Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
to some extent, Heidi Eklund — at least in her insistence on
the primacy of history over literature — also speak for Ozick.
Ozick has charted a lonely and difficult course. Those who
announce covenantal responsibility and a constant listening for
the voice of the shofar always chart such a course. Her task
is made even more difficult by the fact that we now live, as
Yosef Yerushalmi notes, in a time characterized by a sharp break
in the continuity of Jewish group memory.40 How feasible is
it to articulate Judaism as a “blazingly distinctive culture” in
an era of increasing assimilation? Moreover, are not Ozick’s very
brilliance and the cerebral nature of her fiction likely to render
her work increasingly inaccessible? Here one thinks of Eisen’s
earlier cited observation. The majority of Diaspora Jews are little
interested in or aware of history. They are also embarrassed
by the notion of chosenness and are intermarrying at an un ­
precedented rate. Yet, at the same time there has never been
more study of the Talmud nor has the search for Jewish mean­
ing ever been more clearly evident.
Ozick’s position is not unlike that of Jeremiah of old. Both
the ancient prophet and the contemporary novelist advocate
a point of view which appears radically at odds with their con­
temporaries. Yet Ozick can neither create a Jewish community
where one does not exist, nor can she dismiss the attractiveness
of Diaspora ease. In fact, Ozick’s stance sharply contrasts to
the observation of Nathan Glazer who, over three decades ago,
warned of a time “ . . . just about upon us, when American Jews
become aware of a contradiction between the kind of society
America wants to become — and indeed the kind of society
most Jews want it to be — and the demands of the Jewish re­
ligion.”41 What Ozick can, however, do is emphasize the con­
tinuing validity of the search for authentic post-Auschwitz Jew
ish identity. Paradigmatic figures from biblical, rabbinic, mys­
tical and contemporary Jewish experience still speak through
her writings. These figures combine with her own literary in­
ventions: Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Pult, Elie Wiesel and Hester
Lilt, the nameless Holocaust survivor and Enoch Vand, Bruno
Schulz and Lars Ademening.
40. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi,
Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
(Seattle:
University o f Washington Press, 1982), 93.
41. Nathan Glazer,
American Judaism: Second Edition. Revised with a New Intro­
duction
(Chicago: The University o f Chicago Press, 1989), 9.