It is time for our second edition of my Jewish Literature posts! I’m thinking this is going to be probably a once a month or once every other month schedule for these, mostly because I already have so many to talk about! I’m also going to try and keep with the concept of choosing two books that share some commonality- whether that be in genre, topic, age range, something along the same lines.
The first edition of Jewish Literature covered two Literary Fiction/Romance novels. You can read that post HERE. I will have a separate page to link where there will be a roundup of all these posts, but I am still working on that.
This second edition we are going to focus on nonfiction, activism style books. I’ve found that this is an area that is interesting to try and find books in. It seems like the books that I’d like to read focus on aspects that are lacking or where the general populations thoughts are concerning Jewish People, and most books seem to focus on the political or the “why not us” style argument.
Once again, I have two books that I had very different thoughts about. One I really enjoyed, highly recommend, buy for everyone and think everyone should read. The other I liked, but found it swung a bit too far away from what I’d like to see Jewish Activism be (which is an entirely different conversation). I’ll start with the positive – mostly because if you stop reading halfway through- I’d like you to read the recommendation of the book that I’d like you to pick up and think you need to read.
People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn
Ok, this book is a masterpiece and something that I feel like we don’t talk about, or honestly, even realize is a thing. Dara Horn takes the most famous or most talked about Jews (all of whom, or most, happen to be…dead) and dives deep into their stories, into why we love them, and why we focus so much on those stories.
She starts the book out with a startling commentary on how she has only been reached out for commentary about Judaism, Jewish Life, and the like once an act of terror (and I mean an international level newsworthy even- like the Pittsburgh Synagogue or similar, not the acts of violence Jewish people are subjected to almost daily, or the hatred that spews out of people’s mouths every day). It seemed she was only asked for commentary, for a piece of journalism AFTER Jewish people had died. And that triggered something in her brain to examine it from a historical perspective.
And boy, did she. This book really opened my eyes in a lot of ways, and I found myself equally gasping/saying woah, agreeing with her commentary, and crying at the sheer unfairness of it all. This book had me think about Anne Frank’s Diary in a completely different way- and I guarantee it will you too. But it wasn’t just Anne Frank, throughout history we tend to celebrate the Jewish People, to campaign for them, to help them ONLY AFTER a catastrophe has occurred. There isn’t a lot of the why’s or how’s, but more so a concept of laying bare the reality of what it means to only care about the Jewish people after their dead.
I will never stop talking about this book and quite honestly think it should be one of those books that everyone picks up.
Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel
I’ve had this book on my radar for a minute, in fact I’ve owned it for a little while, but I hadn’t picked it up until the last couple months. Here’s the thing, a lot of my issues with social activism, especially where the Jewish people are concerned, is there is a lot of “What about us?” or “When is it our turn”. Valid questions, ones we ask ourselves as Jewish people all the time, but questions that I don’t care for. It implies that a) you can’t care for more than one cause at one time, which is false as we are all humans and we are multi-faceted and layered as humans and b) it implies that Jewish people should be/are more or less than others, which is just…wrong. We are all people, and we should all care about other people. But that’s a humanity thing and much bigger than this series about Jewish Literature.
So, at the beginning of the book David addresses this right away. He says something along the lines about how he hates that question and the idea that groups have to “take turns”, but that it seems that in activism we’ve reached this point where that is the best way to explain where we’re at. I don’t know if I entirely agree with that because I feel like there are other ways to handle Jewish Activism, but I’m also not entirely in that realm, so I might (and probably am) missing some of that.
Anyways, the book is a look at how, historically and in a modern setting, Jewish people are left out of the conversation when it comes to any sort of “ism” talk. There are specific examples stated about how politicians treat accusations of antisemitism, celebrities, and joe shmo across the street as well. I feel like this book is important to read (even though David Baddiel is British, and UK based so some of the sentiment doesn’t crossover to the US well) because there is a lot that we can miss- little things that we may not even think about but are important to call out. However, the book didn’t quite feel the same…call to action or I’m not sure how to word this, fix the problem as I think it could have been. Obviously, you can’t make people love Jewish People, but this felt like a very accusatory book and then didn’t follow up with any sort of…I don’t even know.
I’ve got a couple of other Non-Fiction books that deal with the Social Activism sphere kind of on my radar as I’d like to read a couple more to compare a bit more in depth, but it’s going to be a bit before I get to those. I think of these two, you definitely need to read People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn.