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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Not Jewish At Heart?

Dozens of tributes have been paid these past few days to the late South African Nobel literary laureate, Nadine Gordimer. But while all have shown her to be suffused with the Jewish prophetic instinct, everyone has proven that she was not traditionally Jewish at heart.

This is unsurprising because although she was born to European Jewish parents and twice married Jews – almost by chance -  she had a secular upbringing.

Indeed, she recalled how her father would attend Yom Kippur synagogue services alone and then be driven home by her mother accompanied by her and her sister, all bare-foot and casually dressed.   “He wasn't allowed to have any Jewishness”, she recalled in a book of interviews with South African Jewish activists published in the late 1990s.

Nadine.GordimerRemarkably, nothing I’ve read made her  situation clearer than a story she wrote especially for the Jewish Chronicle in 1966. It’s  tiny  and running to only 753 words would now be called a ‘flash’ piece.

But I found The Visit disappointing: It is peopled with paper-thin, wealthy middle class Jewish characters who gently use and misuse their house-boy and  then in turn feel so intimidated by the apartheid authorities that they flee to Israel for refuge.

P-lease! I can’t believe that if the J.C.’s then-editor, William Frankel had read it as an unsolicited manuscript by an unknown writer that he would have accepted it for publication.

But that was then – the year, for example, that District Six in Cape Town was declared a White Group Area by the government - and this is now.

There are many reasons why South African Jews have since emigrated both to Europe and Israel and perhaps one among them reading this will explain why.

© Natalie Wood (17 July 2014)

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