Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home Is Where ...

Earlier this month I attended Hamilton's second Jewish Literary Festival. It brought together writers from different parts of North America under the theme "Where is Home for the Jewish Writer?" but rather than limit the presenters to serious discussion of that question it was used more as a unifying theme. Although the festival opened with the Friday service in which some of the writers participated, the main thrust of the weekend was cultural rather than religious.

There was lots of reference to the Jewish cultural heritage, especially from Eastern Europe. Other areas were sometimes mentioned. It surprised me that there was no emphatic Zionism, the Jewish connection to the land of Israel, expressed. Besides connecting the novels, short stories and poetry of the modern writers to the older traditions and teachings, there was an interactive time of music and dance, and the presentation of a drama.

Somewhere among the searches among the stories and songs and all the trappings that makes Jewish literature recognizably "Jewish" came a remark that really spoke to my interest. As a writer born out of a European cultural background (and a culture so minor that we didn't have a written literature but relied on stories and poems handed down orally) and transplanted to flourish in a Canadian tradition, I sometimes question my attachment to my "roots."

Sharon Nelson, a poet and presenter, put the idea of "home" in a way I could understand. Home for the Jewish writer, she explained, was not a sense of place or belonging. Rather it was all that influenced him, was a part of him. Some of this, his core beliefs and influences, remained constant. But around this solid center was a more transitory circle of people, ideas, places, etc. that were a part of his comfort in his own skin and for a time "home" for him. That was a concept I could understand, could apply to my own questionings. It is the main bit of knowledge I'll remember from the festival. And the most valluable.

1 comment:

annaken said...

I like your blog today, Jefferson. It brought back some fabulous times spent at the Jewish Writer's Festival.

I also enjoyed it very much (read my blog). I was particularly struck by Andy MacDonald's poem and his sense of "not belonging" in mainstream society. I also found great enjoyment in the music of Allan Merovitz and the entertainment he brought.

I found the workshops very helpful as well and the whole event was time very well spent.