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See, I want to disagree with that. Because all of the Jewish writers I cherish most wrote primarily toward the outside world. They weren’t recycling the same Jewish themes in order to feed their Jewish constituency this myth of Judaism. Norman Mailer was trying to eat the entire world.
But he’s a second-generation Jewish American. And I’m pretty sure I’m fourth- or fifth-generation American. I used to call myself an Eastern bloc European Jew. That upset my mother, who’s like, “I don’t know how you can say that if your family’s been here over a hundred some odd years.”
But you identify as Jewish.
So what is that identification now? For someone who isn’t necessarily religious?
The reason I identify as Jewish is because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I would discard a piece of my identity. The only reason I identify as Jewish is as a kind of a chip and to keep that chip on my shoulder. The people who discard that chip are people who, I think, don’t really understand their history as Jews, cultural, religious or otherwise. It’s a sin or a bad thing to negate your history. But I’ve had people refuse to identify me as culturally Jewish.
I have, too! Frequently. I’m not a religious Jew, but I deeply, deeply identify as culturally Jewish. And I want to say that there are cultural traits beyond the religion that are identifiably Jewish.
Yeah, and they used to be “funny,” and now that has kind of sloughed off a little bit. I don’t think that Louis CK is Jewish, and yet he has a kind of a temperamentally Jewish humor that a sophisticated cultural Jew understands. I talked to somebody — a big person in publishing — abou tthis. If you believe you exist on the edge of a knife and at any moment they’re going to come and get you and tear your house down and kill your family and make you work at a camp — you know if you believe that’s just a hair’s breadth away — is that paranoia writ large or is that identifying as a cultural Jew?
Is there really a difference between paranoia writ large and being a cultural Jew? I feel like my most identifying feature is my paranoia. And it’s my most Jewish feature.
Right. And you wouldn’t want anybody to take that away.