Check out my story this week for The Jewish Week. It’s a review of two books, one by Bernard Avishai, the other by Ilan Stavans, both of which explore Hebrew’s centrality to the Jewish state. Avishai’s book “The Hebrew Republic” is the more political of the two, and he comes out throwing punches. That old issue — you can’t be both Jewish and democratic — is his focus. And he’s saying Jews gotta deal with it. If you want to keep Israel Jewish, then at least make Judaism something anyone–Arab, Russian, atheist–can enter. Hebrew, make everyone speak it. That’s his answer. Read more about my take on it here.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for Zadie Smith’s provocative essay in the upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books. (Not yet available online.) Called “Speaking in Tongues,” the piece analyzes Obama’s ability to speak in several different dialects, and what it says about his, and Western society’s, self-made selves. Smith, you might know, is a black Briton who went on to Cambridge. The early part of the essay talks about her conscious change in speech. What’s strange is that she (and most people) get called out for speaking differently to different people. But isn’t that part of the West’s tale? It’s just a reflection of our rags-to-riches, up-by-the-bootstraps mentality. Why hate?