Jewish Literary Notes from Around the Web

Shabbat shalom, and Happy New Year!

Richard Holbrooke’s German War Photo–And Mine

I’ve been quietly reading as much as I can find about Richard Holbrooke since the diplomat’s unexpected death earlier this month. And I’ve noticed that in several articles, including this reprinted excerpt from Abigail Pogrebin’s Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, mention has been made of a certain photograph close to Holbrooke’s heart:

A New York Times profile of Holbrooke during his tenure in Germany described how he displayed, in his elegant ambassador’s residence, a photograph of his grandfather in a World War I uniform: “I show it to German visitors as a symbol of what they lost,” Holbrooke told the Times. When I ask him about it now, he shows me the very picture. “Every German family has a photograph like that. And so I just kept it in the living room. Some people would ignore it; others would stop and stare at it. Some would demand to know why it was there—what was the message I was sending? I said, ‘This is an existential fact; this is my grandfather. You may read anything you wish into this photograph.’ And I also said, ‘If history had turned out differently, maybe I’d be Germany’s ambassador to the United States instead of America’s ambassador to Germany.’ My mother didn’t like it at all. She said it was a militaristic picture and there are a lot of nicer pictures; she’s not into symbolism at all. And it’s true; I could have had an ordinary picture of my grandfather. But don’t you find that picture—the original, with his handwriting—extraordinary?”

I don’t know about every German family, but my German-Jewish (now American) family has a photo like this, too. And I have a copy in my home, clustered within a group of other family photographs. It depicts my great-grandfather, Kaufmann Dreifus, with his German soldier fellows.

My great-grandfather, Kaufmann Dreifus, is in the front row, second from the left.

We’re not sure of the date, but we know that Kaufmann (like the character modeled after him in “Matrilineal Descent,” the second story in my forthcoming short-fiction collection, Quiet Americans) served his native Germany in World War I. (He died a few years later, a diabetic before insulin became widely available.)

It’s true. I, too, could display an ordinary picture of my great-grandfather.

But don’t you find this picture—not to mention the fact that a copy remains for me to scan into a computer from my home in New York City—extraordinary?

A side note: I reviewed Stars of David when it was published five years ago. To read the review, please click here.

Call for Submissions: Bride of the Golem: An Anthology of Humorous Jewish Horror

I don’t see calls for submission like this one every day. From the pseudonymous “Gus Ginsburg”:

I will be editing the book “Bride of the Golem: An Anthology of Humorous Jewish Horror” and am seeking stories to include in it.

The stories can employ a new Jewish twist on a mainstream horror theme (e.g. a tale about a Hassidic vampire mohel or about the Lubbavitchers reanimating Rebbe Schneerson). Or they can reinterpret horrific elements in classical Jewish folklore like the Golem or dybbuk. Or they can venture into entirely new territory.

Stories of this genre that I like: Etgar Keret’s “Quanta”, Shulamit Hareven’s “The Emissary”, Shalom Auslander’s “Prophet’s Dilemma” and Nathan Englander’s “Reb Kringle,” to name just a few.

This editor seeks “10-12 publishable stories by new and upcoming authors” and says that s/he “will see that you are paid $500 for your story, though it may take some time for you to receive your payment as I have to get an agent and publisher on board with this project. I will also solicit 2-4 stories by better-known authors in order to make this volume a bestseller at Jewish book fairs.”

For more information, check the announcement.

(via Duotrope)

Notes from Around the Web

  • Adam Kirsch reviews poet Rachel Wetzsteon’s posthumous book, Silver Roses.
  • The Boston Bibliophile reviews Howard Jacobson’s prize-winning novel, The Finkler Question.
  • The Jewish Week reminds me that I have got to get to the Hannah Senesh exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage sooner rather than later.
  • One take on highlights in Jewish books for 2010, courtesy of Jewish Ideas Daily.
  • Uri Friedman examines the dilemma observant Jews face concerning reading on the Sabbath in a digital age.
  • My recent review of a new anthology of Jewish-American fiction has prompted some kind comments, one on the Jewish Journal’s website, and some I’ve received privately. Which I’ve found reassuring, because I suspected that not everyone would like what I had to say.
  • Shabbat shalom!

    Words of the Week: Gary Rosenblatt

    It is demeaning, 65 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, to acknowledge that Joseph Goebbels’s Big Lie theory — that if you repeat a falsehood aggressively, and often enough, people will believe it — still holds true.

    But when I look at the persistent, illogical and hateful charges against Israel in the Arab world and the international community, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Read more at The Jewish Week.