From The Editor

Questions Of Identity

Here at the JQ we try to avoid themed issues. Yet sometimes, despite our best efforts, a theme just… emerges. 

Having assembled the very best in fiction, poetry, memoir, essays and reportage from the corners of the known (Jewish) universe – and beyond, since Rafael Behr’s short story takes place in the not-too-distant future – once we put them all next to each other the affinity was inescapable.  As a Guardian columnist working the Brexit beat it might not be surprising that Behr should find even his fictional imagination preoccupied by questions of identity.  Likewise Ayelet Tsabari, the award-winning Mizrahi writer and filmmaker whose pungent memoir, Yemeni Soup, left all of us hungering for more.   

Tanya Gold’s acerbic account of her life as “the fourth furthest west Jew in England,” gives a rural answer to the Jewish question, while Simon Kuper’s confessions of a cosmopolite puts a decidedly urban spin on the matter. Yet both share Alona Ferber’s preoccupation with what it is that makes us Jews – and what we ourselves make out of this ancient, complex, contradictory fabric of allegiance, obligation, love and resistance. They, and we, are all, in different ways, still struggling with the same unwelcome revelation that struck Kuper, namely that “it suddenly became clear that we were living in a nativist era.”  However you mark the dawn of that era – the British majority that voted to leave the European Union, the American election that swept aside the charismatically cosmopolitan Barack Obama for the unabashedly nativist Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu’s seemingly terminal grip on the reins of power in Israel, or the rise of illiberal nationalism in Hungary and Poland – history has taught us that nativism is seldom good for the Jews. Even, as Julie Cooper and Dahlia Scheindlin argue here, when it acts in the name of a Jewish majority.  

So this issue is also a celebration of the cosmopolitan, from the Yiddish-inflected modernism of the British poet Isaac Rosenberg to the uncompromising vision of South African photographer David Goldblatt to Transparent creator Jill Soloway’s uncomfortable, unyielding commitment to difference and dissent. If that all sounds terribly worthy you obviously haven’t seen the show – or read Samantha Ellis’s brilliant anatomy of Soloway (p. 108). Which means you are in for a treat! 

In fact we’ve packed this issue with delights for the eye and the mind, with new fiction, fresh poetry, and Tom Freudenheim’s wonderfully indiscreet insider’s account of how New York’s Jewish Museum became, for a brief but crucial period, the center of the contemporary art world. Enjoy! 

One last thing: we don’t expect readers to agree with every article we publish. Especially since the editors disagree on everything from who makes the best cheesecake to the legitimacy – or not – of BDS (see p. 7). What we share, besides a dedication to reflecting the full richness of Jewish life and culture, is a belief in the crucial importance of open, unfettered, debate. Brian Klug’s essay in the last issue on “The Left and the Jews” outraged some readers and delighted others (see Letters, p. 18). It cost us some subscriptions – and a considerable amount of financial support.  Yet we remain committed to providing a forum for views, and voices, outside the comfortable, constricted consensus and its self-appointed enforcers.   


If you agree then please consider making a contribution to the JQ.  Because it isn’t enough to just subscribe to our principles.  Or even to subscribe. As we go to press the Forward – begun 121 years ago in Yiddish in New York – announced the end of their print existence.  The JQ is a younger, leaner operation.  And we believe the need for a Jewish voice in print is as urgent as ever.  But we can’t do it without your support. 


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