Page 150 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
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A
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130
Laura Z. Hobson and
Eagle at My Eyes
and
A L i t t le Sleep, a L it-
tie S lumber,
by Norman Katkov. Mrs. Hobson’s book was gim-
mick journalism dressed up as fiction of a comic strip order,
lowly but harmless. Mr. Katkov’s books have historic importance
in that they were among the first in the past twenty-five years
that revealed a deep-seated negativism in certain American Jew-
ish writers.
The Nazi holocaust sent a wave of sympathy throughout
world Jewry, especially in the United States, and it awakened
many of the Jewish writers to the rich resources in both char-
acters and situations in the American Jewish settlement. But it
also uncovered a vast lack of knowledge in literary Jewish
America about Jewish history and traditions, and it exposed the
discomfort suffered by many Jews because of their Jewishness.
Almost suddenly it became apparent that being a Jew in the
United States was so burdensome to some writers that they re-
joiced in their ignorance of what they were writing about and
turned this same ignorance into a reason for sneering at virtually
everything that gave glory and grandeur to Jewish life in all
places.
It is necessary to emphasize the sheer ignorance of Jewish
intellectuals twenty-five years ago. In 1944 Professor Lionel Tril-
ling of Columbia University saw modern Jewish culture as little
more than a fossilized thing, out of which “has not come a single
voice with the note of authority—of philosophic or poetic, even
of rhetorical, let alone of religious authority.” He added that
“as the Jewish community now exists it can give no sustenance
to the American artist or intellectual who is born a Jew.” This
at a time when some of the Jewish intellectuals and artists had
done or were doing their most significant work: Abraham Cahan,
Horace M. Kallen, Morris Raphael Cohen, Mordecai M. Kaplan,
Harry A. Wolfson, Solomon B. Freehof, and a score of others.
There is no record that Dr. Trilling has changed his mind in
the past two decades. He reflected a general attitude among
many sophisticated young American Jews at the time of World
War II. That attitude—a combination of ignorance, condescen-
sion, and
hutzpah
—is still very much evident in the very same
circles. One would think that the Hitler holocaust would have
instilled compassion into Jewish-American literati, leading to a
desire to know more about the history and traditions of the six
million who paid so horrendous a price for their fidelity to the
well-springs of their being. One would think that the splendor
of the establishment of the State of Israel would fill them with
a prideful song. The facts, alas, are otherwise.
A regular Jewish writer for the
New York Post,
called upon
by
Commentary
for his views, said, “There is nothing less im­