Norman Mailer Wanted to Write the Great American Novel. And a Regular Column on Hasidism in “Commentary”

The novelist, journalist, and playwright Norman Mailer wrote more than twenty books, won two Pulitzer Prizes, married six times, and may have been as famous for his pugnacious interviews as for his written works. Born in Long Branch, New Jersey and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Flatbush and Crown Heights, Mailer had a fairly traditional, and not particularly unusual, Jewish childhood. Jesse Tisch, reviewing a recent biography, explores Mailer’s complicated and often contradictory attitudes toward his people and religion:

To be Jewish, of course, is to have a past—not to be, so to speak, the author of your own story. But Mailer needed freedom, personal and literary. He wanted to write great American novels, not a sequel to [Henry Roth’s immigrant classic] Call It Sleep.

In a 1960 letter to [the literary critic] Diana Trilling, he gave himself the blank past he seemed to need. He had “no past to protect,” he claimed, “no emotional memory.” As he told Trilling, “being a major novelist is not a natural activity for a Jew.” Being “major” required ruthlessness. From then on, he strove to remain both ruthless and rootless. To continue writing—“to defend my gift”—he needed to be American. He could imagine if he failed: “the decline in my reputation would have gutted my liver.”

Yet at other times, Mailer seemed to sing a very different tune:

Writers hiding their Jewishness don’t analyze ḥasidic texts for Commentary, as Mailer did in 1962. “I thought, ‘We have this great Jewish tradition, and I’m alienated from it,’” he later recalled. As the story goes, Mailer pitched a column about Martin Buber’s ḥasidic tales. Skeptical, Norman Podhoretz declined, but after much hectoring, he relented, handing Mailer his column.

It wasn’t Mailer’s first Jewish writing. In The Naked and the Dead, [Mailer’s much-praised account of his World War II experiences], we have anxious, gloomy Goldstein, who refuses to drink army beer (“What if it should poison me?”), and Roth, his Jewish-atheist counterpart, both of whom suffer the crude anti-Semitism of their unit. Yet Mailer insisted he wouldn’t write a Jewish novel. “Oh, Lord, there is absolutely no need,” he sometimes said. The Jews had Isaac Bashevis Singer. “There are too many good Jewish writers around,” Mailer told Martin Amis in 1991. If he couldn’t compete, he wouldn’t dabble.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Commentary, Diana Trilling, Henry Roth, Norman Podhoretz


Despite the Toll of War at Home and Rising Hostility Abroad, Investors Are Still Choosing Israel

When I first saw news that Google wasn’t going through with its acquisition of the tech startup Wiz, I was afraid hesitancy over its Israeli founders and close ties with the Jewish state might have something to do with it. I couldn’t have been more wrong: the deal is off not because of Google’s hesitancy, but because Wiz feared the FTC would slow down the process with uncertain results. The company is instead planning an initial public offering. In the wake of the CrowdStrike debacle, companies like Wiz have every reason to be optimistic, as Sophie Shulman explains:

For the Israeli cyber sector, CrowdStrike’s troubles are an opportunity. CrowdStrike is a major competitor to Palo Alto Networks, and both companies aim to provide comprehensive cyber defense platforms. The specific issue that caused the global Windows computer shutdown is related to their endpoint protection product, an area where they compete with Palo Alto’s Cortex products developed in Israel and the SentinelOne platform.

Friday’s drop in CrowdStrike shares reflects investor frustration and the expectation that potential customers will now turn to competitors, strengthening the position of Israeli companies. This situation may renew interest in smaller startups and local procurement in Israel, given how many institutions were affected by the CrowdStrike debacle.

Indeed, it seems that votes of confidence in Israeli technology are coming from many directions, despite the drop in the Tel Aviv stock exchange following the attack from Yemen, and despite the fact that some 46,000 Israeli businesses have closed their doors since October 7. Tel Aviv-based Cyabra, which creates software that identifies fake news, plans a $70 million IPO on Nasdaq. The American firm Applied Systems announced that it will be buying a different Israeli tech startup and opening a research-and-development center in Israel. And yet another cybersecurity startup, founded by veterans of the IDF’s elite 8200 unit, came on the scene with $33 million in funding. And those are the stories from this week alone.

But it’s not only the high-tech sector that’s attracting foreign investment. The UK-based firm Energean plans to put approximately $1.2 billion into developing a so-far untapped natural-gas field in Israel’s coastal waters. Money speaks much louder than words, and it seems Western businesses don’t expect Israel to become a global pariah, or to collapse in the face of its enemies, anytime soon.

Read more at Calcalist

More about: cybersecurity, Israeli economy, Israeli gas, Israeli technology, Start-up nation