Page 35 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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e f tw ic h
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terrible separateness, their isolation from the general life because
they are Jews, and complaining about the faults of Anglo-Jewry.
I was brought up in Whitechapel, but I ’ve felt little of that
terrible isolation and separateness because I never tried to escape
from my Jewish skin or to barge into doors people wanted to
keep closed against me. I am not likely, however, to disagree
with them about the faults we find in our Anglo-Jewish com-
munity. I have been talking about them for years; I wrote an
article about them in the
Jewish Monthly
in 1947, “Are We a
Philistine Community?” I had been writing on that theme since
I was a youngster, as far back as 1914.
My friends stubbed their toes against the Philistinism of the
community before the First World War. “I remember Isaac
Rosenberg’s sullen resentment,” I wrote ten years ago in
Jewish Quarterly.
These complaints are neither new nor a sudden
uncovering of sores we had been keeping carefully hidden. People
have talked about them before I was born. Sixty years ago Israel
Zangwill was speaking of Amy Levy, whom he called the pioneer
of Anglo-Jewish literature who “had been accused of fouling
her own nest, whereas what she had really done was to point
out that the nest was foul and must be cleaned.” We did not
wait for Brian Glanville to tell us that the majority of Anglo-
Jewry, almost entirely middle class today as we in my boyhood
had been mostly working class, are “against new ideas, measuring
every achievement in terms of cash and nothing else, and most
of all the large indifference to culture.” Amy Levy and other
Anglo-Jewish writers of her day lambasted all that sixty and
seventy years ago.
It isn’t only Jews in England; it isn’t only Jews. Sean O’Faolain
dealt as an Irish writer with the same faults in Irish life: “One
agrees that modern Irish life is not very inspiring. One might
be forgiven for finding modern Ireland depressing. A one-class
society of petty-bourgeois businessmen, not exactly cultivated, a
rather puritanical Church, not strikingly famous for its contribu-
tion to Christian thought, or indeed any thought—it is not a
very gay picture. But surely, as far as writers are concerned, it is
all a matter of digestion. This is their material; there is no other
that they know . . . No writer has the right to blame his material
for his own failure to integrate the little lives he knows with
the universal life of man.”
I recently reminded Gerda Charles that when I was a boy
before the First World War we had a similar eruption to that
of our present group of talented young Jews, who wrote and
painted. In my own circle of close friends there were some, like
Isaac Rosenberg and David Bomberg, who did great work and
left a legend behind them. I remember Professor Jack Isaacs who
was one of our group asking me in the late 20’s if there were