Every other year, Calvin College hosts a Festival of Faith & Writing, bringing together a marvelous array of writers and readers, publishers and editors, and tables loaded with books and journals—a feast. This year's conference, which began last Thursday and concluded on Saturday night, drew more than 1,600 registrants and featured keynoters Stephen Dunn, Kaye Gibbons, Ernest Gaines, Kathleen Norris, Jan Karon, and Oscar Hijuelos as well as dozens of other fine writers—enough so that you wished you could attend the festival on three parallel time tracks.
One of the "others" was the extraordinary Yaffa Eliach, a woman of seemingly inexhaustible energy and encyclopedic knowledge of life in the shtetl, the typical small town or village in which Eastern European Jews lived for centuries before the Holocaust. Eliach, who created the Tower of Life at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is probably best know for her book There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok. But many years earlier she published an equally remarkable book, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, based on tape-recorded interviews and oral histories with Holocaust survivors and others who are transmitting their stories.
The contrast between Eliach's book and most Holocaust literature, especially that represented by what Melvin Jules Bukiet calls the "Second Generation" writers, could not be more stark. Bukiet, as we noted a couple of weeks ago, has just edited a collection of Holocaust writings called Nothing Makes You Free, bragging in the introduction that these writers are "viciously unredemptive, scoured of weakness as they look atrocity in the face with barely contained rage." In contrast, the Hasidic tales gathered by ...1
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