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My Letter to Poets & Writers Magazine

Here is the original, unedited full text (including paragraph breaks and a final sentence) of a letter that Poets & Writers has now posted online.

Dear Poets & Writers:

At the outset of “Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers” (September/October 2016), you declared:

It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them. The contours of some of America’s biggest issues—education, health care, gun violence, racism, immigration, and the environment among them—start to come into sharper focus, the collective discourse rises above the rhetoric of political pundits, and the pomp and circumstance of the political process falls away, so that we are left with a discussion of real problems, real concerns, and, if not solutions, then at least some honest ideas that may inspire action of real, lasting value.

Unfortunately, among many fine contributions that may indeed meet those high ideals, your feature includes some that represent “political grandstanding” at its worst; they evoke an anti-Israelist “collective discourse” composed of the precisely the sort of distressingly familiar rhetoric that you claim the feature to be “rising above.” Far from “sharpening focus” or offering “honest ideas,” these paragraphs present what might most charitably be described as incomplete and highly arguable accounts of a longstanding conflict.

What is inarguable, however, is that statements you chose to include—in particular, those from Ru Freeman, Emily Raboteau, and Naomi Shihab Nye—omit even the slightest sense of the matter’s complexity and history. (To its credit, a fourth statement to address this subject, Tom Spanbauer’s, at least suggests that Palestinian Arabs bear some responsibility for the ongoing difficulties.)

That among all of the world’s nations and national groups your feature singles out for excoriation, more than once, only the planet’s sole Jewish state is distressing enough. That you’ve chosen to preface such anti-Israelist polemics with your laudatory introduction—rather than a more conventional statement clarifying that your contributors’ opinions are only their own—is profoundly disturbing to this longtime subscriber and past contributor. I expect better from Poets & Writers.

Erika Dreifus
New York, NY

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Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Every Friday My Machberet presents an array of Jewish-interest links, primarily of the literary variety.

  • Lots to admire (and mull over) in Rachel Kadish’s “What Elie Wiesel Taught Me About Being a Writer.”
  • Intriguing opportunity for emerging Jewish artists (including writers) to gather in Warsaw under the guidance of Asylum Arts and POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Apply by October 24. No fees.
  • ICYMI when it appeared in the Practicing Writer newsletter, my recent Q&A with Rachel Hall, author of Heirlooms, is now preserved for posterity in my collection of author interviews.
  • Attention, young Canadians (ages 18-29). Here’s an essay contest for you, from the Canadian Jewish News. No entry fees. Cash prizes. Deadline: October 27, 2016.
  • Last, but maybe not least: my second piece on Literary Hub, contesting suggestions that Jewish writing is “over.”
  • Shabbat shalom.

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    Words of the Week

    “As such, tikkun olam has devolved today to mean anything that fits into the categories of community service or helping the underdog. The focus on universalism has led to stripping the word ‘mitzvah’ of any sense of divine obligation, and instead understands ‘mitzvot’ to mean, simply, “good deeds.” And, to me, most problematic of all, the teaching of tikkun olam as it has evolved over the last several decades places greater emphasis on valuing the global human community over caring for our fellow Jews and for the continuity of Judaism.”

    Source: Aaron Starr, “Time to Say Kaddish for ‘Tikkun Olam'” (Times of Israel)

    (I can imagine that this piece–which reads as though it may have been given as a Rosh Hashanah sermon– is going to elicit some major pushback.)

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    Pre-Shabbat (and Pre-5777) Jewish Lit Links

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

    Every Friday My Machberet presents an array of Jewish-interest links, primarily of the literary variety.

  • Let’s begin with some inspirational quotations from Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, who passed away this week.
  • The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle is running a short story contest (and you don’t *have* to be from Wisconsin to enter it). No entry fee. Cash prize.
  • There’s a problematic new book for children on the market: Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf. Read Marjorie Ingall’s take over on Tablet and listen to this Book of Life podcast for the details.
  • I’m holding out for my print copy to get here, but the latest issue of the Jewish Review of Books is now online (limited free access for non-subscribers).
  • And last, but least: This week brought an extra-special edition of the Fig Tree Books newsletter, with all sorts of preview content from Abigail Pogrebin’s forthcoming My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. The perfect way to approach the forthcoming Jewish New Year!
  • Speaking of Rosh Hashanah–let me wish you all a Shanah Tovah–as well as a Shabbat Shalom.

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    Words of the Week

    “‘Please remember, don’t make us out to be political,’ the man said. ‘We just want recognition as Jews.'”

    Source: Chris Buckley, “Chinese Jews of Ancient Lineage Huddle Under Pressure” (The New York Times)

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    Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

    Every Friday My Machberet presents an array of Jewish-interest links, primarily of the literary variety.

  • “Amy Gottlieb’s debut novel, ‘The Beautiful Possible’ (Harper), is one of the most Jewish of stories, if one considers novelist Rebecca Goldstein’s definition of a Jewish book as one in which Judaism matters on the page. In a style that feels natural, Gottlieb weaves Jewish wisdom, texts and storytelling into narrative and dialogue; many sentences have the cadences of prayer.” So begins Sandee Brawarsky’s marvelous review for The Jewish Week.
  • And I keep singing the praises of Rachel Hall’s magnificent new collection of linked stories, Heirlooms, which is the subject of this highly informative Q&A with Deborah Kalb.
  • Happening next month in North Carolina: “Faith in Literature: A Festival of Contemporary Writers of the Spirit.” It looks a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Lucky attendees!
  • ICYMI: My wonderful colleague Michelle Caplan, Editor-in-Chief for Fig Tree Books, will be attending the upcoming BinderCon in New York. Here’s some information about her–and the kind of work that she’s seeking to acquire–that may be helpful to anyone with a manuscript on American Jewish experience.
  • And we’ll close with a weekend-reading recommendation: the latest issue of JewishFiction.Net.
  • Shabbat Shalom.

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