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October 01, 1965 - Image 11

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1965-10-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

-



OP

Crossing Sixty: Rejection of Hate, Denigration

By MEYER LEVIN
sense of continuing Jewish life. The
Since I was born on Yom Kippur unpleasant side of this peculiar
eve, I have always felt a double undeclared struggle is that the real
impulse of self-examination and issues are never brought into the
reckoning during the days of awe; open, but that instead as in coun-
the traditional impulse imposed by tries where culture is controlled,
the holiday itself, and the personal campaigns of literary denigration
impulse that comes with each birth- are set in motion. So-and-so is not
day. This year, there is a third really a good writer, he is a colos-
factor, for I cross the important sal bore, his style is clumsy, his
boundry of the sixtieth year. To writing is totally square. This sort
mark it, my publishers are bring- of down-grading has a powerful
ing out my new novel, "The Strong- effect because the main factor, in
hold."
securing a really wide audience
A writer must always consider for a book today, is a certain
at his new book may be his last, literary snobism. A wide public
and although "The Stronghold" is reads the book that opinion-makers
not a summation, it is nevertheless have decreed to be the book that
written through my central preoc- "must be read." And if, on the
cupation with the place of the Jew contrary, a book is declared to be
in the world. The story is devel- "old hat" or "square", intimidated
oped as a thriller, but it is in real- readers don't dare admit that they
ity a confrontation, a distillation, find it worth-while and even out-
I hope, of the morality of Judaism, standing.
Christianity and Nazism. This story
Now, the testing-stone on the
is as far as I have got, in my 60 American Jewish literary scene ap-
years, to an understanding of what pears, fairly definitely, to be the
we in our amazing time have lived subject of Israel. More than one
through, in relation to our Jewish critic observed that a recent an-
tradition and history, and in rela- thology of American-Jewish writ-
ton to the behavior of mankind.
ing, called "Breakthrough," with
If an evaluation is in order, for all the "big names" represented
me in this sixtieth birthday, "The from Saul Bellow to Philip Roth,
Stronghold" will, I think, at least quite systematically omitted any
appear in line with everything else writing which reflected the very
that I have written, and I trust profound and active connection of
that those who take my writings American Jewish life in Israel.
at some value will find that mine How, it was asked, can one write
is a developing line, rather than about American Jewry without
controversial or retrogressive.
in which the American Jew is pre-
*
*
*
occupied with Israel? From the
I find that I. am curiously situ- social point of view alone — the
ated, on the literary scene. To the activities in Hadassah, in the UJA
widest group who know my name, committees, the status events in
I am the author or a best-seller each community, the debates for
about a shocking murder, "Com- local funds as against funds for
pulsion", and in this widest group, Israel, cannot be ignored by hon-
comparatively few readers recog- est writers, as the visits to Israel.
nize that, underlying the murder The enormous psychological effect
story, is the theme of Jewish self- of the existence of Israel is un-
hatred. Many writers, of course, deniable, even amongst those
have had this experience of being whose attitude is negative, the con-
most widely identified with a frontation with Israel represents
single, sensational work, to the a major element in their life-ori-
point where the mainstream of entation. Such flagrant omission
their endeavor appears to be over- amounts, finally, to propaganda, is
looked. But aside from the mass one of its deadlier forms. Thus,
audience for "Compulsion", I have as is well known, individuals and
had the gratification of response entire cultures are erased from
from a fairly constant body of history in totalitarian states.
readers who "grew up" on "The
* * *
Alongside omission, there is a
Old Bunch", who followed me
through "In Search", and were not tool of disparagement. Saul Bel-
cletered by the slanders and dis- low, the current idol of the intel-
paragements that were set in mo- lectuals, has his. hero, Herzog, visit
tion around what I consider my Israel for a few days, during a
most meaningful novel, "The Fana- scholarship trip, but dismisses the
tic."
entire experience in a single para-
The American Jewish community graph.
Why do writers and critics of
has reacted, with justified pride,
to the ascendance of Jewish writers this group hate me? Because, I
on the American literary scene. have represented, .for them, a ques-
The roll-call is by now remarkable. tion that they really don't want to
Not only the best seller list, but answer. Saul Bellow, in an inter-
the prize-winner list of national view in "Show", conspicuously
literary awards seems commonly dodged questions about the Jewish
to have a Jewish novelist at the aspects of his writings. He writes
top. Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Bern- warmly, indeed, of his Jewish ori-
ard Malamud, Norman Mailer, Her- gins, and his character, Herzog, is
man Wouk and such talented new- a fully conscious Jew, but dis-
mers as Bruce Friedman — all connected from the community, and
e American Jewish writers who one feels discontinuous. Precisely
write freely about Jews, whenever the same is the case of Philip
they feel like it. The case of an- Roth's academic hero in "Letting
other Roth — Henry Roth — re- Go" and with Malamud's academic
minds us that to write about Jews, hero in "A New Life." All three
only a generation ago, was a handi- men are traced in their university
cap, since his great novel, "Call background, through marital prob-
It Sleep", was neglected precisely lems, with their Jewish origin only
for this reason.
as a frame of reference to the past.
* * *
This, I feel, is where I most dif-
But we have always had a tend- fer from the literary in-group of
ency to revel in the success of any the moment. From my first con-
Jew, without enquiry too deeply tact with Zionism in Palestine in
what he actually represents. A 1925, my writing has been oriented
number of critics and observers, toward an organic view of Jewish
such as Leo Schwarz, it is true, life, in which America, Europe and
have begun to point out that the Israel have their place. And from
tide of success among Jewish the appearance of my first novel
writers runs strongly in the direc- about Jews in Israel, "Yehuda" in
tion of alienation. American Jews 1931, I have, it seems, aroused cer-
are portrayed not only through tain hostilities. For in the Thirties,
self-critical, irony and satire, such most of today's prominent Jewish
as one finds in Wouk and Fried- writers, were formed. And they
man, (and there is plenty of it, were faced with the propoganda-
I trust, in "The Old Bunch") but definition of Zionism as ultrana-
in circumstances of alienation from tionalistic, imperialistic and chau-
the Jewish community, leading to vinistic, in a time when "interna-
a tacit acceptance of assimilation. tonalism" was the required atti-
And this is accompanied by a tude. Thus, the old, old quarrel
denigration, on the literrary scene, for Jewish intellectuals, the guar-
of writers like Charles Angroff and
myself, who attempt to reflect what
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
we believe to be a truer and fuller
Friday, October 1, 1965-11

