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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

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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.

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The Times article concludes:

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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  • Ira, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill by focusing on the word crusader. The term today isn’t strongly linked to The Crusaders, but refers to anyone who takes on a difficult task. Further, the Crusades were about saving the “Holy Land,” not from the Jews, but from Islam. I’m with you, however, on your criticsm of The Times’ penchant to downplay anyone’s positive identification with Judaism and Israel.

  • robert davis

    Since a very very long time anything that filthy rag nyt says is INAPT AND INEPT and serves only its Financial interests doled by subventions from the socialist establishment. We need the total irradication of nyt staff, they must be fired to the last. Along with the estblishment and eu that 4th reich organisation. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT.

  • Perhaps this is a perverse form of antisemitism.

  • Oscar Shank

    Not to worry, the NYT also assures you: “Her commitment to Judaism sharpens her powers of discrimination and inoculates her against the dubious allure of the universal.” Example? She disliked that Anne Frank had been turned into the girl next door. Again, not to worry, I don’t think she meant Rachel Corrie. Naw, she just meant the usual shiksa? Oy vay, such a price just to gain sympathy! fay symphony

  • Oscar Shank

    Not to worry, the NYT also assures you: “Her commitment to Judaism sharpens her powers of discrimination and inoculates her against the dubious allure of the universal.” Example? She disliked that Anne Frank had been turned into the girl next door. Again, not to worry, I don’t think she meant Rachel Corrie. Naw, she just meant the usual shiksa? Oy vay, such a price just to gain sympathy!

  • Oscar Shank

    Not to worry, the NYT also assures you: “Her commitment to Judaism sharpens her powers of discrimination and inoculates her against the dubious allure of the universal.” Example? She disliked that Anne Frank had been turned into the girl next door. Again, not to worry, I don’t think she meant Rachel Corrie. Naw, she just meant the usual shiksa? Oy fay, such a price just to gain symphony!

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    It seems to me that the reference “crusader” is an oxymoron as it might be used to pertain to a Jew, especially a Jew whose life work identifies with the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, and the Jewish culture. One of the main reasons why I stopped reading and using the New York Times as a credible source in my teaching English composition in higher education course what that its perspective on the Jewish experience is, in my view,politicised to the Left, Americanised (versus globalised) and Christianised. My understanding of Cynthia Ozick as a Jewish writer is based on her deep connection to the Jewish experience, irrespective of political, national, or the American Judeo-Christian bias.

  • Lia

    Poor, poor old NYT! Always unthinking, always inept.

  • Jay Lavine

    Unfortunately, many people who identify as Jews use the word “crusade” indiscriminately. In any case, Judaism is not an identity; it is a faith and way of life.

    • Avi

      Judaism is a faith, Jewish is an identity.We are distinct in that we are both a people as well as a religion.
      As for the word “crusade”, if we are to ban a word because of what transpired over a thousand years ago, we would be as insane as islamist groups that act as if the crusades happened yesterday. That aside I shudder to think how many words would need to be shunned because they had a connection to an some awful event in our history.

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