Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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FISCH / ANGLO-AMERICAN JEWISH WRITING: THE SHIFTING CENTER
13
by Zangwill’s attitude to the Ghetto. I refer to the experience
of Jewish nationhood in Israel. In the 1971 second edition of
my study of the figure of the Jew in English and American
literature,2 I pointed to the surprising lack of interest in Israel
as a theme or as a point of reference in the majority of American
or British Jewish writings in our time. “If the Jewish past, in
Europe or the Lower East Side, has suddenly come to seem
full of charm, the Jewish future and the surely not insignificant
reality of the Jewish present in the Land of Israel have become
strangely charmless.” Such reference as there is, is usually pe­
ripheral. Moses Herzog mentions Israel as a place that he visits
on his Eastern tour: he remembers a cool cave in Sodom, but
it makes no great impact on him.
From this relative silence on the subject we might conclude
that Israel is, for Bellow and others, not a matter of central
concern. But this is evidently not the case. For in his non-
fictional travelogue
To Jerusalem and Back
, Bellow shows more
than interest — he shows a personal involvement in Israel’s cur­
rent problems. Indeed, he is almost as obsessed with them as
Israelis are themselves. In spite of his stance as the detached
observer, there is no doubt that he is taking sides in the Israeli
sport of hawks versus doves, in the religious and secular divi­
sions and, in fact, in all the controversies that keep Israelis busy.
We may say “in all their afflictions he is afflicted.” He is by
no means indifferent. An even more striking instance of this
anomaly is provided by Cynthia Ozick. She takes an intense
interest in the Israeli scene and has written many essays on the
subject of Israel. Israel, she tells us, “the rebirth and regener­
ation, the stupendousness of the Return” is an ongoing miracle.
She needs the Messiah she says, and she needs him in Jerusalem
(“The Messiah and Landscape Gardening,”
The Jerusalem Post
Magazine,
13 July 1973). And yet, when she writes a novel about
the Messiah, it turns out to be on the Messiah in Stockholm!
Much of the same situation holds true for British writers.
Two days before the outbreak of the Six Day War when it looked
as though Israel might be unable to withstand the united on­
slaught of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies, the lead­
ing Anglo-Jewish writers of the day including Harold Pinter,
Wolf Mankowitz and Emmanuel Litvinoff wrote an impassioned
2. Harold Fisch,
The Dual Image
(New York: 1971).