February 1, 2010

JD Salinger, perhaps the most famous interfaith writer of all time

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism, Pop Culture at 6:50 pm by chavalah

Perhaps I am straying too close to what Rabbi Brad would call “taking credit” based on “ethnic pride,” but I’d like to make a note of J.D. Salinger’s passing. Salinger will always be remembered for being a an integral figure within American literature, as well as an infamous recluse (and, to some, a half Jew.)

Born to an assimilated Jewish father and an Irish Catholic father, Salinger would likely be ignored by the majority of the Jewish community if it weren’t for the fact that he wrote one of the defining books about adolescence, a book which, to my memory, had nothing at all to do with Judaism. Like every other American adolescent born after the last quarter of the 20th century, The Catcher in the Rye was included on my middle/high school reading list. However, I must lose major interfaith points for not having read Franny and Zooey yet. :”> Still, given his reclusiveness, his literary themes of cynicism and breaking from society’s hold, and espousal of Scientology, I would have assumed that Judaism meant little or nothing to him.

The New Republic’s lengthy feature on The Catcher in the Rye includes, however, interviews with Salinger’s sister and daughter regarding the role that Judaism, particularly antisemitism, might have played in his life.

Here’s a quote from his sister, Doris, who died in 2001:

“It wasn’t nice to be part-Jewish in those days,” she says. “It was no asset to be Jewish either, but at least you belonged somewhere. This way you were neither fish nor fowl.”

Like with Holden Caulfield still speaking to the youth of today, sadly, I don’t think that sentiment has much changed.


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