Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ALAN L. BERGER
The Lesson of the Shofar:
Jewish Identity and the Holocaust
in the Works of Cynthia Ozick
T
h e
call
o f
t h e
shofar traditionally symbolizes a rem inder to
the Jewish people of its identity, its particularity, and its destiny.
Specifically, the shofar stands
against
assimilation, the perils of
failing to be addressed by history and, above all, the danger
of idolatry. But the message of the ram’s horn also announces
the
opportunity
for
teshuva
or repentance.
Teshuva
is, however,
a highly nuanced concept meaning both “to re tu rn” and “to
reply.” “It is,” writes Ehud Luz, “a movement of return to one’s
sources, . . . and also, simultaneously, a response to a divine
call.”1Consequently, hearing the shofar is tantamount to re tu rn ­
ing to one’s source of identity. But what is the nature of this
identity after the Holocaust? Among Jewish American novelists,
Cynthia Ozick has taken most seriously the post
-Shoah
lesson
of the shofar. In fact, Ozick’s fictions contend that the sound
of the ram’s horn is filtered through the Holocaust. In Ozick’s
own words, “To be a Jew means to be a carrier of that kind
of history (Holocaust remembrance); there is no way out of it.”
Moreover, this “exact knowledge” carries “permanent effects.”2
Ozick employs the shofar as a poetic metaphor by which Jew­
ish American writers should be guided. Jewish identity needs,
she attests, to learn the “Lesson of the Shofar.” Ozick writes:
“If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard
far. But if we choose to be Mankind rather than Jewish and
blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all . . . ”3 Con­
1. Ehud Luz, “Repentance,”
Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought,
ed. Arthur
A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (New York: The Free Press, 1987), 785.
2. “Debate: Ozick vs. Schulweis,”
Moment,
(May/June, 1976), 77.
3. Cynthia Ozick,
Art and Ardor
(New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984), 177.
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