The Arty Semite

A. B. Yehoshua, Daniel Mendelsohn and an Opportunity at 'The Lost'

By Dan Friedman

  • Print
  • Share Share
Photo courtesy of Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

Shortly after college I had a girlfriend who was interested in the profound nature of reality. Among other things, our intimacy, for her, was a platform to investigate with honesty what we thought about existence. Without realizing what was going on, I laughed off these attempts which with hindsight, and even at the time, I would have relished perhaps if readier in some other context.

“Do you believe that there’s a God?”
“Not before dinner there’s not!”

Watching A. B. Yehoshua and Daniel Mendelsohn discuss the problems of representing the Holocaust and coming to grips with antisemitism was a little like watching those old conversations between me and my girlfriend. Mendelsohn, while a superb writer and producer of one of the most thoughtful and provocative books relating to the Holocaust this century, was essentially on book tour mode and was unprepared, perhaps, for Yehoshua’s relentless interrogation of the Jewish condition in literature.

The dialogue on Wednesday evening started off inauspiciously. Simultaneous translation allowed Yehoshua to speak in Hebrew while Mendelsohn listened in English and vice versa (with the audience putting on translation headphones as individually appropriate). After Yehoshua’s opening words in which he recounted his own personal experience of the drawbacks, reservations and lacunae in both literary and academic portrayals of the Holocaust he asked Mendelsohn what his experience, in another, younger generation was of those problems.

Mendelsohn’s initial response to this provocative starting point was to point out two items of “logistics” — that the seats saved for his family had been taken and that he would certainly return the translation headphones whether or not he had left a deposit for them. He was indignant that he’d spent “years of my life searching for my mishpocha and then my Israeli mishpocha have to sit at the back.” His plea was successful but set the tone a little for a dialogue that only ever threatened to rise to the truly significant.

Mendelsohn’s excellent book “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million” and the consistently incisive analysis of his critical writing clearly suggested to Yehoshua and the organizers of the conference a worthy partner. Empowered by his reading of “The Lost,” Yehoshua framed questions about the nature of the Holocaust and its representation through history, the constitutive elements of Jewish identity and the reasons for the pervasive, enduring and ubiquitous nature of antisemitism.

The success of this enjoyable and interesting panel can be measured by the ambitions of its failure. It didn’t transcend, it didn’t solve any problems, it didn’t provide new insight into the questions raised by Yehoshua. But the salutary framing of the questions by the Israeli author and the concrete examples provided by the American made this one of the highlights of the Festival.

Watch A. B. Yehoshua tell the Forward what comprises the absolute crucial question in Jewish life today.

A.B. Yehoshua Talks to the Forward from Jewish Forward on Vimeo.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Daniel Mendelsohn, A. B. Yehoshua

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.