Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

Basic HTML Version

KABAKOFF / INTRODUCTION
3
Union College has received a sizable grant from the National En­
dowment for the Humanities for the preparation of the first
fourteen volumes of a complete edition of the works of Sholem
Aleikhem. The JWB Jewish Book Council has continued to pre­
sent annually the Workmen’s Circle Award for the best Yiddish
book of the year. These and other ongoing cultural activities are
being fostered in order to assure that the Yiddish component of
our trilingual literature should continue to exert a creative influ­
ence on Jewish life.
II
In March 1984 a colloquium on Jewish writing, entitled “Liter­
ature and the Contemporary Jewish Experience,” was held in
London under the auspices of the Institute of Jewish Affairs and
the Cultural Department of the Israel Embassy. Twenty-one
leading writers and intellectuals took part in wide ranging
discussions on the nature of Jewish writing and the responsibility
of the Jewish writer.
The extracts from the colloquium discussions published in the
Jewish Quarterly
(vol. 31, nos. 3—4, 1984), a magazine founded and
edited in London by the late Jacob Sonntag, bespeak a greater
readiness on the part of the Anglo-Jewish writers to face up to the
role of Jewishness in their fiction and poetry. Undoubtedly, the
participation of the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, who gave
an account of his experiences as a writer and his efforts to depict
the Holocaust, served as a challenge to the discussants who
sought to come to terms with their own conceptions of their role
as Jewish writers.
It comes as no surprise that it was the celebrated critic and au­
thor George Steiner who served as a gadfly to the discussants
when he contrasted the traditional role of the Jewish writer —
that of scholar and commentator on our classic texts — with that
of the modern Jewish man of letters who has entered the world of
secular fiction and has broken with the past. He termed this the
“malaise” of the modern Jewish writer. There were those,
however, who spoke up for fictional writing as a kind of continua­
tion of midrash, thus making it possible to view it as a legitimate
form of modern Jewish expression.
Questions were also raised at the colloquium as to the language
of Jewish writing. Appelfeld, whose first language was German