Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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Growing attention in the non-Jewish press to American Jewish
lifestyle has resulted in a number of stories that perpetuate two
very persistent sterotypes. There is the Jewish child growing up
in Pittsburgh, in Chicago, in rural or urban America who is ac­
tively discriminated against, both subtly and overtly. The child
has conflicts with parents and neighbors, attempting to live a Jew­
ish life in a Christian world. This child is inevitably Orthodox,
adhering to doctrine, custom, and ceremony. Seldom is there at­
tention given to other forms of worship or observance. There is
intense concentration on difference from neighbors, the Jew in
isolation. Rarely does this picture of the Jew conform to actual
experience. The alternate stereotype is an upper-class suburban,
flippant, genius type, male or female, whose lifestyle has dis­
carded Judaism along with the yarmulka, who is concerned with
serious social problems, never recognizing ethical or cultural tra­
ditions. The only recognition of Jewishness is in surnames or oc­
casional expressions, Jews by innuendo. Often wealth or modern
rituals of observance, if observed, are treated as pejorative,
deeply rooted in traditonal antagonisms, or perhaps, self-hatred.
It is the rare story that manages to avoid either pitfall. One of
these exceptions.
A mitzvah is something special
(Eisenberg, 1978)
tells the story of a young girl with two grandmothers who are very
different, representing contradictory life styles. Her realization
that each is special, and that they are part of the wholeness of life
makes a realistic and satisfying story.
Although few in number (49 titles in 25 years), some beautiful
stories have been written about Jews around the world through­
out the span of human history. Stumbling upon them is akin to
discovering a rare and unexpected treasure, an individual gem.
Many are translations, from the Dutch or Spanish, Hebrew or
Polish. It leads to speculation about other stories, written and
waiting for the appropriate publisher. Again, there are stories of
death and cruelty. Moments in history are captured on these
pages more vividly than text form. A recent reissue of
Thefamily y
(Lehman, 1983) details the world of Marrano Jews,
masquerading as Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition. It ex­
poses human capacity for good and evil in another place and time
with as much immediacy as Bette Green in her unveiling of
American Concentration Camps for German captive soldiers