This issue of Jewish Quarterly is about journeys: the diaspora journey of assimilated language and sensibility, the Israeli artistic journey from nation building to aesthetic independence and the celebration, through music, of the Ethiopian escape to Israel. Particularly appropriate, at Pesach, when the retelling of our own journey from slavery to freedom prompts a stocktaking of exactly how far we have come and how far we have still to go.
Artistic freedom is hard won and Jewish writers in particular have a weight of tradition and trauma to juggle. In Israel, as Avi Pitchon suggests, artists struggle to overcome reductive notions of what Israeli art ought to be dealing with. In Shalom Auslander’s biting prose every word is a fight against the tradition which nearly destroyed him.
In her brief responsa to Adam Thirlwell’s ‘On Writing Half Jewishly’, Cynthia Ozick asserts that the intellectual value of Judaism lies precisely in its distinction-making. Perhaps American Jews feel this more keenly than British Jews; our cultural footprint feels smaller and our choices less existential. Simon McBurney and Adam Thirlwell’s conversation about Bruno Schulz, Kafka and Diasporism identifies a highly coded style among European Jewish writers far removed from their confident American counterparts.
A word about our symposium on the future of Israeli Arabs: it started life as a debate, but the surprising, and heartening, consensus which emerged, from Palestinians to Diaspora Jews, encouraged us to reframe the discussion as a symposium.
This quarter’s books section offers an extended selection of reviews from a variety of excellent writers: our criteria for publication has always been literary merit and cogent analysis, not political prejudice.
The journey of Israel’s last sixty years has been one of breathtaking achievement alongside tragic miscalculation. It boasts a thriving cultural scene, an unparalleled free press, world leadership in technological and scientific development. Looking back is only as productive as the context in which reflection is framed and it may be that now is a better moment to look forward. Perhaps, as Douglas Krikler suggests, this generation of diaspora Jewish leaders can concern itself with the democratic values of the future state rather than fear for its survival. Whatever the reasons for this, we look forward to a more transparent, honest Israel-Diaspora relationship in the next sixty years. Uri Dromi suggests, in ‘Jerusalem is the Key’, that we leave the protectorate of Jerusalem’s holy sites to God, or at least to an international, apolitical body. How fitting that the Temple, which is now the Dome of the Rock, the contested site for which so much blood has already been shed, was originally built by the son of a Jew and an Arab: Herod the Great. Perhaps the symbolism of his mixed heritage offers hope for a future peace.