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Jewish-American Literature  
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The theoretical underpinnings of such a position have been thoroughly and fruitfully explored by Adrienne Rich in her poetry and essays, and by Irena Klepfisz, especially in her collection Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribes (1990).

At the most basic level is a return to a symbolic ethnicity, an ethnicity, paradoxically based on a secure Americanism, defined by eating certain foods, observing selected religious rites, or wearing t-shirts that proclaim one ethnic allegiance or another.

Such a concept of ethnicity is embraced by Lesléa Newman in her novel In Every Laugh a Tear (1992). The protagonist, Linda Steinblatt, is a thoroughly secular Jewish lesbian, who nevertheless has changed her first name to Shayna to affirm her Jewishness more publicly. The relationship between Shayna and her Puerto Rican lover, Luz Borghes, is Newman's attempt at bringing about a multicultural awareness and cross-cultural fertilization and reconciliation.

Of course, this emphasis on heritage and ethnic reconciliation is very timely. In her introduction to the ground-breaking anthology, Nice Jewish Girls (1989), Evelyn Torton Beck provides a damning sketch of antisemitism in the lesbian community. Newman's novel, or at least that part of the plot involving Shayna and Luz, is an attempt to bridge cross-ethnic racism.

Although it is relatively easy to present ethnicity symbolically, a more daring and complex task for a writer is the creative reinterpretation of the culture as it has developed in America. This is exactly what Judith Katz achieves in Running Fiercely Towards a High Thin Sound (1992). All of her main characters are Jewish, and the themes of Jewish identity and of lesbian self-assertion are inextricably intertwined.

Katz does not attempt to construct new Jewish feminist ceremonies, but she creates a dream world in which strong Jewish women of the past and present work together as healers. By injecting this dream world into an otherwise realistic narrative, Katz reinterprets Jewish culture and identity, connecting the contemporary world of American Jews with that of the European past, especially that of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.

The role of women as healers, as the saviors of cultures, forms the all-important background. Lesbians and heterosexual women work together, creating a vision of sisterhood in which the domestic problems of the characters do not necessarily become irrelevant but certainly diminish. Katz creates a rich synthesis between religious and lesbian mythmaking.

Between symbolic ethnicity on the one hand and fundamental reinterpretation of Jewish history to encompass the history of Jewish women and lesbians on the other, we find a middle ground that is best represented by Jyl Lynn Felman's short stories, collected under the title Hot Chicken Wings (1992).

In her programmatic manifesto, "The Forbidden, or What Makes Me a Jewish Lesbian Writer," Felman maps out her approach to the question of identity. As to her Jewishness, Felman comments, that what "makes me a Jewish writer is the fact that my parents kept kosher, and longed for their progeny to do the same." This statement may sound like one of involuntary identification with the concept of symbolic ethnicity, but Felman avoids such easy categorization.

She goes on to say that keeping kosher

means eating only that food which is permitted according to Jewish law and avoiding all else--that which is forbidden, is treyf. So the very act of eating that [i.e., the forbidden] makes my stories Jewish. Lurking in the background of every scene I write is a sense of the forbidden.

Here the sense of otherness is projected onto that which is non-Jewish. Felman concludes this passage by tying together her identity as a Jew with her identity as a lesbian: "But what makes my stories lesbian with the emphasis on Jewish is the fact that my characters don't just imagine what eating pussy is like, they actually eat it. And eating pussy for me is just like eating treyf."

The argument that Felman presents here is complex and perhaps unresolved. Even though there seems to be some deep-seated ambivalence, both about being a Jew and being a lesbian, in such a remark, it points to Felman's ultimate goal of reconciliation: to make the forbidden kosher, that is to say, to integrate as fully as possible Jewish and lesbian identity.

Sarah Schulman's works are not always specifically Jewish in content, but both The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984) and Girls, Visions and Everything (1986) have Jewish main characters. Her recent novel, Empathy (1992), successfully blends psychoanalysis and Jewish identity. Anna, the novel's protagonist, is psychologically so bruised that she has developed a split personality. The narrative ends with the restoration of her sanity and her reconciliation with her family, an event that significantly takes place during a Passover Seder.

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