Page 285 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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GORDIS / 1981 NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDS
279
English, French, Russian, Japanese, Norwegian. It is not a plebian
literature, nor does it represent a ghetto mentality. It is both
traditional and modern; ethnic and universal. Among its writers
are men of religious conviction as well as skeptics. It employs all
literary forms, the novel, the ballad, the short story and the lyric
poem.
To write in our time, in the post-Holocaust period is both a
challenge and a great responsibility. Even if one follows the New
Critics, the Formalists, or the Structuralists and is devoted to the
idea of literature as a free expression and portrayal of the human
condition, one cannot deny the forces of history and of contem­
porary events.
It is the feeling of modern men that life is less orderly, less
settled, and more full of contradictions. Social relationships in an
ever changing society like ours are liable to be more strained and
at times to be subject to the influence of forces that may under­
mine them.
To live in dignity and in peace with ourselves we must accept
our commitments and moral responsibilities. At this period of our
history we are both a “people” in possession of a political State of
our own, and an extra-territorial “nation” or spiritual community
in the Diaspora. We are reliving the same situation which existed
during the Second Commonwealth. A Jewish State was then in
existence, but flourishing communities thrived also in Babylonia,
Asia Minor and Alexandria.
The Jewish philosopher Philo, writing for a Hellenistic world,
commented on the duality of Jewish existence. In one of his
historical works he posed the question: “How do Jews survive as a
people, dispersed through so many countries and islands?” He
answered: “It is because we are a large nation and our land is
small. We live in dispersion, but we view Jerusalem as our Me­
tropolis; our birthplaces are for us, our own home.”
It is very difficult to be a Jew today, and it will be difficult in the
future. Jewishness today is less of a shield against inner conflicts
than it was a generation ago. The modern Jew, even when firmly
entrenched in Jewish life, constantly feels outside pressures, cul­
tural, social and moral. . . .
The American Jew is destined to begin a new dialogue. He
cannot, like the Jew prior to the 18th century, live in isolation.
Neither he nor modern society can tolerate such “ghettos,” which