Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Epstein on The Jewish Americans

The adolescent son of a dear friend of mine, trying to get out of going to High Holiday services, said to his father, “Why do I have to go to synagogue? Uncle Joe [that would be me] doesn't go to synagogue, and no one is more Jewish than Uncle Joe.”

It's classic Joseph Epstein. Epstein is one of the very best American essayists. His last book of short fiction "Fabulous Small Jews" was a favourite from a couple of years back. And who better to comment on The Jewish Americans, this wonderful PBS documentary series I've been enjoying for the past couple of weeks. If you haven't been watching there are still a few episodes remaining. Someone should do the same for Jewish Canadians. It would be very different viewing to be sure. More restrained responses to similar social, political and economic trends. It wouldn't document the energy, the explosive creativity, the frenzied entrepreneurialism. On the other hand, neither would we see the same kind of mad rush to assimilate. And I'm not sure I agree with Epstein when he says that calling themselves Jewish Americans places the emphasis on being American. I guess grammatically he's correct, Jewish is the qualifier of American. But I've always thought of myself as a Jewish Canadian to give "Jewish" a sort of native primacy, a statement of roots. To paraphrase Letty Cottin Pogrebin “This [Canada] is our country, that [Israel] is our home.”

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