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June 26, 2016 5:51 am

The New York Times Calls Jewish Novelist Cynthia Ozick a ‘Crusader’

avatar by Ira Stoll

Cynthia Ozick. Photo: Alchetron.

Cynthia Ozick. Photo: Alchetron.

In an otherwise mostly respectful piece about the Jewish novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, the New York Times makes a cringe-worthy word choice.

“Cynthia Ozick’s Long Crusade” is the ill-chosen headline over the Times Magazine article, which says, “She remains a crusader, a missionary or, as she recently put it to me, ‘a fanatic’ in the cause of literature.”

Given that the word “crusade” comes from a Christian symbol, the cross worn by the Crusaders as they made their way across Europe murdering Jews, it seems a particularly inapt term to use in this case.

The Times article concludes:

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But Ozick, however fierce her identification as a Jew, is admirable in her freedom from identitarian parti pris. T.S. Eliot’s rank anti-Semitism does not blind her to his poetic virtues; she praises Tolstoy’s early novel “The Cossacks” despite its whitewashing of genocidal Cossack violence against Jews (Ozick’s ancestors among them). Above all, she resists the idea that writers are, or ought to be, representatives of a certain group, for it is then that “imagination flies out the door, and with it the freedom and volatility and irresponsibility that imagination both confers and commands.”

It’s remarkable, but sadly all too typical, that what the Times finds “admirable” about Ms. Ozick is not her strong Jewish identity, but rather her ability in a couple of cases apparently to put it in the back seat. I doubt that if the identity the writer were freeing herself of were one trendier than Judaism, the Times would be so admiring of the writer’s ability to look beyond it. How “admirable,” say, would the Times find a black writer’s praising of novels or poetry written by racists? Or how “admirable” would the Times find a Hispanic or Muslim writer praising Donald Trump’s political or business acumen?

If anyone’s crusading here, it’s not Ms. Ozick, but the Times. The paper’s view of Jewish identity as something Jews are best off being liberated from is something reminiscent of the worst of Medieval Europe’s dark ages.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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