Ear­li­er this week, Avi Stein­berg wrote about Kaf­ka in Tel Aviv and shared ahor­ri­bly embar­rass­ing memo. His first book, Run­ning the Books: The Adven­tures of an Acci­den­tal Prison Librar­i­an, was just released.

Win­ter Fri­days in Jew­ish day school were the moments that made you proud to be of Israelite stock. I speak, of course, of ear­ly dis­missal. Shabbes starts ear­ly, real­ly ear­ly, and so the school day ends up being just a class or two in the morn­ing — and one of those class­es is Hebrew, which total­ly doesn’t count. For the unini­ti­at­ed, Hebrew class in Jew­ish schools, at least where I went, is taught by some churl­ish Israeli mom who reeks of cig­a­rette smoke and has nei­ther the qual­i­fi­ca­tion nor the slight­est incli­na­tion to teach the lan­guage. Typ­i­cal­ly, she would use Friday’s ear­ly dis­missal as an excuse to whip out the accor­dion and have a sing-a-long.

I men­tion this by way of intro­duc­tion. While I can­not offer you an accor­dion sing-a-long, I will, in hon­or of the great Jew­ish tra­di­tion of ear­ly Fri­day dis­missal, be rel­a­tive­ly brief.

I’ve been think­ing of Jew­ish forms of writ­ing. If you’re a big Jew, and you write on Jew­ish themes, peo­ple will even­tu­al­ly call you a Jew­ish writer.” This seems sen­si­ble enough. But for the per­son who is a Jew­ish writer, the ques­tion of lan­guage will even­tu­al­ly tug at you. At some point, a Jew writ­ing in a non-Jew­ish lan­guage will real­ize that this lan­guage is not quite his. I once referred to a per­son as a Jew” in a sto­ry I was writ­ing for a major Amer­i­can news­pa­per. As he was review­ing my arti­cle, the edi­tor asked me, some­what sheep­ish­ly, if the phrase a Jew” was, per­haps, a tad deroga­to­ry. (He sug­gest­ed some­thing along the lines of a Jew­ish per­son.”) This sur­prised me. It had nev­er occurred to me that neu­tral­ly call­ing some­one a Jew” in a news­pa­per arti­cle was even remote­ly prob­lem­at­ic. I told him as much. But he wasn’t imag­in­ing it: there is an ancient con­no­ta­tion of dis­dain in the Eng­lish phrase, a Jew,” a whiff of Chris­t­ian con­tempt that goes back through the ages. Yehu­di, the Hebrew word for Jew, by con­trast, is devoid of any neg­a­tive connotation.

For Anglo-Amer­i­can Jew­ish writ­ers, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t as tor­tured as it is for Ger­man Jew­ish writ­ers. Kaf­ka, reflect­ing on the flow­er­ing of Jew­ish-Ger­man writ­ing in his day, wrote of a gyp­sy lit­er­a­ture which had stolen the Ger­man child out of its cra­dle and in great haste put it through some kind of train­ing, for some­one has to dance on the tightrope.”

While there is cer­tain­ly a par­al­lel here in Eng­lish with what Bel­low andRoth, among oth­ers, have done with Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture post WWII, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t as fraught as it is for a Jew writ­ing in German.

In fic­tion, cer­tain­ly, the Jew­ish Amer­i­can dialect has assert­ed itself and made an imprint on the lan­guage as whole. But, what of oth­er forms? Is there a Jew­ish-inflect­ed crit­i­cism, a lan­guage of Jew­ish non­fic­tion, a native Jew­ish style in jour­nal­ism? Because of this short win­ter Fri­day, I’m under no con­trac­tu­al oblig­a­tion to answer these ques­tions here. (Per­haps the Short Fri­day Blog Post” is itself is a native Jew­ish form). Instead, I’ll let I.B. Singer take us into shabbes with his view of Jew­ish journalism:

Every week I write two or three jour­nal­is­tic articles…I can write arti­cles in the For­ward about life mak­ing sense or not, or that you shouldn’t com­mit sui­cide, or a trea­tise on imps or dev­ils being in everything.

Avi Steinberg’s first book, Run­ning the Books: The Adven­tures of an Acci­den­tal Prison Librar­i­an, was just released. He has been blog­ging all week for theJew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ingAuthor Blog.