LYNN – In “People Love Dead Jews, Reports from a Haunted Present” (Norton 2021) award-winning novelist Dara Horn takes a hard look at how non-Jews love the legacy of long-lost Jews, in museums and restored synagogues where Jews used to live, who nevertheless have been driven out by hate.
It’s something no one wants to come to grips with in the present.
“I’ve been an author for 20 years and a Jew for my entire life,” Horn says in the introduction to her companion podcast to her new book.
She describes herself as “a former professional Torah reader and a recovering Ph.D. in Yiddish and Hebrew.” Her point: She’s written about Jews for most of her life. In recent years, Horn noticed her editors only wanted her to write about dead Jews.
“I eventually realized that the stories about Jews people loved most were stories about Jews who were no longer with us, especially when those dead Jews make everyone feel better about themselves, you know, because dead Jews can teach us all something about the wonders of humanity,” Horn said.
Then she adds: “Conveniently, this happens without having to actually learn anything at all about the actual Jews.”
Horn, the recipient of two National Jewish Book Awards, will bring her frank take on antisemitism, Jews, Judaism and Jewish life to the Greater Boston area with a talk called “Facing Anti-Semitism Head On,” this coming Monday, Nov. 15, 7 p.m., at the Tatelman Family Chabad Campus in Lynn, 151 Ocean St. The event is presented by Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore of Swampscott.
“The topic that we have chosen to explore – ‘Antisemitism Today,’ is timely,” said Chabad of the North Shore Rabbi Yossi Lipsker in a message to the community. “Why did we invite this particular guest lecturer? Here’s why: Dara is a best-selling author who wields her pen as a literary scalpel. In dissecting antisemitism in its current state, she has shined a glaring light on the hatred lurking in the shadows.”
Horn received her doctorate in Yiddish and Hebrew literature from Harvard University, and has written five novels. She has also written nonfiction for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Smithsonian and The Jewish Review of Books.
Though she’s written extensively about Jews and Jewish life, the topic she is tackling is one she has avoided until a couple of years ago. She has long been haunted by “a brief and explosive confrontation” with a Holocaust survivor 25 years ago when she was 16.
This chance meeting came after she covered the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1993. She wrote a rave review for a now defunct teen magazine focused on the children’s exhibit showing a German Jewish home meant to illustrate for regular American kids that the Jewish kids who were sent to the gas chambers wore soccer cleats just like they did.
“A kid on a soccer team is not what died in the Holocaust,” the Holocaust survivor told her. The woman ranted about what was lost: Yiddish-speaking culture, books, yeshivas, Hasidic dynasties, newspapers, writers, musicians and artists Horn had never heard of, but whom later studied. A German-speaking soccer-playing Jewish kid was not who was lost, Horn said the survivor told her, as most Jewish children who died were Yiddish speaking and a large percentage of them were religious.
“She shrieked at me how I had to tell my teenage readers about what was really lost,” Horn said, the woman raving: “‘But what if they weren’t just like them, would it have been OK to murder them if they weren’t just like them?’” The question has dogged Horn for more than two decades and it’s a question central to the themes in her new book.
To register for “Facing Anti-Semitism Head-On” with Dara Horn, go to nsJewish.com.