Academic journal article Shofar

Best Contemporary Jewish Writing Edited by Michael Larner

Academic journal article Shofar

Best Contemporary Jewish Writing Edited by Michael Larner

Article excerpt

Since its publication in 2001, Best Contemporary Jewish Writing, edited by Michael Lerner, has increasingly appeared on library shelves and coffee tables throughout the land. The presence of this volume, whether carried on the hip, or displayed on one's shelf, seems to function as evidence in one's presentation of the self as a good or good-enough Jew. To be connected with it implies both religious identification and a dedication to personal religious development. Or you got it as a gift.

To begin with, Rabbi Lerner hopes that this volume will be a contribution toward "the fundamental project of healing and transformation, both personal transformation (tikkun atzmi) and healing of the world (tikkun olam) -- understanding that this healing involves not only psychological or social change, but also a search for ways to bring holiness into our personal lives and social institutions." For those readers who adhere to a definitive division between secular politics and religious life, this is a bold goal. But, recognizing that politics continues to intrude on religious life no matter what one does, perhaps it's time to get on the bus. In this hierarchy of Jewish adherence, most of us suffer the ironic fate of feeling that we're better Jews than some, and needing improvement before being able to mix with some others. Less charitably, but more accurately, poet Jacqueline Osherow writes in this volume of some Jews who are more observant than she: "...something or other has to be revered, / And the truth is I envy those people's faith/ Even if I do think they're all meshugene...."

Goals aside, the first thing one does is run through the list of 53 writers and perform a personal Jewish geography. After you get off the front page of The New York Times, knowing Jewish writers is an exercise in obscurity. Most readers will recognize some of the big names: Philip Roth, William Satire, Joseph Lieberman. Why not go all the way with this? How in-the-know are you, Jewishly? See how you do on this little test: If you recognize up to five of the 53, you probably can't spell "Forvarts." If you recognize up to 15 of the 53, you probably once read a copy of Tikkun at the dentist's office. Twenty-five out of 53? …

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