Menu JTA Search

American and Israeli Intellectuals Discuss Cultural Assimilation

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

A discussion on the question of Jewish identity in terms of “Belonging versus Exile” continued here today following addresses on the same subject last night at the second “dialogue” between American Jewish and Israeli intellectuals arranged by the American Jewish Congress in cooperation with the Israel Government.

While some of the American participants said they consider themselves American intellectuals rather than Jewish, Leslie Fiedler, the American critic, urged Jews to resist the temptations to assimilate fully, whether in the United States or in the Soviet Union. Only by maintaining a sense of exile could Jews fulfill their historic mission of “bearing witness to the fact that the Messiah has not yet come,” he said.

Max Lerner, Brandeis University faculty member and newspaper columnist, took the position that American Jews had “a natural sense” of belonging to the American culture because of the large share they have in the development of American self-identify.

Other Americans, while expressing sympathy with Mr. Fiedl for proposal for a special role for Jews in the modern world, said they thought the goal could be achieved as integrated members of free societies rather than as “perpetual non-belongers.”

Novelist Philip Roth said the Jewish role was that the Jew should not be a victim but a dissenter in the affluent society. He added that he did not consider himself a Jewish intellectual. David Boroff, an American author, said that the role off the Jew was to maintain a tension between being an outsider and having a commitment to the values of the society of which the particular Jew was a member.

Mr. Fiedler told the assemblage that “the essential nature of Jewishness is to be alienated, to be an exile, to be outsiders,” and that he felt that most Jews in the United States and Israel were insiders who had ceased to be Jews in the sense he was describing.

NEXT STORY