Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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of the Law. For this God preserved me from the electric fence.”
Sheindel’s reference to two fences is instructive. The Fence of
the Law ideally protects and saves, allowing one to protect and
to question the divine. The Nazi fence, for its part, is designed
not to enhance life but to destroy it. Sheindel is well aware both
of the dangers of illusion and the role played by mature skep­
ticism among the truly pious. She understands that her illus­
trious husband’s reputation was only an illusion. Moreover,
Ozick articulates an important post-Auschwitz religious lesson.
“The more piety,” Sheindel observes, “the more skepticism.”
Skepticism functions not only as a check on excess, but allows
one the freedom of protesting from within the tradition. To
hear the shofar’s call after Auschwitz, one must be free of il­
lusions and acknowledge the role of doubt.
For Ozick authentic Jewish identity is won through hard and
conscious striving. She writes: “From Egypt to the shame of
the calf at the foot of Sinai to Treblinka is no natural road.”18
The covenant has ineluctably singled out Jews and Jewish ob­
ligation. It is, therefore, not accidental that Ozick places as the
tale’s epigraph the rabbinic warning that one who breaks off
from the study of the Law to admire the beauty of nature does
damage to his being. Moreover, “The Pagan Rabbi” is an early
articulation of Ozick’s subsequent work in which the bearers
of truth are either Holocaust survivors or those authentically
transformed by tales of the
In “A Mercenary,” her exotic short story about Stanislav
(Stasek) Lushinski, “a Pole and a diplomat (who) was not a Polish
diplomat,” Ozick argues that even those who appear to abandon
their Jewish identity can never escape the eternal torment of
Lushinski, a survivor from Poland, serves as United
Nations representative of a nameless African country. A white
man speaking for a black country, Lushinski rejects Judaism
politically by snubbing the Israeli Ambassador, and religiously
by living with Louisa (Lulu) his non-Jewish mistress. Yet he con­
tinues to tell tales of his Holocaust experiences. His parents
were murdered on his sixth birthday. An orphan, he survived
in Poland’s forest witnessing horrors similar to those described
18. Cynthia Ozick, “Holiness and Its Discontents,”
Jewish Book Annual,
(1972-73), 10.
19. Cynthia Ozick, “A Mercenary,”
Bloodshed and Three Novellas
(New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1976).