What is missing in the uniformly negative response to Wendy Shalit’s recent bombshell in the New York Times Book Review, about how Jewish fiction bashes Orthodoxy, is an acknowledgement of the partial correctness of her claim: That by and large, Orthodox Judaism is more often the focus of wicked satire than fulsome praise.
Shalit’s tone in her essay “The Observant Reader” was so dismissive, and her blurring of the lines between fiction and community P.R. so thorough, that it was hard to find the nugget of truth in her critique.
In the first scene of “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning magnum opus, a rabbi appears on stage to eulogize an old Jewish woman he has never met. Standing on a bare stage with the coffin, he tells the assembled mourners that although the era of “Great Voyages” has passed, American Jews will still never quite be at home in America.
Publishers Weekly, in its review of the fascinating new book “The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town” (Norton), notes somewhat offhandedly that “although classed by the publisher as history/Judaica, this powerful volume will also appeal to true-crime readers…”
When I was younger, a popular bumper sticker read: “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” Back then, I thought it referred to some strange pride non-Jews had in a series of Jews that, contrary to the direction of the gene pool, possessed modest skill with a chisel or saw.