I read Derek Rubin's anthology, Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) A Jewish American Writer, of Jewish writer's essays earlier in the year. I don't normally think of Jewish writers as Jewish writers and most of those who wrote essays for this volume don't view themselves that way either even though they often write about Jewish characters and situations.
I don't recall anything special about this book, nor did I make any progress in coming to terms with being Jewish. It seems that gaining a better understanding of what it means to be Jewish matters to me now in a way it never did before.
That is the way I always feel each time I read one of these commentaries on what being Jewish means to Jewish individuals. It remains one of those unanswered questions that nibble away at the boundaries of my mind, never looming so large, however, that I really get serious about the matter.
Here are some passages I noted in the book. The first two are from Rubin's Introduction and the remaining are from some of the authors included in this volume.
…only in her writing can she feel fully at home…
…as the immigrant experience recedes into the past and a younger generation of Jewish writers emerges, fully acculturated and well integrated into American suburban and middle and upper middle class urban life, so Jewish literature will cease to exist as a rich, distinct presence in the American literary landscape.
Writers and criminals have often found that they had much in common. And correctional officials seem to understand thanks to psychology courses they take in the universities that it is excellent therapy to write books and that it may soften the hearts of criminals to record their experiences.
I have tried to fit my soul into the Jewish-writer category, but it does not feel comfortably accommodated there.
…his soul could not bear to be cut off from its kind, and that was why he did his work in cafes.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines the grounds for beliefs, asking such questions as what constitutes good grounds for various sorts of beliefs….In epistemology the difference between grounded and ungrounded beliefs makes all the difference.
…hypervigilance in regard to beliefs…
My hopeless passion for fiction had seemed to me, back in the days when I thought of myself as a real philosopher (which I no longer do), a rather shameful little aberration.
Deep down in the regions of the psyche where fiction is born, regions supremely indifferent to criteria of rationality, being Jewish seems to matter to me more than I can explain or justify.
Storytelling has a high moral role to play in Judaism.
…becoming a writer meant coming to terms with who you actually are.
…a community of passionate readers in an increasingly difficult world for serious fiction
…self-consciousness, ambivalence, and guilt about the Jewish tradition…
Fiction is not written to affirm the principles and beliefs that everybody seems to hold, nor does it seek to guarantee the appropriateness of our feelings. The world of fiction, in fact, frees us from the circumscriptions that society places upon feeling; one of the greatnesses of the art is that it allows both the writer and the reader to respond to experience in ways not always available in day-to-day conduct; or, if they are available, they are not possible, or manageable, or legal, or advisable, or even necessary to the business of living. We may not even know that we have such a range of feelings and responses until we have come into contact with the work of fiction.
And this expansion of moral consciousness, this exploration of moral fantasy, if of considerable value to man and society.
The test of any literary work is not how broad is its range or representation—for all that breadth may be characteristic of a kind of narrative—but the depth with which the writer reveals whatever he has chosen to represent.
And what is a Jew? A Jew is a person who is safe nowhere…