Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Roth turns out to be in fact, of all contemporary Jewish writers
in America, the one most engaged with the question of Jewish
identity in our contemporary world, the one who has the clearest
perception of the nature of Israel’s continuing crisis and of the
existential abyss which divides the Diaspora Jew from his Israeli
fellow-Jew, as well as of the bond between them. They are re­
lated to one another as life and counterlife. There are tensions
and conflicts among Jews in the Diaspora even in the post-
assimilationist era. Henry is in rebellion against the bourgeois
family of Jewish tradition. And there are fearful conflicts and
divisions within Israel society too which Roth wittily and mas­
terfully sketches in for his reader — the secular-religious di­
vision, the cleavage between Right and Left.
But the literary evidence suggests that none of these cleavages
compares with the existential abyss dividing Israeli and Diaspora
Jewry. There is the essential duality — it can be bridged by
humor and irony, but it is there. Israel represents the Diaspora
Jew’s other self, his “secret sharer.” As such, Israel is a problem
that will not go away. It will not go away because it is inside
us and not simply “over there.” It is that which prevents us
from being at one with ourselves and with our surroundings.
If we are honest enough, that is what we will recognize in the
end. As for the conclusions that we will then need to draw —
that is a question which takes us beyond literary texts and the
study of literature.