Writing About Jews
EVER SINCE some of my first stories were published in 1959 in a volume called Goodbye, Columbus, my work has been attacked from certain pulpits and in certain periodicals as dangerous, dishonest, and irresponsible. I have read editorials and articles in Jewish community newspapers condemning these stories for ignoring the accomplishments of Jewish life, or, as Rabbi Emanuel Rackman recently told a convention of the Rabbinical Council of America, for creating a “distorted image of the basic values of Orthodox Judaism,” and even, he went on, for denying the non-Jewish world the opportunity of appreciating “the overwhelming contributions which Orthodox Jews are making in every avenue of modern endeavor….” Among the letters I receive from readers, there have been a number written by Jews accusing me of being anti-Semitic and “self-hating,” or, at the least, tasteless; they argue or imply that the sufferings of the Jews throughout history, culminating in the murder of six million by the Nazis, have made certain criticisms of Jewish life insulting and trivial. Furthermore, it is charged that such criticism as I make of Jews–or apparent criticism-is taken by anti-Semites as justi- fication for their attitudes, as “fuel” for their fires, particularly as it is a Jew himself who seemingly admits to habits and behavior that are not exemplary, or even normal and acceptable. When I speak before Jewish audiences, invariably there have been people who have come up to me afterward to ask, “Why don’t you leave us alone? Why don’t you write about the Gentiles?”-”Why must you be so critical?”- “Why do you disapprove of us so?”-this last question asked as often with incredulity as with anger; and often when asked by people a good deal older than myself, asked as of an erring child by a loving but misunderstood parent.
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