The public communication of most Jewish organizations is all about naked self-promotion, writes Ken Gordon. But what if those organizations changed from being boosters to educators?
Day schools are consistently successful in providing Jewish continuity, writes Ken Gordon. So why don’t we open their learning to the larger community?
Republished together by Dover in 1970, Cahan’s 1896 novella “Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto” and his 1898 collection, “The Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto,” are not “Dubliners.”
This isn’t just the opening paragraph of a classic American short story — the lead-off piece in the collection titled “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” — it’s an astounding instance of cultural prophecy. Poet Delmore Schwartz intuited our need for home movies to become public. If you’ve ever posted or commented on a home video on Facebook or YouTube, you know how that desire has been realized. Schwartz also shows how viewer response and the main attraction simultaneously vie for attention. From “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to “Beavis and Butt-head” and DVDs with directors’ commentaries, the legacy of “In Dreams” continues.
Last year, I published an essay on MyJewishLearning.com called “Seize the Day School.” I worried about this essay. “Seize” spelled out, in great detail, my own ambivalences — note the plural — about sending my daughter to Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. I feared that once the piece was published, her teachers might treat my little girl…differently; that the school moms would stop smiling at me and my wife; that our tuition bill would start growing exponentially.
Once upon a time, David Mamet picked up Abraham Cahan?s ?The Imported Bridegroom,? and in the course of perusing the book, he later wrote, ?I discovered in myself the racial type of the lapsed Talmudist.? The first time I read of Mamet?s discovery, in the preface to the playwright?s ?Writing in Restaurants,? I cheered. I wanted to be a lapsed Talmudist, too. Not that I really knew from Talmudists (I know Talmud the way Bart Simpson knows of long division), and I was uncomfortable with Mamet?s ?racial? talk, but his ?lapsed Talmudist? sounded considerably better than ?ignorant secular Jew? or amorets, as they say in the mameloshn.
Back in September, JBooks.com, the Web site I edit, teamed up with JVibe*, the magazine for Jewish teens, to throw an intergenerational event called Get Lit 2008. Preparing for this literary *soirée (which featured writers Tova Mirvis, Jonathan Wilson, Adam Wilson and Jon Papernick) was a lot of work, but publicizing it was remarkably easy. Why? A happy accident, really: our publications live in a kind of non-profit kibbutz here in Newton Upper Falls, Mass., and many of our friends and neighbors helped get the word out.
Mordecai: An Early American Family By Emily Bingham Hill and Wang, 346 pages, $26. * * *|History isn’t what it used to be. What was once the exclusive stomping ground of kings, emperors, presidents and warriors has been opened to the public, so to speak. Nowadays, history books are written on just about anything or anyone, from high-stakes