Unique theories on how “feeling Jewish” plays out not only among secular Jews, but also among individuals with no Jewish heritage.
In alternately playful and academic prose filled with down-to-earth anecdotes and grand theories, Baum (English Literature and Critical Theory/Univ. of Southampton) suggests that in a troubled global village, stereotypes often ascribed to Jews—guilt, hysteria, envy, resentment, self-hatred, extreme mother-love—may have become universal. Throughout history, Jews have been reviled and persecuted, both emulated and envied for their successes. While explaining the concept of feeling Jewish, Baum relies heavily on representations of Jews in novels, memoirs, films, plays, sacred texts, and on psychologists' couches. She makes multiple references to a variety of significant Jewish figures, including Philip Roth, Franz Kafka, Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, and Sigmund Freud. At times, though, Baum examines her own back story, revealing how her reactions to all sorts of occurrences have become linked to how she feels about herself as a Jewish woman. Does she feel shame about her Jewishness? If so, why? If not, what to call her feelings about being Jewish? Does the word “Jew” arrive with a trigger warning in the same way that “black” or “Muslim” or “gay” might? As the author seeks answers, she produces a wide-ranging, deeply original inquiry into modern life. One of Baum’s overarching messages is that in a world where non-Jews as well as Jews perceive themselves as marginalized and thus threatened, stereotypical Jewish feelings seem a good fit in other cultures. “When it comes to feeling panicky, weak, outnumbered, and existentially threatened, Jews are by no means all alone,” writes the author. “Indeed, the sense of dispossession that might be said to underpin resurgent ‘nationalist’ feelings could hardly have more in common with the feelings of those rootless cosmopolitans accused of aggravating them.”
An impressive work of intellect and presentation.