It was a day of love. Cupids twittered through the air, roses were exchanged, arrows were shot and a dozen or so of us SLC students filed into our class with a round table for a roundtable on a recent Jewish memoir, Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox, etc. All semester we have been discussing classic Jewish memoirs, and Valentine’s Day 2013 would be specially dedicated to last year’s hot tome about one woman’s scandalous rejection of her roots.
The discussion was presided over by scholar of Hasidic silk, Prof. Glen Dynner, who selected this book from hundreds of possible choices. Royalty-wise, the authoress must surely have made $18 from our bunch at least, depending on the terms of her book deal. Are SLC alums given priority in SLC literature classes? Inquiring minds wonder.
Roundtable guests included UCLA professor David Myers, who happens to be writing a book about the holy shtetl Kiryas Joel, and could tell our class definitively that “Satmar” does not now and never meant St. Mary in Romanian (Wikipedia says so too), my friend Joel Feldman, who happens to be the “Feldman” in Deborah Feldman, Hershey Goldberger, Frimet’s husband and another KJ “specimen” along with myself, making up our Hasidic quartet at the roundtable.
Joel was there because naturally he was interested in an academic discussion about a book in which he reluctantly guest stars, and also to convey publicly some of his own impressions and respond to public perceptions of him. Hershey was Joel’s wingman. Frimet was there to pummel and debate our professor into oblivion. I was there to cringe over the proceedings. And Myers was there to conduct Satmar research.
After a brief introduction from Dynner and Myers, the roundtable was directed to discuss the question of reliability in memoirs in general and the question of misimpressions in this memoir in particular. Was the memoir genre a kind of permission to bend the truth under the general heter that everyone has their own personal truth? The roundtable agreed that there was no definitive answer, but some thought that they were critical readers and could tell if the memoirist was being self-serving, deceptive, etc. Most readers like to believe they are intelligent, thank you. Someone thought that it was odd that Deborah Feldman seemed to see herself with a halo with nary a self-deprecating word to be found in the book. The roundtable also considered whether or not this 12-month old book may have staying power. Could we imagine it still being read and analyzed after 200 years ala Solomon Maimon’s influential, genre-creating memoir? We conceded that we would meet at yet another roundtable in 200 years and find out. Then everyone took off their clothes and dived into the tank and wove baskets as per Minhag Sarah Lawrence College.
Here is how some of the discussion went down:
PROFESSOR: I know many students feel strongly about the book. Some of you had said some very strong things against the book