To a Leading Critic, Both American-Jewish and Israeli Literature Express Deep Ambivalences

March 31 2021

In The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century, Adam Kirsch seeks to create a sort of canon of Jewish literature from the past 100 years, combining selections with brief critical essays. Julian Levinson writes in his review:

The section on America portrays the drama of acculturation as a perilous balancing act between Jewish loyalties and American allurements. For every exuberant embrace of America as a new home for Jews (Kirsch points to Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March and many of Grace Paley’s stories), there are darker portents that an unbridgeable gulf ultimately divides Americanness and Jewishness. Nowhere is this clearer than in Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Pagan Rabbi,” which ends with a suicide, proving Ozick’s point, according to Kirsch, that “a rabbi can never become a true pagan. . . . To cherish the world, the body, and the senses is to sin against Judaism.”

American Jews, in this view, are doomed to wander between irreconcilable choices. Most of the American Jews depicted in the texts Kirsch selects are divided selves. But Israel hardly offers the relief from existential affliction that Zionist idealists have been insisting it would. From S.Y. Agnon’s Only Yesterday to Orly Castel-Bloom’s [1992 novel] Dolly City, Kirsch exposes recurrent themes of madness, alienation, and spiritual confusion.

Where in all of this, we might ask, are the blessings promised by the title? Tellingly, both the America and Israel sections conclude with writers who use the language of religion, ritual, and prayer to create ultimately affirmative visions.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Cynthia Ozick, Israeli literature, S. Y. Agnon, Saul Bellow

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism