Page 96 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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others persist and flower. There need be no artificial stimulation
as there should be no deliberate choking off of any one strain.
There are American writers who are Jews but into whose work
there comes little that is drawn from Jewish life. We do not
criticize or seek to change them. There are others whose work is
drawn intimately from the Jewish life they know, and we believe
that good and true art cannot allow a suppression of such im-
In the last years there has been a liberation of the Jewish
psyche; many who out of confusion had shut off their Jewish
selves have now opened the gates to their inner heritage and have
found themselves enriched. A meeting of Jewish writers in Amer-
ica emphasizes the multiform freedom of growth in our form of
The understanding of human behavior in depth can only lead
to world harmony and peace. The writer’s task is to try to find
and project such understanding. He may reach first his own
circle, Jew to Jew, American to American, but if his work is
true, he can reach the world.
The Jewish writer in America has been troubled particularly
in the last decades because of special conditions that have caused
confusion in his relationship to his material and to his public.
He has been a true representative of his generation in that he
has been faced with the need to define his own cultural make-up,
and various writers have shown the various types of reactions to
the problem of assimiliation.
From the great flood of immigration at the turn of the century
to the present, Jews, and Jewish writers as a sensitive part of the
Jewish public, have had to make the cultural leap between a
Yiddish culture crossed with East European strains, to a Jewish
culture in which the Yiddish language was on the wane, crossed
with the multiform American culture.
Some writers, like many Jews who were not writers, thought
it advantageous to avoid “signs of Jewishness.” Some tried to
remove the signs of Jewishness from their characters, with vary-
ing results. Even Ludwig Lewisohn, in
The Case of Mr. Crump ,
wrote a novel of a Jewish experience in which he identified the
manifestly Jewish hero as a non-Jew, perhaps with the thought
of a wider generalization for his story. I tried the same solution
in a novel called
Frankie and Johnny.
But more lately we have learned that it is unnecessary to take
from our characters their special Jewish nature, in order to make
a generalization about the American scene.
The interim period was one, also, in which there was little,
if any contact between Jewish writers and their particular audi-
ence, or let us say the core of their audience—their own group.
As the Jewish population explored the various aspects of assimila-
tion, until it could find a form where there was assimilation to
the American culture even while retaining a Jewish identity,