A mix of fugitive pieces.
The editors of this uneven compilation of essays assert that the purpose of the collection is to take stock of American civilization as we head into the new century. Few of the essays, however, meet this criterion, and the one essay that appears to have considered post 9/11 America is so biased and uninformed in its analysis that it borders on antisemitism.
The more than 20 essays cover a wide assortment of topics, ranging from studies of the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca (one wonders what this has to do with America at the end of the century) to the Blues poetry of Robert Johnson. Also included is a timely essay on the failure of liberalism by Paul Cummins, an analysis of the writings of Toni Morrison by David Goldstein-Shirley, an autobiographical treatise on what it is like growing up in New York City as a light-skinned Cuban American by Elizabeth Ruiz, an interesting essay by Mark Blickley on the political uses of Arlington National Cemetery, and other contributions that are so eclectic that it suggests the editors were less concerned about conforming to its stated theme than in gathering under one cover a sufficient number of essays to publish a book.
Now for the good news! There are two essays in this collection that are worth the cost of the book. The first piece, "Fake-City Syndrome or How to Tell the Real Thing," by Carole L Glickfeld, a free-lance journalist now living in Seattle and the author of one novel and a collection of short stories, is so funny and Jackie Mason-like in its humor, that it will leave you in stitches. The following is a sample of her humor; comparing Seattle (obviously a fake city) with a "real" city like New York, the author notes that in fake cities, "everyone has the recipe for New York hot dogs, kosher-style ... they are usually made of pork." On the subject of delis, Glickfeld observes that "over the past twenty years, Seattle has actually had a two hundred percent increase in real delis--there are now a total of two." Elsewhere, she notices that in fake cities people decide to have parties and invite you over to bring the food (these are called pot-lucks). In real cities, this is called chutzpah. This hilarious essay has little to do with America at the turn of the new century, but it is, nevertheless, charming and will probably result in readers scurrying to their local bookstores to purchase her novel, Swimming Toward the Ocean (Knopf).
The other tract well worth reading is Leo Haber's "Multiculturalism and the Invisible Jew," a polemic that deserves a wider audience than it will receive, I suspect, from the number of sales this volume will generate. * Haber dissects the hypocrisy that constitutes the state of multicultural education in America. Specifically, he notes the absence of the great Jewish writers, poets, and artists in curricula ostensibly committed to inclusion of previously neglected ethnic groups. Jews, states Haber, are almost entirely invisible in multicultural curricula. Where Jews are mentioned, they are not identified as Jews. For example, Haber cites E.D. Hirsch's popular tome, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Nee& to Know, wherein Hirsch lists entries for Benedict Spinoza, Franz Kafka, and Leonard Bernstein, but nowhere mentions that they were Jews. Similarly, important Jewish personalities such as Theodor Herzl are omitted. Haber concludes that "contempt for Jewish culture and fear of Jewish achievement is a similar rallying slogan of the far right and the far left." His solution? he insists that if the multiculturalists have set the agenda for education in the twenty-first century, then it is incumbent for American Jews to insist that they be counted in, "if all students whatever their major must now ... see the world through the eyes of women and blacks and gays and lesbians, then Jews have no choice but to make just demands of a similar nature." Haber's essay not only challenges proponents of multiculatral education to be more inclusive of Jewish personalities and accomplishments, but also includes his own road-map, which describes how the inclusion of Jewish achievers and their accomplishments can best be arrived at. This is an important essay that should be widely read and republished in other magazines.
The thoughtfulness of Haber's essay is countered by the vitriolic nature of Christina Gombar's essay "War Zone." A small excerpt of this piece first appeared, unsurprisingly, in the London Review of Books, a leftist journal not known for its sympathy towards Israel. Gombar's piece is at one with the false interpretations of September 11 that contend that the nineteen suicide bombers (none of whom were Palestinians) gave their lives because of American support for Israel. This argument has been repeated so often on websites, that thousands of uninformed internet users have come to believe this as a fact. That the consensus of Middle East scholars and experts on terrorism have rejected this claim has not prevented it from being widely disseminated in leftist journals and among antisemites. Here is Gombar's reaction to the events of September 11:
When my husband said, "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center," my first thought was: The downtrodden of the world are finally getting back at us. My second was: We've paid too high a price for our alliance with Israel.
Though she is a Catholic married to a Jew (she claims to go to Temple yet!), Gombar's dislike of Jews is pervasive throughout the essay. She informs us about the rejection of her manuscript for a novel, which includes in her third chapter a description of slightly snobbish Jewish in-laws, and she concludes,
Show Jews ... in anything but a 100% light? After eagerly ... crowing over the first two chapters [which depict Irish, Italians, Poles in a foolish manner], the agent sends it back without a word. The agent is Jewish. Land of free speech?
Elsewhere, Gombar discovers this about The New York Times. "Only Jews are allowed to talk or write about Israel.... " She then goes on to state, "It seems to me that Israel is like a couple of Jewish friends I used to have--whatever I did for them, they felt [it] their due, they didn't appreciate, they didn't reciprocate, and it was never enough." The essay continues along these lines, filled with bile towards both Israel and Jews, one more diatribe of anti-Israel propaganda. Yet the editors in their "wisdom" chose to include this polemic as literature exemplifying American civilization at the dawn of the new millennium.
Taken together, the collection of essays represents an interesting mix of fugitive pieces, which will engender interest, for the most part, among academics and specialists in literature. Now if the editors had only exercised their judgment and excised the Gombar piece ........ hmmmmm.
* REVIEWER'S NOTE: Since Mr. Haber mentioned here edits this magazine, it must be emphasized that this review represents my own considered opinion and is being printed unchanged, without any input beyond proofreading from anyone on the editorial staff of Midstream.
JACK FISCHEL teaches history at Millersville University, Millersville, PA. He has recently retired as editor of Congress Monthly.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2003|
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