Arts & Culture

Turns Out I’m a Jewish Writer

From: Adam To: Arnon Re: Obligatory Jew(ish) Reflections Arnon, I’m on a bit of an ah-the-wonderful-writing-life vibe today, because I went to an excellent party last night, thrown in honor of my friend Colm Tobin. There were a bunch of … Read More

By / April 11, 2008

From: Adam To: Arnon Re: Obligatory Jew(ish) Reflections

Arnon,

I’m on a bit of an ah-the-wonderful-writing-life vibe today, because I went to an excellent party last night, thrown in honor of my friend Colm Tobin. There were a bunch of writers there, some of whom I knew, some of whom I didn’t. It was a thoroughly fun and friendly event, and sometime over the course of the evening I had the minor revelation that very seldom do I meet a writer I don’t like, or can’t talk to. I guess there’s a natural and multi-faceted sense of kinship—not least because, as you so eloquently put it, as an author you should ‘get ready to be humiliated any time of the day.’

On an entirely different note: I haven’t read your previous books (yet), so I don’t know whether it’s standard or unusual for you to write about Jewishness (I’ve been using ‘Jewishness’ instead of ‘Judaism’ lately; while it might not be a word, it seems broader to me somehow, more “cultural” and less “religious”). In any case, I wonder what your relationship to Jewishness is like — in any context you feel like discussing it, whether cultural, religious, or literary. The End of the Jews is my first novel dealing with the topic in any significant way, and for me the process of writing it meant engaging with a lot of ideas and histories that I hadn’t really confronted before.

I got kicked out of the So You Think You Might Be Jewish Sunday School and Grill when I was twelve — the short version of the story is that I had a racist teacher, so I acted out; the longer version involves an all-school assembly and the Bon Jovi song “Livin’ On A Prayer”—and it wasn’t until much later that my interest in Jewishness asserted itself, largely because I needed a way to understand my grandfather and write this book. Among other things, I started thinking about Jewish literature, Jewish humor, Jewish artistic sensibilities—wondering what they were, and how to talk about them.

Now I’m preparing to discuss some of this stuff publicly, in the context of having a book come out, and already I find myself in all kinds of new-to-me “Jewish” spaces. I’m becoming aware of issues and agendas I never knew existed; some of it is fascinating and some of it I find deeply disturbing, problematic. I wonder what your experience has been with any of this.