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Grant leads to discussion of Jewish literature

August 14, 2008

ASU Libraries will conduct a free monthly discussion of five books of Jewish literature beginning at 7 p.m., Aug. 26, at Hayden Library.

Why Jewish literature?

Because studying Jewish literature is part of studying world literature, says Rachel Leket-Mor, bibliographer for religion, philosophy and Jewish Studies at ASU Libraries – and also because ASU Libraries has received a grant to sponsor the series from Nextbook and the American Library Association.

“Reading is a wonderful way to get acquainted with other cultures, especially minor ones,” Leket-Mor says. “It is my hope that this reading and discussion series, graciously funded by Nextbook and the Jewish Studies Program at ASU, will open the door – and the hearts – to the fascinating multiethnic culture that is growing in Phoenix.”

Nextbook is a New York-based organization founded in 2003 “as a locus for Jewish literature, culture and ideas.” The organization sponsors public lectures, readings and performances in cities around the country, and publishes an online magazine.

The nonprofit organization has created several book-discussion modules under the umbrella theme “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature – Identity and Imagination.”

The module chosen by ASU is “Neighbors: The World Next Door.”

“The delicate, often tortuous relationship between neighboring cultures animates these works of history and fiction, which trace the Jewish experience from Muslim Spain to Bolshevik Russia to contemporary America,” Nextbook says of the module.

The five books are “Journey to the End of the Millennium” by A.B. Yehoshua, which starts the discussion series; “Red Cavalry” by Isaac Babel, Sept. 23; “The Assistant,” by Bernard Malamud, Oct. 28; “Mona in the Promised Land,” by Gish Jen, Nov. 18; and “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” by Jan T. Gross, Dec. 9 (the only nonfiction book on the list).

The first book, “Journey to the End of the Millennium,” traces a voyage through Europe Jewish merchant, encounters difficulties with his two business partners: his cousin Raphael Abulafia and the Muslim Abu Lufti.

The widowed Abulafia has taken a new European wife, whose disapproval of Attar’s polygamy leads to the dissolution of the partnership and eventually to juridical proceedings that foreshadow the major schism of the next Jewish millennium.

Joe Lockard, an associate professor of English at ASU, will lead the discussions each month. Lockard, whose newest book is “Watching Slavery: Witness Texts and Travel Reports,” says he thinks it is important to discuss these books because “they deal with minority identities and minority-majority relations in diverse societies.”

He adds: “They cover a wide range of historical settings, from the violent revolutionary Bolshevik Russia of Isaac Babel’s short stories, to Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War, to Gish Jen’s contemporary novel of a new Chinese-Jewishness in New York suburbs.

“As a group of readings, they constitute a powerful exploration of how literature can promote the human understanding and respect that underwrites a good civil society. Just as African-American or Native American literatures, among others, are not only for African-Americans or indigenous peoples, Jewish literature is not only for Jewish readers.

“Ethnic literatures produce some of the most compelling reading available on library and bookstore shelves today, so I hope series participants will continue on reading Jewish and other vibrant ethnic literary traditions.”

The series is supported by the Jewish Studies Program at ASU, Hillel at ASU, the Newman Center at ASU, the ASU Department of English and the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix.

To register for the series, visit the Web site, or contact Leket-Mor at (480) 965 2618 or