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Number of Pages: 436
Publication Date: 2001
|Dimensions: 9.56 X 6.02 X 1.47 (inches)|
Best Contemporary Jewish Writing is a treasure trove of shortstories, poetry, and essays from such renowned contributors asNaomi Wolf, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, William Safire, andMarge Piercy. Dive into this rich arrayof writing and you ll seethat the Jewish experience reflects universal themes.
The writers in this collection have something to say to Jews, notonly to those struggling with their Jewish identity, and also tothe wider world. Whether your main interest is in poetry orpolitics, spirituality or cultural identity, social healing orindividual transformation, you ll find Best Contemporary JewishWriting to be a collection that inspires, excites, and provokes. Italso reflects the diversity of thought, opinion, and sensibility oftoday s best known Jewish thinkers and writers.
This volume is the first in the much anticipated annual series"Best Jewish Writing."
Whenever my old friend, the curmudgeonly book lover, came acrossan anthology with a title like "Best Plays" or "Best-Loved Poems,"he'd always mutter, "Best? Best? Who says so?" Who, indeed? Why,editors of anthologies claiming "bestness," of course. The editorof "Best Contemporary Jewish Writing" is Rabbi Michael Lerner,editor of Tikkun magazine and himself included in Utne Reader'slist of America's "100 Most Important Visionaries."
Continuing his quest for the best, Lerner concludes his collectionwith a list of "The One Hundred Best Contemporary Jewish Books." Somany judgment calls about what's best may well stimulate debate.Still, why quibble? As Lerner explains, this is simply his opinionof what is most significant.
Lerner is a man with a mission, and the mission concerns Jewishspiritual renewal. If large numbers of American Jews in the earlyand middle decades of the 20th century were breaking loose fromtheir traditional moorings, the last few decades have witnessed, ifnot quite a return to origins, then certainly a renewed interestamong Jews in their religious and cultural heritage. And, indeed,the sheer diversity of voices in this collection, the passion,intelligence and sense of commitment that can be heard are ampleevidence of this renewal.
Many kinds of writing have been included: memoirs, essays, literarycriticism, fiction and poetry. Sen. Joseph Lieberman describes theorigins of his commitment to public life. Moroccan-born Ruth KnafoSetton reflects on her personal experiences as a "Sephardic Jewess"(from the title of her piece). In "Gay and Orthodox," Rabbi SteveGreenberg discusses the dilemmas he has faced trying to reconcilehis sexuality with scriptural injunctions against lying with men.Questions of Jewish identity, such as finding the right pathbetween assimilation and distinctness, are addressed in a varietyof forms, including an engaging poem by Kenneth Koch and athoughtful essay by David Biale.
Several pieces by feminists, such as theologian Rachel Adler andnovelist Anita Diamant, offer provocative and illuminatinginterpretations of biblical stories (although Susan Schnur'sdiatribe against sexism in the Book of Esther is simplyobtuse).
On the current literary front, Morris Dickstein surveyscontemporary Jewish writers, while Norman Podhoretz has someincisive things to say about Philip Roth and Saul Bellow.
Perhaps the most fascinating material in this book deals with humanresponsibility toward the natural world. "My commitment to the lifeof the planet is stronger than my commitment to any philosophy orcreed," declares Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the JewishRenewal Movement. "If you have felt commanded by the DivineImperative to protect Earth from planetary destruction, then youhave undergone the first stage of a Gaean initiation." Citing EvanEisenberg's book "The Ecology of Eden" (one of the 100 best onLerner's list), Arthur Waskow offers an account of the Hebrewreligion as a response of humble, freedom-loving WesternSemites--shepherds, hunter-gatherers and hill farmers--to the farmore regimented, hierarchical world of the Babylonian empire, wherea revolution in agricultural technology had created wealth, orderand stability, but at the cost of a drastic change in man'srelationship to the Earth, to women and to his fellow man.
Two later sections, "Living in the Shadows of the Holocaust" and"Israel in Conflict," are marked by a certain tendentiousness.Although Lerner makes some concession to representing those pushingfor the peace process and those who consider it sadly unrealistic,the overall thrust is to lend plausibility to the doves. A triad ofessays discussing the Holocaust--by Jonathan Rosen, Zymunt Baumanand Tikkun's associate editor Peter Gabel--makes some interestingpoints about everything from the film "Schindler's List" to theNazi mentality. Read in sequence, they function as a kind ofthree-pronged critique of Jews who (as they see it) use theHolocaust as an "excuse" to justify Israeli hard-linepolicies.
Jews concerned for their safety and survival having thus beendiscredited as victims of mass hysteria, the stage is set forIsraeli revisionist historian Benny Morris' critique of previousIsraeli historians for their tendency to minimize Israel's role ingetting Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes during the IsraeliWar of Independence. Then, for anyone still concerned about thedangers of anti-Semitism--anyone who's been following the venomousgoings-on at the soi-disant "anti-racism" (viz. anti-Zionism) U.N.conference in Durban--Jerome Slater notes (rightly, but perhaps nolonger all that relevantly) that Palestinian Arabs were notinnately anti-Jewish and only became that way after their land wasoccupied by Israel. (To this, one might say: Nor were Germansoverwhelmingly anti-Semitic until they were humiliated atVersailles! To recognize a "root cause" does not necessarily, byitself, enable one to undo the effects.) A grimmer and (sadly, onefears) more realistic view is provided in Daniel Pipes' essay "Landfor What?"
Still, there is an optimism, excitement and animation aboutLerner's collection that is hard to resist. This volume is thefirst in a series that is planned to come out each year. It isclearly an auspicious beginning. (By Merle Rubin, LA Times,September 17, 2001)