Jewish Gentle and Other Stories of Gay-Jewish Living

White Crane Books  2011

As the canon of gay-Jewish literature grows – encompassing novels, plays, poetry, memoirs, and nonfiction – Daniel M. Jaffe adds this collection of short stories to the list. The subjects he addresses have, by now, often been covered by others: relationships and infidelity, community and rejection, faith and identity. But Jaffe’s choice of the short story as his medium allows him to focus on specific, thorny issues facing gay Jews, as well as the broader Jewish community, with unique intensity. His tales are concise, clearly written, and widely accessible. His characters are sympathetic yet flawed; their emotional undercurrents are vulnerable and romantic at heart, and their religiosity deeply ingrained, while their sexuality is frequently frank but never vulgar.

The two dozen stories in Jewish Gentle (many previously published in magazines, journals, and literary anthologies) share common traits, but needn’t be read all at once, sequentially. In fact, cherry-picking a few at a time proves more rewarding. “At Blumberg & Fong’s” expertly weaves a tale of adolescent longing around recollections of a family trip to Israel, while “In the Canoe” adds an unexpected ending to a narrative about AIDS. There are terrific tales, too, about sex (the refreshingly matter-of-fact “The Four of Us,” plus the thoughtful title story), coming out as a gay Jew (“Finding Home”), and dealing with family (“Telling Dad”). Taken together, this is the most powerful collection of short stories about gay Jews since Lev Raphael’s Dancing on Tisha B’Av blazed the trail more than twenty years ago.

Discussion Questions

1. Which of the 24 stories here are your favorites? Why?

2. What role does Jewishness play in the way the main character thinks about his gayness in the story, "At Blumberg & Fong's"?

3. What role does Jewishness play in the way parents react to their gay sons in the stories, "Telling Dad," "Kaddish," and "Happy Birthday to…"?

4. Do the emotions in the stories "Abscents," "The Axe," and "Dear Marty" feel true to the nature of romantic break-ups?

5. What's particularly Jewish about the main characters' worldviews in the stories "One-Foot Lover" and "That Boy This Day"?

6. What do you think about the way various characters respond to HIV/AIDS in the stories, "The Kiss," "In the Canoe," and "Bless the Blue Angel"?

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