Alternate history, Jewish cognitive dissonance, & the Yiddish revival

Two State Dissonance
Gershom Gorenberg | The American Prospect, June 11, 2010

Meyer Landsman lives in the Hotel Zamenhof. Landsman is the hero of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, in which the Jews lost the 1948 war in Palestine and have taken refuge in a Jewish autonomous region of Alaska. The run-down hotel is named for L.L. Zamenhof, the Russian-born Jew who invented Esperanto in order to bring world understanding and peace. In other words, Landsman's residence is a liberal Jewish dream that has seen much better days.
The turn to alternate history fiction is seen by Gorenberg as the outcome of cognitive dissonance among frustrated liberal Jews who can't see themselves in today's Israel.
What strikes me as I listen to the family fight between the hawkish Jewish establishment and other American Jews—the pro-peace Zionists, the furious anti-Zionists, the "don't ask me about Israel" non-Zionists—is that they're all dealing with a shared family problem: They have a hard time fitting Israel as it actually is into some of their deepest assumptions about the world. The easiest way for me to explain runs through Philip Roth's The Plot Against America and Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union.

While most Jews repress the disparity, Roth and Chabon make it very clear—by describing the world as it would be if the facts lined up with the beliefs. Roth describes an America that fits the assumption that Jews are at peril everywhere. Chabon invents a world in which the Jews are still weak and homeless. On one level these visions are dystopian—but on another they are somehow comforting, homey, because the gap between different things we "know" is gone.
I'm not going to comment on the rest of Gorenberg's political meditation. The non-religious Yiddish revival belongs to a different mental universe from what has become of the revival of Hebrew, itself a remarkable accomplishment, now associated with a powerful state far removed from the shleppers who might have once fantasized about it.

See also:

Yiddish is no joke
Antony Lerman, The Guardian, 5 March 2010

"The revival of this death-defying language shows that Zionism has failed to consign other forms of Jewish life to oblivion"

The Zionist movement was no friend to Yiddish, but now Yiddish is making a comeback. There's one comment on Zamenhof, Yiddish, and Esperanto.

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