Nathan Englander writes at the end of his short story "The Last
One Way" in the book Lost Tribe (pg. 20 in the paperback):
I had a right-wing, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, fire-and-brimstone,
free thought-free, shtetl-mentality, substandard education. During some
formative period or another, I had basic theological questions. None
of the men in charge of my religious education were equipped to deal
with them. And so I began to look elsewhere, I began to read literature.
Simple as that. And the same with creativity. If it wasn't quashed it
was surely helped toward strophy. I started writing because it was the
one thing that I had the tools for. The single available outlet. If
we had a decent blowtorch at home, I might be a welder or an industrial
sculptor or pyromaniac. But the two decisions, to give up religion and
to dedicate my life to the writing of fiction, are very different. I
refuse to have writing equated with rebellion. I had a specific experience
growing up that sterred me away from one thing and toward another. They
are mutually exclusive.Yet, I admit, they bleed into each other. Stories
such as "The Last One Way" deal with a lot of these issues
of religiosity and identity and morality. The religion leaks into the
writing. And I guess the writing leaks into the religion as well. I
am a pro when it comes to ritualistic behavior, everything prescribed
and timed and structured, everything right or wrong. And once I got
serious about writing, I discovered that I'd adopted a lot of these
forms. You write hard every day, six days a week, and on the seventh
you rest. My own Sabbath. For a long time Sabbath fell out on Tuesday.
Nonetheless, a day of rest makes sense.
Consider, for example, Nathan Englander, a talented writer whose collection
of stories, ''For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,'' brimmed with revelations
of hypocrisy and self-inflicted misery: a fistfight that breaks out
in synagogue over who will read from the Torah; a sect whose members
fast three days instead of one and drink a dozen glasses of wine at
the Passover seders instead of four; a man whose rabbi sends him to
a prostitute when his wife won't sleep with him. Of course, the Orthodox
don't actually brawl over who reads the Torah, no rabbi is allowed to
write a dispensation for a man to see a prostitute, and even extremely
pious Jews can't invent their own traditions for fast days or seders.
Englander's sketches were fictional, but did most people realize this?
Apparently not. The world at large took him to be a ''former yeshiva
boy'' who had renounced his old life. Englander didn't help matters
by referring to the ''anti-intellectual'' and ''fire-and-brimstone''
aspects of his ''shtetl mentality substandard education'' -- a strange
way of describing the Long Island community where he grew up, which
prides itself on its tolerance and dedication to learning, both secular
and religious. Englander is about as much a product of the shtetl as
John Kerry. He actually attended the coeducational Hebrew Academy of
Nassau County and then the State University of New York, Binghamton.
It was one of his supposedly substandard teachers who encouraged him
to write in the first place.