Page 7 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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I N T R O D U C T I O N
By
A . A
la n
S
t e in b a c h
I
A
m a j o r d i lem m a
confronting Jews in this seventh decade of
the 20th century is the crisis of Jewish identity. It is sur-
charged with religious, political and cultural overtones, signifi-
cantly foreshadowed in the recent acrimonious controversy pre-
cipitated by the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court on
Who
is a Jew
? The frenetic reactions in the Kenesset, in the Ministry
of Religion, and in Jewish communities the world over, combine
into a grim augury of future attitudes to this sensitive and
explosive issue.
The dilemma of Jewish identity is not new in the field of
Jewish writers. Some forty years ago it was adumbrated in the
career of Ludwig Lewisohn, who probed deeply into the meaning
of Jewish identity. He was fully accepted as an “American”
writer when he concerned himself with translating German plays
into English, with drama criticism, and with literary history (see
his “A Panorama of A Half-Century of American-Jewish Liter-
ature,”
Jewish Book Annual,
vol. 9, pp. 3-10). Subsequently,
when he took up the cudgels for Zionism and exhorted American
Jews to cherish the ethical and moral verities of their ancestral
heritage, he was labeled a “Jewish" writer. After his successful
novel
The Island W ithin,
he was no longer accepted as an
American novelist.
In the last two decades, the Lewisohn experience has been
reversed. Paradoxically, a number of our recent most gifted
novelists have jettisoned their earlier sense of Jewish commit-
ment, and have “made it” as “American” writers.
This paradox was clearly delineated in the “Second Dialogue
in Israel,” sponsored in June, 1963, by the American Jewish
Congress in Jerusalem and T e l Aviv. The two principal issues
on the agenda were (1) The quest for Jewish identity, and (2)
Th e responsibility of the Jewish writer in America and in
Israel. The proceedings were illuminating and provocative, due
to the penetrating analyses presented by a brilliant panel of
American and Israeli luminaries. This perplexing dichotomy was
explored in depth: What rationale alienates the Jewish intel-
lectual from the Jewish community once he is accepted into the
American literary mainstream?
1