Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lazarus, the colossus of Jewish identity ignorance

I'm only 13 pages into the new Reform Judaism magazine (picked up at shul tonight), and there's a small write-up on Esther Schor's new book, "Emma Lazarus." The write-up says "Schor's portrait serves to restore the centrality of Jewishness in Emma Lazarus' life and work, showing how she consistently put her literary reputation on the line to defend the Jewish people."

Thing is, when I did research about Lazarus in college, every source I read (and I'll admit that it wasn't more than 5-10) gave me the impression -- quite bluntly -- that Lazarus' Jewish identification was one mostly of convenience and pity, not of personal effort or out of any kind of deep connection to her roots. Her family was entirely assimilated and when she died, her sisters left out nearly all of her Jewish works from the collections of her works, citing it as a "phase" she was going through. Lazarus' first real outreach to the Jewish community came during the pogroms in Russia -- she was from a very affluent family and had the money to donate. But her identification as a Jew -- in my research -- was never even an issue. It was merely a fleeting aspect of her life. It played no more a role in her personal development than did the length of her pinky nail.

Then again, this is a topic that I was considering pursuing in graduate studies ... maybe I should read Schor's book and do some cross-researching :D OHHH the excitement!