Jew­ish Gen­tle and Oth­er Sto­ries of Gay-Jew­ish Living

Daniel M. Jaffe

By – January 30, 2012

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 Jour­nalWash­ing­ton Post, Hadas­sah Mag­a­zineThe For­wardOutThe 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.

Discussion Questions

1. Which of the 24 sto­ries here are your favorites? Why?

2. What role does Jew­ish­ness play in the way the main char­ac­ter thinks about his gay­ness in the sto­ry, At Blum­berg & Fong’s”?

3. What role does Jew­ish­ness play in the way par­ents react to their gay sons in the sto­ries, Telling Dad,” Kad­dish,” and Hap­py Birth­day to…”?

4. Do the emo­tions in the sto­ries Abs­cents,” The Axe,” and Dear Mar­ty” feel true to the nature of roman­tic break-ups?

5. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly Jew­ish about the main char­ac­ters’ world­views in the sto­ries One-Foot Lover” and That Boy This Day”?

6. What do you think about the way var­i­ous char­ac­ters respond to HIV/AIDS in the sto­ries, The Kiss,” In the Canoe,” and Bless the Blue Angel”?