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November 14, 2003 - Image 62

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-14

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

EDITOR'S NOTE

A

t the core of all great books, underneath the varieties of language, stories and ideas, lies the complex' relation-
ship of the individual to society. And at the core of all reading groups is a similar concern: individuals getting
together to create a communal conversation, held together by the vision of the writer being read. The National
Foundation for Jewish Culture, through its many literary programs, grams, awards and publications, has as its mission the
nurturing both of the Jewish writer and of the community of readers that helps give literature its collective meaning.
In this year's Jewish Literary Supplement, we have brought together essays, reflections and excerpts of new and forth-

coming fiction in order to initiate a dialogue about the state of Jewish culture today. We hope these contributions from
today's best and brightest writers will prompt you to read their work as part of a reading group, or just to enjoy it as a
book group of one.

The importance of Jewish book groups, and the connection between reading and community, is now widely acknowl-
edged by the Jewish world. We are therefore proud to be partnering with so many Federations, foundations, Jewish
newspapers and Jewish book fairs in distributing this year's Jewish Literary Supplement to over 150,000 readers across the
country (see back page for more details).

The six fiction writers excerpted herein illuminate a broad range of issues. But what they share is the concern of how
the individual is connected (or disconnected) from community
A.B. Yehoshua, in his novel The Liberated Bride, goes behind the headlines of terrorism and Arab/Jewish conflict to

explore how two peoples live in such uneasy — but often creative — tension. Romanian Jewish exile Norman Manea, mean-
while, in his memoir The Hooligan's Return; tries to explain how he can live in uneasy, creative tension with himself.

Melvin Jules Bukiet, in his provocative satire Tongue of the Jews, re-evaluates the "saintly" status of Holocaust sur-
vivors, and a new generation of gentiles who fall in love with them. While in Lam Vapnyar's There are Jews in My House,

a Jewish and gentile woman create a complex, temporary community as the Nazis invade their Russian town.

Nelly Reifler, in her story "Julian," digs deep into the anxiety of solitude to expose a teenager trying to understand
sex, death and religion in a diminishing family. And storyteller Joel ben Izzy, in his memoir The Beggar King and the Secret
of Happiness, describes the solitude of trying to be a Jewish storyteller after losing a vocal chord during surgery.

Our essayists also explore the connections between the individual, community and history in America today. Novelist

Dam Horn describes the lost cultural opportunities when Jews associate Yiddish only with humor, as if the language —
and the culture it represents — was merely a thousand-year-old joke. Short-story writer Joan Leegant, analyzing recent

fiction about Israel, helps us understand the complex role the Holy Land plays in the North American cultural imag,ina-
lion. And professor Janet Burstein, taking the long view, explores how very real the Biblical stories are for many of us —

and how those ancient stories continue, remarkably, to hold a mirror up to our own world.
In a new feature this year called "Readings," Letty Cotun Pogrebin reflects on a book about black-Jewish relations,
Steve Almond discusses a story by Tillie Olsen and the Jewish emphasis on justice, and Rachel Jacobsohn wonders if

her favorite Jewish writers might be able to point us toward peace.

krou might be interested to know that the National Foundation for Jewish Culture is spearheading the cultural compo-
nent of the 350th anniversary celebrations of Jewish life in Anierica. While America is the quintessential land of the
individual, it is also the place where the Jewish community has thrived more fully than anywhere else in history Maximum

individual Jewish freedom clashing with maximum Jewish communal energy has led to some of the most important American
literature of the last half-century. Writers like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth helped create a new kind of language for this

struggle, focusing on Jewish characters, but with wide applicability for every other ethnic group in this country.
For many Jewish writers, acutely sensitive to the demands of community, literature is about creating room for the indi-
vidual to prosper in solitude. For many Jewish readers, however, fiction is about banishing that solitude. Such is the case with
Phyllis Friedman, the benefactor of this supplement's editorial content (see p. 22), who explains that literature has been a pri-

mary vehicle for creating community — whether with her father, for whom she read a particular book as a birthday present,
or with her bookgroup, whose understanding of Jewish (and other) fiction was facilitated by a nun.

Perhaps it is only in America — and maybe only after 350 years — that a nun would be chosen to facilitate a Jewish book
group, and that the writers most critical of Jewish communal norms would find themselves the darlings of Jewish reading
groups all over the country.
Happy reading.

Cr/

(.7

NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR JEWISH CULTURE

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