Page 10 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
bandied words like “chauvinistic" and “ultranationalistic” to
label such writers as Charles Angoff and Meyer Levin who un-
equivocally declare they are Jewish writers who have not alienated
themselves from their Jewish heritage.
Perhaps it is apposite to pose again the question: What is a
Jewish writer? I wish to cite two answers among several that have
been advanced.
111 his recent book
My Last Thousand Years,
Herbert Gold
wrote—with a slight variance from Gertrude Stein but as a model
for brevity—“The writer fits into the Jew, who fits into the writer,
who fits into the Jew.” I believe this cryptic formula provides a
rational answer. The “within” (the Jewish ethos, heritage, ethnic
roots) upreaches for and participates in the “without”; but there
can be no surrender, no alienation, no assimilation; the “within”
(the
ikkor,
the essence, the fountainhead, what Angoff terms the
Yiddishe neshamah)
must be preserved inviolate.
Profoundly relevant, too, is Meyer Levin’s reply, given at the
Hebrew University when he donated the manuscript of his novel
about Israel,
The Settlers.
In his remarks he said: “. . . you can
quite simply call me a Jewish writer. . . . By Jewish I mean one
who is most pervasively conscious of the whole Jewish experi־
ence, and who writes from this: in my time, the experience of
the Jews in America, and the Holocaust experience and what
followed in Europe, and the Israel experience. One whose frame
of reference is Jewish life, history, belief, thought, character,
culture, ethos.”
A year ago Dr. Allen Guttman, Professor of English and Chair-
man of the Department of American Studies at Amherst College,
wrote a perceptive book-length study of the ascendance of the
American Jewish writer. It is titled
The Jewish Writer in Amer-
ica: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity.
Exigency of space
inhibits discussing it here, but it is significant (and alarming)
that the title of his concluding chapter is “The End of the Jewish
People?”
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Books are the principal repository in the treasure house of our
people’s culture. They are the metronome that marks the heart-
beat of the Jewish psyche, the meter and rhythm of the Jewish