J. D. Salinger is dead at 91, and yes, I care — I loved and still love Catcher in the Rye. But the fact that so many Jewish journalists, pundits, etc. are focusing on the fact that he was Jewish or that his father was, is actually pretty weird. I mean who cares if Salinger was Jewish?
Did Salinger’s Jewishness make any difference in his art? Or are we simply obsessed with “taking credit” for his art as a source of ethnic pride? And perhaps most ironically, how many people who are so eager to acknowledge that the author was the grandson of a rabbi, on his father’s side, would disqualify him as a Jew because his mother was Irish Catholic? Let alone the weirdness of Jews focusing on the Jewishness of someone’s grandparents. That’s straight out of the Nuremburg laws!
I am all for ethnic pride, and have no problem with celebrating every possible means of connection to the groups we love. But that same desire to see virtually everything and everyone as connected to “us”, should also translate into how we treat the living –especially those living nearest to us, and not simply the distant and the dead who happen to be famous.
No, this is not a call for all Jews to accept patrilineal descent. I both appreciate and accept the halakhic difficulties with that for many Jews, including myself. It is simply a plea to consider that our impulse for Jewish inclusiveness, should we have one, should include more than establishing bragging rights to other people’s accomplishments. It should obligate us to treat all those who want to be a part of the Jewish people both respectfully and lovingly even if we don’t always agree with their path of connection.