish Book Council of America,
November 16-17, 1957.
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