Celebrating Israel through Leon Uris 

Today it is not proper to glorify Israel, as Uris did. Today it is proper, it is fashionable, to slap Israel around.

Jack Engelhard,

Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

With your indulgence, Dear Readers, I repeat an op-ed of mine that appeared on Arutz Sheva, July 1, 2003. This was in response to the passing of Leon Uris and the hostile obituaries he received mainly, in my view, because through his book “Exodus” and the splendid movie that followed, he celebrated the re-birth of Israel. That was too much of a good thing for our enemies.

I believe that the article is as relevant today as it was 14 years ago…especially as a reminder that, as per Isaiah, for the sake of Zion we must never keep silent.

The column ran as “The Obit Uris Never Got,” as follows:

Leon Uris deserved better. The obits were a disgrace. They read more like a spiteful book review, rather than an appreciation for the man who gave us the romance of Israel. But let's not be fooled -- for these obits were an attack upon the Jewish State, not Uris, who merely served as a prop, a decoy. 

The cheap shots came from intellectual stormtroopers who decide for us what is good, what is bad, what is high-minded, what is lowbrow... Like this, which appeared all over the news media: "Uris is not well regarded by critics, many of whom consider his writing crude and simple. People who think Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Cynthia Ozick are major Jewish writers would say he's just a popular writer... He tells a good story, but he's not of lasting literary value."

Huh? This belongs in an obituary? 

For my money, Uris towers over Bellow and others on the strength of “Exodus” alone. And if “Exodus” is not of lasting literary value, I don't know what is.

Oh, I know what they're talking about. He was no stylist. First of all, there is no such thing as style. Of course there is, but that's for us, the readers, to decide. There is no Supreme Court to rule on style, and anyway, style is no factor in deciding a book's greatness. Dickens (in my view) was a terrible stylist, as was Dostoevsky, and James Jones was a terrible writer, but a great novelist by weight of “From Here To Eternity.” These were all great novelists.

No, the snotty obits were reprisals upon Israel, and had nothing to do with literature and everything to do with politics.

How many writers "created" a nation within the pages of a book? Non-Jews by the millions (never mind Jews) know and love Israel only through “Exodus.”

Uris died at the wrong time; anti-Semitism is up, Israel is down. Today it is not proper to glorify Israel, as Uris did. Today it is proper, it is fashionable, to slap Israel around.

Here's a secret: Newsrooms carry obits well in advance for people of achievement. As I write this, there's news that Katharine Hepburn just died, but you can be sure that the obits for her were written years ago. Back a generation, someone was in such a hurry to present his beautifully-written obit on Hemingway that he got it published all over the wires while Hemingway was merely recovering from a plane crash.

Hemingway, very much alive, said he loved what was said about him. Uris would not be so pleased.

Uris showed us David winning against Goliath, but this world covets Goliath...Hence the scorn upon the man who wrote “Exodus.”
Surely, over the years Uris' obit kept being rewritten in reflection of how the world viewed Israel and the Jewish people at the moment. Back then, a guilt-ridden world embraced the romance of the Jewish people returning to the land of their Fathers and Mothers. The mood has changed. The mood is ugly and the obits on Uris symbolize that change and that ugliness. Our tenured intellectual elite (think Oxford, Columbia, the BBC, NPR, NYT....) have fallen in love with homicide, terrorism, anti-Semitism. 

Uris showed us David winning against Goliath, but this world covets Goliath...Hence the scorn upon the man who wrote “Exodus.”

In a class that I visited as a lecturer, a student mocked Proverbs. "Anyone can do that," he said. "Go ahead," I said, "write one." Of course, he was stumped.

I say the same to Uris' scholarly critics. "Go ahead, write me an Exodus."

We have lost a great man, a great writer, and he deserves to be hailed.

Who gives a damn if his language doesn't flow like Henry James or F. Scott Fitzgerald? One measure of greatness, for a novel, is its impact. Uris' impact was immense and everlasting.

Though he died at the wrong time, it is lucky for us that he lived (and wrote) at the right time. 

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva. His books, including “The Bathsheba Deadline,” are available from Amazon and other retailers. Engelhard wrote the international bestseller “Indecent Proposal” and the award-winning Montreal memoir “Escape from Mount Moriah.” His latest is “News Anchor Sweetheart.” He is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website: www.jackengelhard.com