The Question of Survival
Although four generations of Zionist and Yiddishist thinkers, Hebrew essayists, novelists, and poets, have struggled with the definition of Jewish peoplehood and its bearing on a revived Jewish state, the question has never had much urgency in the intellectual life of American Jews. At times of stress or crisis, Jews everywhere tend to assume a common solidarity, but in this country, at other times, they have not troubled themselves much about the nature of their allegiances. It is not stress, however, but continued normalcy which evokes the malaise of problems of identity, and now that the Zionist goal of “normalization” has been palpably realized in Israel, a sovereign state for almost two decades, the whole question of Jewish national identity may begin to loom larger, in a new perspective, for many Jews. One possibly illuminating sign of these times is the excitement and disturbance aroused in France by a book on Israel which appeared there about a year and a half ago.
Georges Friedmann’s Fin du peuple juif? (“The End of the Jewish People?) is one of those rare books that become “events” not for their appeal as scandal or literary novelty but because they truly are events in the realm of ideas, compelling us to reassess old assumptions, take longer views of the most familiar intellectual scenes. Friedmann’s book created a considerable stir in the French Jewish community, and, to a lesser degree, in serious Christian circles in France. It was heatedly debated, attacked, praised in the press, and was even the subject of public forums and round-table discussions, including one in Strassburg in which Friedmann himself participated, trying to explain, as it were, to the indignant elders of Israel that what they objected to was not what he had meant at all.
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