Article Library / Annual Assessment

2018 Annual Assessment

New trends in the representation of Israel aside, the Jewish state occupies a central and important place in American culture, and especially in contemporary American literature. Novels by major American Jewish authors such as Nicole Krauss, Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Safran Foer offer a new and paradoxical mix, one in which criticism alternates with affinity and affection. These authors not only illustrate Theodore Sasson’s “new engagement,” but add depth and complexity to it. All of these novels evince a belief in Israel’s legitimacy and in the need for its existence – a recognition that, consciously or unconsciously, characterizes the younger generation’s American Jewish identity. Thus, even today, Israel is an integral part of the American Jewish identity. This insight transcends the disagreements and controversies that exist between the Israeli and American Jewish communities. Understanding and embracing this insight contradicts the dichotomous, primarily negative, discourse that currently prevails, replacing its one-dimensional picture of alienation and disconnection with a more complex stance.

Setting discursive boundaries is important, as cultural discourse does not merely describe reality but also structures it. A discourse that critically addresses problematic issues while also emphasizing connection on the levels of emotion and identity, will ultimately perpetuate the existing affinity and relationship, while supporting the quest for a more timely and suitable relationship framework. To ensure the establishment of such a discourse, encounters should be organized between American Jewish and Israeli writers, artists, and cultural researchers. The encounters should aim to cultivate a non-antagonistic, non-extremist discourse, one that addresses the complexity of artistic creation and that encompasses the differences, difficulties, and contradictions that characterize current American Jewish discourse on Israel. To be clear: what is being called for here is by no means a “mobilized” literature or art, which would be inappropriate on more than one level. Ethically, it would likely be viewed as undermining democratic and enlightened values. Perhaps more importantly, it is inappropriate because of the inherent contradiction between art, which is fundamentally free and resistant to systemized messages and the pursuit of narrow political goals. In contrast, “using” literature’s essential diversity to spotlight complex positions, in place of a narrow, one-dimensional and dichotomous political discourse, would be an appropriate – indeed, a necessary – way to proceed.

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