Literary grandmaster Cynthia Ozick is a critic, an innovator, and a clever storyteller who dips into every part of Jewish culture, from the true story of a Jewish painter with a Nazi benefactor to a female rabbi who creates a golem.
Her novel The Cannibal Galaxy is out of print and generally under-appreciated. However, it might be among her most notable contributions to contemporary Judaism, and among the most subversive. For one thing: It takes place entirely in a Jewish day school.
Ozick’s characteristic irony is on display—she describes the school’s rich parents as stingy: “Their philanthropies were rare and grudging. The biology lab had never received so much as a microscope from any of them. Instead, they owned sailboats.”
And yet, Ozick’s snark isn’t without merit. On the blog of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, there’s a fascinating new post that uses Cannibal to offer suggestions about engaging students, balancing secular and Jewish curricula, and handling kids who don’t fit into established paradigms of “gifted” and “talented.” We’d like to imagine that Ozick herself would probably be amused to discover that her novel is being used to offer new ideas in Jewish education, the very subject of her satire.