Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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the facile, superficial
The Promised Land
by Mary Antin (1912)
and the grave, thoughtful, solidly wrought
The Rise of David
by the venerable Abraham Cahan (1917). As was, alas,
to be expected of a community, so to speak, “on the make,” it
The Promised Land
which pointed a way. To this day we
are embarrassed and grieved by the novels of second-generation
American Jews who carry the Mary Antin motif to morbid
lengths of self-degradation, raging against their residual Jewish-
ness (Norman Katkov’s
Eagle at My Eyes
) with flamboyant
illiteracy, exalting not the noble and elevated aspects of American
culture, but its very dregs and sewage at the expense of all that
was glorious and sacred in their ancestral tradition (Sam Ross’s
The Sidewalks Are Free).
Following this tendency backward for a moment from its
latest and feeblest manifestation, we come upon Samuel Ornitz’s
Paunch and Jowl
, Michael Gold’s
Jews Without Money
Jerome Weidman’s
I Can Get I t For You Wholesale
, certain
earlier performances of Ben Hecht
{A Jew in Love).
thematic material, placed, as it were, upside down, inspired such
things as Laura Z. Hobson’s
Gentlemen s Agreement
and Jo
All these books, fortunately and inevitably
quite without literary merit, represent a frantic escape from
Jewishness and Judaism under various aspects:
Jews are
morally shabby or there
no Jews. In the first instance they
and the Jewishness within the writer are to be repudiated; in
the second instance not even repudiation is needed. The reason
why this unsavory subject had to be treated is because, precisely
now, at the middle of the century, we are flooded by documents
of this character and innocent Christian publishers send one
complimentary copies with the hilarious notion that, having
published a “Jewish” novel, they have performed a graceful act.
Let us turn now to a generation which, whatever the specific
aspects of its work, produced men of letters of honorable char-
acter: Louis Untermeyer, Jean Starr Untermeyer, Waldo Frank,
the late James Oppenheim, Franklin P. Adams, Walter Lipp-
mann, George Jean Nathan, Horace Meyer Kallen, the late
Morris Raphael Cohen.* I am tempted to add the eminent
scholars in the ranks of that generation, with some assurance
that the works, for instance, of Harry A. Wolfson will, even as
* Since I cannot obviously discuss myself, I may be permitted to list my speci-
fically Jewish books:
Up Stream
The Island W ithin
The Last Days of Shylock
This People
A Book of Modern Jewish Thought
Trumpet of Jubilee
The Answer
Breathe Upon These
(1944) and the forthcoming
American Jew
Character and Destiny