Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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18
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
lessly Jamesian novel — to
The cannibal galaxy
(1983), a novel in
which versions of “Jewish education” are subjected to a savage,
satiric scrutiny. As Joseph Brill, the principal of a Hebrew school
in the Midwest, would have it: the future belongs to those who
have received the best of religious and secular education:
“Maimonides and Pascal, Bialik and Keats, Gemara hooked to the
fires of algebra.” The result — what Brill calls the Dual Curricu­
lum — is the force that energies both the Edmond Fleg Primary
School and
The cannibal galaxy
of Ozick’s title. Needless to say, the
David Schearl of
Call it sleep
would hardly recognize the place,
nor would the likes of Reb Pankower be found in its classrooms.
Whatever else Brill may be, he fancies himself as enlightened,
modern, a man of vision.
Unfortunately, the education children receive at the Edmond
Fleg School is
nit ahin, nit aher
-—neither one thing nor another.
During Commencement ceremonies, the fifth grade choir sings
Eliyahu ha-novi, Eliyahu ha-tishbe, Eliyahu, Eliyahu ha-giladi
and
then
The Minstrel bo-o-oy to the wars isgone
; and then
Chevaliers de la
Table Ronde, goutons voir si le vin est bon, goutons voir, oui oui ouil
without being aware, as Ozick surely is, of how ironic and sad and
ultimately destructive such an “education” is.
Brill, of course, blames the mediocrity of his students on every­
thing but his own
hubris,
his idol-worshipping dream of cultural
consensus. He has become “a counter of losses, a man convinced
that the flat, Midwestern landscape and the school’s middle-brow
architecture have turned his credo —
ad astra
— into so many
empty Latin words:
The school was on a large lake in the breast pocket of the
continent, pouched and crouched in inwardness. It was as
though it had a horror of coasts and margins; of edges and
extremes of any sort. The school was of the middle and in
the middle. Its three buildings were middling-high, flat-
roofed, moderately modern.
The cannibal galaxy
is a complicated cautionary tale, one that
raises serious questions about pedagogy in general and about
Jewish education in particular. One need not teach in a Jewish
school to wince at the satiric portraits of those who labor on be­
half of Brill’s Dual Curriculum; or to realize how wide of the
mark our well-meaning assessments of success or failure can be.
But even more to the critical point, Brill has pinned his hopes on