glir

OP

rel at the very roots of two great
movements of our time, Com-
munism and Zionism, has its re-
verberations to this very day in the
American literary scene.
*
*
*
The issues are rarely mentioned
outright. But knifing goes on, rath-
er constantly. Thus, I did not
know for years that another Zion-
ist novel of mine, "My Father's
House", published in 1948, was
quite deliberately sabotaged by an
anti-Zionist editor, in the publish-
ing house which brought it out, as
well as by a publicity man of the
same category. When the novel
failed to attract wider attention,
I was puzzled; only twelve years
later did a member of the publicity
staff say to me, "I was ashamed of
what we did to your book." Again,
when "In Search" was written, with
its outspoken chapter on Zionism
and Communism, a publisher who
had already accepted it was in-
duced to break his word, by a poli-
tically anti-Zionist member of his
staff.
The most trying years of my • life
were passed during troubles over
the dramatization of the Diary of
Anne Frank, which was taken out
of my hands, again, by writers who
were oriented against "Zionist im-
perialism", and when I protested
that the Jewish content of the
Diary had been slanted on the
stage, a virtual campaign of liter-
ary annihilation was waged against
me. Despite petitions signed by
hundreds of leaders of the Jewish
community, and even by Nobel-
prize winner Albert Camus, for my
version of the Diary to be heard,
the numerous Jewish community
groups .who requested permission
to present. it, were refused. And
when, in "The Fanatic", I told
a parallel story, a disparagement
campaign was implemented, around
the book.
If I am hated by some, and
vaunted by others, it is because
my work, whatever its literary
value is determined to be in the
end, at least represents an effort
to measure the whole of Jewish
experience in our time. I have, in
the main, been able to write what
I wanted to write and to reach a
considerable audience, and for this,
as I enter my sixties, I am pro-
foundly grateful.
The next decade will probably
see, in American Jewish life, a
deepening struggle over assimila-
tion, as between alienation and en-
riched identification; it is best that
we should read our talented writers
not only with pride and literary
appreciation but with awareness of
the full meaning of their omissions
and distortions, as well as what

they portray. It is best that this
argument should take place in the
open, rather than through silence.
evasion and disparagement. I hope
still to have some say in it. I hope
for the support of an alert and un-
derstanding community of readers.
More than that, no writer can ask
for.

Truman to Receive
ZOA's Herzl Award

Envoy to Cairo Reports
to Senate Committee

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Arab-
Israel tensions were amony topics
discussed in an "off-the-record"
review of the Near East situation
when Lucius D. Battle, U. S. am-
bassador to Egypt, appeared be-
fore the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee. Chairman J. W. Ful-
bright presided.
Ambassador -Battle is in Wash-
ington for consultations. The issue
of aid to the Nasser regime was
also reviewed, it was learned.

NEW YORK — Former President
Harry S. Truman has accepted the
annual Theodor Herzl Award, a
gold medallion, of the Zionist Or-
ganization of America following
his unanimous selection by the
ZOA.
The award pays tribute to his
historic achievements for the es-
tablishment of the state of Israel
and his role in safeguarding its
independence, according to an an-
nouncement by Jacques Torczyner,
president of the ZOA.
The presentation of the gold
medallion will be made to Truman
at the annual ZOA dinner, at the
Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York
City, commemorating the 18th an-
niversary of the passage of the
United Nations' resolution for the
establishment of the state of
Israel:

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