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Book Series: Jewish Identity in Literature

13/09/2016 10:48:58 AM


This Fall, Darchei Noam’s Adult Education committee is pleased to sponsor a book club that will run for three sessions – all building on the theme of understanding and defining Jewish identity.  The three books were written by people with very different relationships to that identity.  Some of them will surprise you - all of them will provoke and move you.

There is an arc in this journey of Jewish identity that begins with someone who sees it as something you must flee but can’t.   It transitions to the experience of someone who is seeking to connect and finishes with someone who wants to embrace their identity in a most unusual way.  As the series leader Suanne Kelman says, it’s complicated. But also very interesting.

Suanne Kelman is a Professor Emeritus of Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she taught for more than 20 years. She is the author of All in the Family: A Cultural History of Family Life. She was worked for the CBC and The Globe and Mail. She currently is a regular contributor to The Literary Review of Canada, and lectures on books to private and public groups,

The first book she has chosen is The Color of Water by James McBride (September 21). This powerful memoir of the author’s mother slowly reveals a secret: The daughter of a rabbi, Ruchel Dwajra Zylska fled her abusive father to marry a black man in 1942. Despite her poverty and the chaos at home, she inspired all 12 of her children to achieve success in education and in life. Her struggle to create her own identity ripples into her children’s lives as well, as they contend with her strangeness and pain.  His mother flees her Jewish experience, but the book reveals that the values of Judaism still shape his mother and her children. 

In this selection, Ms. Kelman will explore what shapes identity and what we retain even as we attempt to flee it.

Second in the series is My Father’s Paradise, by Ariel Sabar, which tells of a son’s search for his Jewish past in Kurdish Iraq (October 26). This is the story of someone coming to the realization that you can’t run from your identity. Sabar’s father spent his life preserving rather obscure Jewish identity: that of a Kurdish Iraqi Jew. His son rejects it, but in an attempt to reconnect with his father, discovers this rich Jewish identity that has virtually vanished. This California-born and bred son finds meaning in his heritage.

The final book in the series is Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua (November 30). This novel, Sayed's third, deals with two Arab men, one a prosperous lawyer and the other a faltering social worker.  The plot develops in twists that few readers will anticipate as the two men’s lives slowly intersect. It provides fascinating insights into Israeli society, both Jewish and Arab. Second Person Singular provides the plot of the second half of the current film Arab Lives. Kashua, an Arab Israeli, explores what it means to be Arab in a Jewish society and defines himself as an Arab Israeli.There are parts of Jewish culture and Israeli life he envies and wants to embrace them as part of his identity.

As Ms. Kelman says, it’s complicated! We hope you will join us to unravel it all.

Tue, 3 August 2021 25 Av 5781