Being a Jewish writer is no different from being any other kind of writer. I don’t believe that Jewish writers have any special mission, or that they see the world in a different way, which would give them any advantage over other writers. Only one thing matters when you are a writer: the way you use your language and what you do with it. It does not matter whether you are religious or secular, formally educated or uneducated, involved in tradition or having nothing to do with it – the only thing that matters is your ability to tell stories or sing songs in a way that has not been done before.
So how do we define a Jewish writer? This question is sometimes very important for Jewish writers who live in small secular Jewish communities in the Diaspora, like the one in Serbia where I come from. For me, a Jewish writer is a writer of Jewish origin who writes mainly on Jewish themes.
It can be argued that when a national literature is defined we never base our definition on the themes of literary works. This is true but it is because we have other criteria such as language and territory. We could introduce language into our definition of the Jewish writer, and there would obviously be at least three: Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino, but then we would lose a large number of Jewish writers writing in non-Jewish languages, writers such as Joseph Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, or Danilo Kis. And finally, it is impossible to include any specific territory in our definition as Jewish writers live all over the world.
The unique history of the Jewish people has contributed to the unique position of Jewish literature. Serbian Jewish literature is both part of a national literature – because of the fact that Serbian Jewish writers write in Serbian – and part of multilingual worldwide Jewish literature. This means that it would be seen as one of a number of ethnic literatures that belong to Serbian literature in general. In other words, worldwide Jewish literature consists of a large number of ethnic Jewish literatures just as the world Jewish community consists of many different Jewish communities. It is diversity that makes us – both as a people and as writers – what we truly are.
David Albahari is the author of the new novel Leeches.