As the canon of gay-Jewish literature grows – encompassing novels, plays, poetry, memoirs, and nonfiction – Daniel M. Jaffe adds this collection of short stories to the list. The subjects he addresses have, by now, often been covered by others: relationships and infidelity, community and rejection, faith and identity. But Jaffe’s choice of the short story as his medium allows him to focus on specific, thorny issues facing gay Jews, as well as the broader Jewish community, with unique intensity. His tales are concise, clearly written, and widely accessible. His characters are sympathetic yet flawed; their emotional undercurrents are vulnerable and romantic at heart, and their religiosity deeply ingrained, while their sexuality is frequently frank but never vulgar.
The two dozen stories in Jewish Gentle (many previously published in magazines, journals, and literary anthologies) share common traits, but needn’t be read all at once, sequentially. In fact, cherry-picking a few at a time proves more rewarding. “At Blumberg & Fong’s” expertly weaves a tale of adolescent longing around recollections of a family trip to Israel, while “In the Canoe” adds an unexpected ending to a narrative about AIDS. There are terrific tales, too, about sex (the refreshingly matter-of-fact “The Four of Us,” plus the thoughtful title story), coming out as a gay Jew (“Finding Home”), and dealing with family (“Telling Dad”). Taken together, this is the most powerful collection of short stories about gay Jews since Lev Raphael’s Dancing on Tisha B’Av blazed the trail more than twenty years ago.
Wayne Hoffman is a veteran journalist, published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Hadassah Magazine, The Forward, Out, The Advocate, and elsewhere; he is executive editor of the online Jewish magazine Tablet. The author of The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Murder, he has also published three novels, including Sweet Like Sugar, which won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award. He lives in New York City and the Catskills.