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The G-Word, Among Many

There’s been a lot going on in politics this last week, at least
scandal-wise. There’s already been an almost obscene amount of airtime
and column space devoted to the gentleman from Idaho’s exploits in
cruisin’, and since I’ve had my lit-student hat on more recently, I want
to talk about literature and politics and the Jewish community, right now.
I love learning about the connection between literature and
sociological/economic/political periods, and it’s what originally drew me
to Jewish literature and Jewish academia in the first place.

I read an excellent Jewschool post on Cynthia Ozick’s recent response to reviews
of Tova Reich’s novel Our Holocaust in The Jewish Week. Since the
review will be pretty useless unless you’ve heard of the book (which is
certainly an excellent read, and worth your time even if it infuriates
you), a quick recap: Reich uses Our Holocaust to skewer “the
victim-commemoration industry,” and it gets pretty intense. And whether
you think it’s brilliant satire or petulant cruelty, the fact remains that
it is, in fact, demonstrative of the kind of tension that exists regarding
Holocaust memorialization, both culturally and politically.

Whether it’s the struggle to define a Jewish identity and to fight
assimilation or the very real role the ADL plays in determining whether or
not the U.S. Congress recognizes the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and
“the g-word,” as Abe Foxman puts it, are disputed territory right now.
(The Forward has taken a look at the ADL’s role in all this.) One of the main arguments for the ADL’s continued stance that it would be bad for Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide is that it would upset Turkey, an important ally for the U.S., and an even more important one for Israel. This argument may well prove correct, but then again, if Kurdistan cedes from Iraq—something analysts deem possible—Turkey’s going to invade and declare war with us, so our caution on this may be worthless. Also, it’s mildly morally reprehensible.

This is something that will have very real consequences in our world,
but who are the two making the most noise—or at least the noise that gets
a lot of coverage—over this issue? A novelist and a literary critic.
Both women. I can’t verify that there’s something to that fact, but I
think there’s a definite legacy—both distinctly Jewish and distinctly
feminist—at work. Because we still see a media imbalance
that penalizes women (and the Jewish press is not necessarily excluded),
women who want their voices heard have learned to speak out as loudly as
they can, exercising to their full advantage their blasting wit (Reich)
and the sheer force of their intellect (Ozick). And tapping into a richly
literate and socially attuned stream of Jewish culture helped them do it
in the realm of literature.

I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground for any further updates on this
particular issue, but mostly I’ve been enjoying yet another example that, in
our day as in days past, the best place a Jewish feminist can go for her
political fix is sometimes the arts section.

–Mel Weiss