Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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HO L I N E S S AND I TS D I S C O N T E N T S
B
y
C
y n t h ia
O
z ick
*
S
ometimes, when depressed or fatigued by a great deal of
reading on Jewish subjects, I begin to wonder whether our
gasping aspirations to make a Jewish literature in America are
worthwhile. 1 become exhausted not by the task itself or even
by the hope of it, because I hardly know whether I will ever
be able to grapple with this task, but by the actual
formulation
of the task. I begin to think: is it necessary? and for Avhat purpose?
and for whom? I begin to feel irritation with so much emphasis
on differentness, on marginality, on narrow dedication—on
sur­
vival—
and a kind of easeful sloth invades me, and I want to slide
off into everydayness and everyone-ness. It is not so much that
I am lured by the Gentile world—this for me is by and large
no longer true—as that I become worn out by the demands of
thinking, thinking always about historical resonances, and by
being always on the alert, and by always analyzing, and judging,
and interpreting according to Jewish valuations.
Especially in Diaspora we cannot be Jewish just by
being;
and
that is the exhaustion and the difficulty. If we lapse even for a
moment into “just being,” then we have lapsed into the Gentile
world, into, from our point of view, triviality. So to remain Jewish
is a
process
—something which is an ongoing and muscular thing,
a progress or, sometimes, a regression, a constant self-reminding,
a caravan of watchfulness always on the move; above all an un ­
sparing
consciousness.
A friend of mine, a novelist, calls this
labor—because it
is
a labor, and requires both stamina and stead­
fastness—she calls it a “peeling away.”
My friend is a recent newcomer to Boston from New York’s
literary Upper West Side, and among the ways she has attempted
to deal with the dislocation of losing her native city is by learning
Hebrew and by attending the weekly colloquia at the New Eng­
land seat of Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Talmudic
ilui
and luminary.
It is a curious thing that the means she chooses to get used to
an untried part of America is a resumption of Jewish learning,
as if growing more Jewish would somehow compensate for the
* Th is address was delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Book
Council of the National Jewish Welfare Board on May
21, 1972,
when
Miss
Ozick received the Harry and Ethel Daroff Memorial Award for
The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories.
It will also appear as part of a Sym­
posium in
Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review.
6