A Jew in the Pub­lic Are­na: The Career of Israel Zangwill

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By – December 6, 2011
Israel Zang­will, Jew in a very Eng­lish Chris­t­ian Victorian/​Edwardian world, shared Hen­ry Hig­gins’ atti­tude, for he want­ed them” to be more like us,” cru­cial­ly adding that we” should also be like them,” an ulti­mate­ly exhaust­ing dilem­ma for him. Nov­el­ist, play­wright, poet, essay­ist, jour­nal­ist, edi­tor, lec­tur­er, cam­paign­er, pros­e­ly­tiz­er, polit­i­cal activist, celebri­ty, Eng­land to Amer­i­ca and back again, he was pro­tean.

How to han­dle Zang­will, who has since fad­ed from pub­lic aware­ness, in a biog­ra­phy? Dr. Meri-Jane Rochel­son, an aca­d­e­m­ic, pro­vides chronol­o­gy and labels gen­res thor­ough­ly, so that the nar­ra­tive coag­u­lates into a dense­ly repet­i­tive, ency­clo­pe­dic style, dimin­ish­ing Zangwill’s elec­tri­fy­ing per­son­al­i­ty. In near­ly every men­tion of Chil­dren of the Ghet­to, The Melt­ing Pot, King of the Schnor­rers, Dr. Rochel­son repeats her descrip­tors, dilut­ing his appeal­ing wit, charm, and wry sar­casm aimed at Jew­ish — albeit slum and ghet­toized— mores. 

Zang­will advo­cat­ed women’s suf­frage; he inter­mar­ried, and did not cir­cum­cise his male chil­dren. He stood des­per­ate­ly as a Ter­ri­to­ri­al­ist against the Balfour/​Zionist solu­tion to the hor­rors of the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies of Jew­ish exis­tence in Europe. 

There is a place for this new biog­ra­phy, but it is not an inspir­ing work. Acknowl­edge­ments, bib­li­og­ra­phy, chronol­o­gy, index, notes, per­mis­sion acknowledgements.
Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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