The heroic nature of our people

Grappling with the Holocaust is so painful, that, for me at least, Jewish heroism must be given equal time, immediately.

Jack Engelhard

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Somehow, at a gathering to discuss the upcoming International Holocaust Remembrance event, the talk veered off into the challenges of writing about the Holocaust.

Then it got around to the response from Jewish American writers, such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. 

Others were mentioned as well, namely E. L. Doctorow, Joseph Heller, I. B. Singer and Norman Mailer. All are literary figures. Leon Uris never made the cut. (Ditto Ben Hecht.) He was considered Popular (always so by the Establishment) and thus not really Serious. Bellow and Roth, the most Serious of all.

According to those at this meeting, the Serious Writers were to be taken at their word as to how they coped as novelists with the Holocaust.

For most, or some, as Jews were burning in Auschwitz, Americans read how tough it was in Newark, NJ.
Already I was lost, because I do not remember any coping at all. Or not much. For most, or some, as Jews were burning in Auschwitz, Americans read how tough it was in Newark, NJ.

Maybe I am not being fair. I will have to re-read some of them…fine writing to be sure, if you can take the intellectual preening and kvetching.

I am no big fan of misery, unless it is topped by heroism. Grappling with the Holocaust is so painful, that, for me at least, Jewish heroism must be given equal time, immediately.

I seldom found that counterweight among my peers, which is exactly how I expressed it to the gathering, after I was recognized as the author of two distinctly Jewish books, “Escape from Mount Moriah” and “Indecent Proposal” -- and that’s the one which surprises people who only saw the Paramount movie, the last film done through the Old Studio System.

Yet the star of that novel is a Holocaust survivor, who lands in America, and then takes off to become a warrior for Israel.

Jewish heroism has always been my focus, from the days of Tannach studies in my youth, when I sat entranced at the exploits of our Biblical heroes, so many, and David, my favorite, and then to my father, Noah, who lifted us up to safety while the fires were burning from within and all around. Those would be my models.

Nothing much of that, of appreciation, of glory, came across from the esteemed literary grandees, even at the founding of the Jewish State. While history was being made there, they remained stuck at the moldy American Jewish Experience, and quite often cliché was followed by stereotype to our detriment, but lauded by The New York Times.

Which never gave Leon Uris a fair hearing for his sin of “Exodus” being too Popular. Here, please, from my column “The Obit Uris Never Got.”

As my editor Rochel Sylvetsky said “Jewish history is being made in Israel.”

So, I was asked to categorize myself, a question no writer ever likes, or even considers, upon tackling a book, on whether you are Literary or Popular.

How about half of each, which was how I answered it the other night, and also to the question on whether I was a Jewish American Writer.

Jewish, yes. American, yes. But not Jewish American, because I was in a rucksack up in the Pyrenees while those who preceded me were explaining the American Jewish Experience.

It took time for me to catch up, to tell my version of people and events…and with no help from my elders astride the ivory towers.

We all Bear Witness in different ways, and my way to perform this duty is through my writing.   So, was Joshua Kane in “Indecent Proposal” really the author…in other words, me.

That’s another question we don’t like. 

In the sweat and fury of writing, we seldom remember where it begins with ourselves and then develops from our imagination. When that takes off we are deeply in another world, where anything can happen, and did. Readers of the novel worldwide, and even those from the other night, mercifully and respectfully understood the fictional high-concept plot to be entirely secondary to the elements of Temptation, Sin, Regret, followed by a plea at forgiveness.

Quite Biblical, if you ask me…and if you ask me again, I will tell you that throughout all my books, I depart from my elders, who write splendidly about ordinary lives.

I like heroes, and now we turn to Gary Cooper, who told the studios, “Just cast me as the hero, and everything will be all right.”  

They were all heroes, those who made it out alive and the Six Million who perished, their fate sealed by an indifferent world.  

Then from Eli Wiesel we have it that the Binding of Isaac was the first Holocaust.

From first to last, Dear God, Never Again is no mere slogan thanks to Israel, a nation of heroes.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.

He wrote the worldwide book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal,” and the authoritative newsroom epic, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” followed by his coming-of-age classics, “The Girls of Cincinnati,” and, the Holocaust-to-Montreal memoir, “Escape from Mount Moriah,” for which contemporaries have hailed him “The last Hemingway, a writer without peer, and the conscience of us all.” Website: