August 6, 2015

Silence Isn't Neutral

I talk more about queerness than Jewishness because of the backlash I’ve received for my Judaism. ~ Katherine Locke
I've written before about how reluctant — and if we're being honest, scared — I have been to share the fact that I am Jewish, to be "a Jewish writer" rather than just a writer. I don't call attention to that part of my identity, because attention is what gets you killed. It sounds dramatic, until you know that I was born in the USSR and my parents had to have contingency plans on how to keep us all alive in that moment when people would come barging into our tiny apartment to do just that: kill us. Until you hear that my grandparents didn't allow any of us to go to the opening of a synagogue because they were terrified it was a trap for Jews to be killed on the spot. Until you know that even today synagogues in "civilized" countries like France and the US require police protection because of the danger posed to Jewish people who congregate to pray.

Antisemitism, persecution, and the echoes of the Holocaust are a constant presence in the lives of Jews. Silence isn't an option, not when Jewish university students don't feel safe on US campuses, and not when a book like For Such A Time is published and then lauded.

There have been some amazing posts on the danger presented by this book, and it is dangerous. How many hands saw a book promoting violence toward and erasure of Jews and thought "This is a great story!" instead of "This is awful, antisemitic, and dangerous"? How many readers found the story romantic

The thing is, this book wasn't written to start a conversation; it was written as an uplifting, romantic, inspirational story.  As Katherine Locke wrote in a much more eloquent post than I can aspire to at the moment (and which I hope you will all go read): 
Kate Breslin stole a tragedy that wasn’t hers to promote her own personal agenda. And in doing so, she contributed to the erasure of both victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Her book is anti-Semitic, violent, and dangerous. It glorifies and redeems a Nazi, while removing all of the Jewish woman’s agency and forcing her to convert to Christianity in order for her arc to be considered redemption. It is, in fact, exactly what has been done to the Jewish people throughout history. For longer than Christianity has been a religion, Jews across the world have been forced to convert or to hide their Judaism to save their lives. That is violence. That is erasure. Kate Breslin’s book is violence and erasure.
And this book nearly won the Romance Writers of America's highest honor — twice. The people who allowed it to be published weren't neutral. The people who judged it for the RITA weren't neutral. The people who saw it, didn't think it was a good idea, and then didn't say anything weren't neutral. These people thought promoting the erasure of Judaism and finding the despicable "hero" redeemable and romantic was an acceptable choice. That isn't neutral.

Silence in the face of today's antisemitism is not much different from the silence of those who watched their Jewish neighbors be rounded up, dragged away, and killed.

And yes, I am concerned that there will be backlash for this post, that this may affect my upcoming release and my career going forward. But that isn't what matters. 

I am scared. But I will not be silent. 

4 comments :

  1. Thank you for this post. I'm not Jewish but I appreciate it. Society is ignorant to think otherwise and they don't realize what message they're conveying. I learned from this post and I never realized how deeply it still exists, but I'm glad you decided to post about this. :)

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    1. Thanks, Diana! It was a difficult decision, but if it helps people become aware of what's going on, I'm glad I did it. :-)

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  2. It makes me so sad that you would have to feel afraid to write this post. Antisemitism doesn't get nearly the attention that other bigotries in this country do, so people don't realize the extent to which it exists. My eyes are finally being opened - and I'm glad for brave and passionate people like you who help open them.

    I'm a Euro-mutt Christian, and it boggles my mind that any sane author or reader could think a full-fledged, high-ranking Nazi is material for a romantic hero. I often feel disconnected with what romance readers are drawn to - I lamented that at my blog this week - and right now is one of those moment when I'm extremely happy to have that distance.

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    1. In one of the posts about this, I read the hypothesis that people approved of this choice of hero because: 1) romance readers like a hero that needs redemption; and 2) Christianity is big on redemption. So in a Christian romance...

      However, like you, I'm baffled by the premise that someone who committed such atrocities—and from what I've read, doesn't stop doing so in the book—would be considered a redeemable love interest. And I'm angry that the author found being Jewish a bigger sin than anything the male MC did, having her female MC find "redemption" from her crime of existing by converting to Christianity.

      Being nominated for a RITA used to be a career goal of mine, but if this is the kind of book that gets nominated, I'll be happy absolutely never receiving a nomination. That being said, this book really should have stopped at the critique group level, or barring that, the publisher level.

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