The Jewish Short Story Today: Marginalization, Immigration, Alie

Though neglected by the mainstream, the Jewish short story is alive and well.

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Another two-language author is Naama Goldstein. Born in Boston, Goldstein moved with her parents to Israel when she was three. She's been back-and-forth ever since. This has left her something of an expert on geographical, if not emotional, displacement. As Caroline Leavitt wrote in her review of Goldstein's The Place Will Comfort You (2004): "Goldstein writes radiant stories about just what it means to embrace or struggle with your culture. They ask, Can you be as Jewish in an Israeli kibbutz as you are in suburban America? Or is the American dream of a two-car garage and gated home just a way-station for your true destiny in Israel? Where, indeed, can Jewish people feel most and forever at home, or is the idea of a true Jewish state simply more of an elusive state of mind?"

Going Native

But all-American Jews can write stories that ask similar questions. In 2005, Jay Neugeboren published a collection called News from the New American Diaspora and Other Tales of Exile. And there was Joan Leegant's "Seekers in the Holy Land," from her collection An Hour in Paradise, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. This story shows a character who flees the safety and certainty of Diaspora life. Leegant's questing American leaves Boston for Safed and asks, "What was there in America if you were Jewish? Temples with health clubs? Fund-raisers? Rabbis...preoccupied with building campaigns, numbers, membership rolls? Or, on the other side, rules, fetishistic rules, a black and white orthodoxy. But for the soul, what was there?" Unfortunately, Leegant's protagonist learns that this idea of being Jewish has a way of following people, even to Israel.

Perhaps the best expression of the American strain of Jewish alienation comes from Todd Hasak-Lowy's superb short story, "On the Grounds of the Complex Commemorating the Nazi's Treatment of the Jews." Says the tale's protagonist, a mopey, heartbroken Jewish-American businessman paying a visit to Yad Vashem:

"As best he could tell, when one got past the American Jew's interest in who else in America--from celebrities to closeted coworkers--was Jewish, American Jews' two main interests seems to be the Holocaust, as he often heard it called, and the State of Israel. He was, of course, with both entities on some superficial level. Right below the threshold of his consciousness, he sensed he should, as he explored his Jewishness, choose either the State of Israel or the Holocaust, as he often heard it called, as his main Jewish interest."

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Ken Gordon

Ken Gordon is the editor of JBooks.com. His personal website is Kdgordon.com.