Monday, October 23, 2017

Remarks from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards about Yiddish for Pirates

I made these brief remarks at the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards last week.

One of the inspirations for my novel was a historical figure, a pirate from a family of rabbis who came out of retirement for one last exploit: to retrieve some treasure. What was the treasure? Some Jewish books. To me, this seemed like such a perfectly Jewish way to be a pirate.

In my novel, I quote a Yiddish proverb. The tongue is not in exile. No matter where Jews found themselves—when we were forced to leave our homes, through immigration or expulsion or persecution—and we had to leave often without any of our possessions—we could always bring our language: our stories, our teachings, our jokes and sayings. The tongue is not in exile. So wherever we went, we brought ourselves with us. I don’t know if language is our shadow or if we are language’s shadow, but to me to be a Jew is to believe in language and to believe in books.

So it is a very special honour to receive this recognition from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards. Thank you to the clearly very wise jury and to everyone else involved in organizing. I’m really very honoured. And congratulations to my fellow award winners, and especially my old friend Stuart Ross. It’s a thrill to be here with him. We’ve been friends and writing colleagues for about 35 years. And thank you to my family, for making the book—and everything else— possible: my wife Beth, my parents,  in-laws and my kids.

And you know that old joke which asks, “so when is a Jewish fetus viable?” So, when is a Jewish fetus viable? After it graduates from Law or Medical school. But now I’m hoping that winning this award has finally made me viable.

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