Page 286 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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remain untouched by the cultural patterns and the temper of the
It is difficult to be a Jew, but it is not an unbearable difficulty,
and it is not without intellectual and moral compensations. The
cultural patterns created by Jewishness can possess great human
value and dignity. Should the American Jew divorce himself from
Jewish life and destiny, his life would be more miserable, unful­
filled and deceitful. It would be more difficult for the American
Jew not to be a Jew.
I am astonished to be the recipient of so distinguished a literary
honor as the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Litera­
ture — the William (Zev) Frank Memorial Award. I have always
thought myself to be more a painter of pictures, an illustrator of
books, a designer of postage stamps, a teacher of art, rather than a
writer, Jewish themes or not.
Today is my mother’s 81 st birthday. This is in some way a gift to
A Russian Farewell
is her story — the story of her parents,
Benjamin and Anna Shapiro, my grandparents — and the rest of
the family who lived it as I wrote it. The book is pure history,
barely a novel. And I should like to thank my family for having
had the good sense to come to America so long ago in order that
the rest of us, yet unborn, could work, play, worship and serve
without fear as free, equal and educated citizens of a great nation
— the United States. . . .
More than my willingness to establish a public presence for my
private relatives, I wanted to tell an unromantic, pre-Holocaust
tale that would be both an epilogue for a thousand years of
European Jewish despondency and a prologue for what was yet to
come. Thus I tried to create a verbal-visual starkness about the
book and a lack of shrillness that would summarize the frightful
banality of the terror. Also, I wanted to give expression to those
Eastern European Jews who were slightly more urbane than
Tevye the Milkman but not sophisticated enough to have lived
their lives in a continuous babble of biblical parables, metaphoric
dreams and defensive humor — later literary and theatrical sym­
bols for Jewish anxiety. . . .
A Russian Farewell
is a simple story about ordinary people