How can you not read a book titled People Love Dead Jews?? It is a book that, in truth, demands to be read, although after reading it, I can attest that it is as much for the content as the title.
The author, Dara Horn, is an accomplished novelist, and an academic trained in Yiddish and Hebrew literature. What I expected to be a grim and curmudgeonly book about antisemitism was a fascinating, thoughtful, insightful and witty read, even as it still addressed the depressing and continued presence of Jew-haters among us. One of her basic and important insights is that it’s easy to memorialize the Jews once they’ve been expelled or killed off. They become an abstraction rather than actual people, such that they can be ‘loved’ without actually loving them, or doing any true repentance about what happened to them.
Each chapter in the book tells the story of a different moment of ‘dead Jews.’ Some are more contemporary, like the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, and in this sense are a reflection on contemporary antisemitism. Others are studies of historical figures, or moments in history, that shed light on antisemitism in the last century and a half. Although I have learned my fair share of Anne Frank’s story, growing up in a post-Holocaust world that put Holocaust education at the centre of our curriculum, Horn’s insights were still new, thoughtful and sharp in the chapter that discusses Frank.
Other chapters told stories that were entirely new to me, like the Manchurian Jewish community of Harbin, or the story of Varian Fry, an American journalist, who saved over two thousands Jewish artists and intellectuals from the Holocaust. I’m amazed that I’d never heard a wink about these incredible and fascinating stories, which Horn is masterful at telling. Also worth noting is her analysis of the Shakepeare’s Merchant of Venice, which was penetrating and convincing, even as it was depressing.
But what makes the book even more valuable are her reflections and insights, not just the stories she tells. They are too numerous to list, as they appear seamlessly throughout the text. They help clarify what it means to be a Jew in the modern, secular world, and the delusions we continue to carry with us about our acceptance within it.
Her final chapter, about returning to a meaningful Jewish practice (and learning) was, for an Orthodox person, perhaps less surprising than self-explanatory, but interesting nonetheless.
My only critique is that while there were many stories about ‘dead Jews’, the thread of people loving ‘dead Jews’, was less tightly developed. But as each chapter was engrossing, whether it met this bar or not, was not of particular concern to me.
This is a fabulous book, which I highly encourage you to read (or listen to as an audiobook, as I did).
Just Because I Liked It:
- I do quite a bit of reading and learning around coaching. I read the book The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier a couple of years ago. I found his seven powerful questions very helpful, though the book itself does not really cover new ground. However, I found a recent interview with him incredibly insightful, especially the ‘drama triangle’. It helped me make a lot of sense of dynamics I see all around me. I think this is probably helpful if you are a coach or not.