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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 07 | volume II | February-March, 1999



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 07February-March, 1999

The Burden of Mimicry

p. 1
David Albahari


    Many years ago, when I was eight or nine years old and the world was still full of promises, one of my teachers, puzzled by my surname, atypical for Serbia where most surnames end in “ikj”, asked me what I was. I stood up and told him what my father had always told me: that I was a Jew. “But how is it possible”, he said, “I thought that there were no more of you Jews left around.”
    At that time I had no idea what he meant. He was, perhaps, genuinely surprised, without any intention to utter an insult. I was just a kid, and it would take me several years to learn about the horrible story of Holocaust. But his remark stuck deep inside me, and for a while I thought of myself as the living dead.


    Defining Jewish is as difficult as defining Jewish identity, or at least, secular Jewish identity. Growing up in the small, secular Jewish community of former Yugoslavia, I thought that defining Jewish identity was one of our obligations. It seemed to me that everybody else in our multiethnic society was so sure of his/her identity, and that it was only Jews who kept spending endless hours trying to understand who they really were. When we got together in our annual summer camp somewhere on the Adriatic coast, we would have two or three meetings devoted to that subject, and back in our respective Jewish community centers, during the regular weekly meetings of our Youth Clubs, we would try over and over again to come to an acceptable answer. We would mention Jewish tradition and holidays, the beauty of Shabbat, the bond of Hebrew, the light of Zion. But since we were not practising Jews, all these things, although we recognized their importance, did not mean that much to us. And since most of us were children from mixed marriages who chose to follow the Jewish inheritance, we would always come to the same conclusion: Jewish identity was a matter of choice.


    The same answer is the only one I can offer when it comes to the question of defining the secular Jewish writer: it is a meter of personal choice. But that answer works only on the individual level. Seen as a group, regardless of their individual choices, Jewish writers display more similarities than differences. In other words, the question of defining Jewish literature remains

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