A Different Kind of American Jewish Novelist, and His WASP Heaven

Now largely forgotten, Robert Nathan (1894–1985) was a prolific writer of fantasy novels who found commercial success in the 1920s and 30s. Michael Weingrad introduces him thus:

Nathan was a Jewish-American writer, but not in the way we tend to think of that category. He was not a product of the mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe that took place during the last two decades of the 19th century and first two decades of the 20th, and that has so extensively shaped the very notions of Jewishness—and, for that matter, Americanness—in the United States to this day.

No, Nathan was born into one of the old, close-knit families of New York’s Sephardi Jewish aristocracy, with roots going back to the colonial period. He was a descendant of the eminent 18th-century rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas, and related to both Emma Lazarus and Benjamin Cardozo. . . . Nathan attended private school in Switzerland and Philips Exeter Academy, and matriculated at Harvard, though he dropped out to get married—the first of seven marriages—and go to work in advertising.

Among his novels was Road of Ages, which Weingrad describes as a “Zionist allegorical fantasy.” Another, There Is Another Heaven, imagines Professor Wuthridge, a scholar of Semitics, and Mr. Lewis (né Samuel Levy), a convert to Christianity, arriving in a dystopian afterlife that exemplifies a sort of desiccated American Protestantism. Weingrad writes:

Wutheridge is curious as to why Lewis converted to Christianity. Lewis explains that it was largely out of a desire to escape exclusion and feel a sense of belonging, particularly given his sense of inferiority and shame about his family. “I was unhappy because nobody wanted me. Nobody, that is, except my family,” he says. “But who wanted my family? Nobody.” Christianity seemed a better option: “their religion gives them pleasure; while mine only keeps me out of things.” Yet his conversion did not give him the belonging he sought. In life he had acquaintances, but no friends. And in heaven he is all alone.

Lewis has a sweet vision of his family, on Friday evening with the Sabbath candles lighted. Memories of Jewish friends of his childhood are brought to him to show that valor and mystery were both part of his Jewish world, and not something he needed to seek elsewhere. There was a Jewish playmate who went on to die in the First World War: “he was a hero, Sammy,” Lewis hears. There was a “little girl who kissed you so sweetly.”

There Is Another Heaven is also a reminder that we often find among earlier generations of Sephardi writers in America a more intimate and comfortable relationship with Christianity than among the American Jewish mainstream with its East European origins.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Afterlife, American Jewish literature, American Jewry, Fantasy, Sephardim

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University