ReligionWise

Storytelling, Trauma, and Meaning - Jodi Eichler-Levine

June 15, 2022 Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding Season 1 Episode 10
ReligionWise
Storytelling, Trauma, and Meaning - Jodi Eichler-Levine
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of ReligionWise, we talk with Jodi Eichler-Levine Professor of Religion Studies and Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization at Lehigh University. Our conversation considers the way that storytelling helps individuals and communities organize their lives and imagine their own identities, particularly when processing traumatic events.

Show Notes:

Chip Gruen:

Welcome to ReligionWise the podcast where we feature educators, researchers and other professionals discussing topics on religion and their relevance to the public conversation. My name is Chip Gruen. I'm the director of the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding at Muhlenberg College and I will be the host for this podcast. Today's guest is Jodi Eichler-Levine, Professor of Religion Studies and the Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization at Lehigh University. She's come here today to talk to us about her first book "Suffer the Little Children, Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature" that came out in 2013. Subsequently, she had a book that came out in 2020, entitled "Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis, How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community". Now, what seems to hold these two books together, and a lot of the work that Dr. Levine does is this interest in what is sometimes called vernacular religion, or popular religion. So not high theology, not the beliefs and practices of leadership necessarily, but how do individuals on the ground think about, construct their own reality by telling stories, by making crafts, etc, just to contextualize her work a little bit, one of her other research interests, and one of the things she's working on right now is very much like Dr. Peterfeso's episode, she is also interested in the idea of Disney as vernacular religion. So this contextualizes her work in storytelling in a particular way that really emphasizes how individuals who might not necessarily be religious specialists or theologians deal with their own religious traditions or making meaning in their world. So I wanted to talk with Dr. Levine about "Suffer the Little Children" because it deals with this very important topic of narrative and storytelling. We can see right now in our own world, in our own context, where what stories are told how they're told about the American experience, for example, or about race, or ethnicity, or the founding of our country, or differences in gender and sexuality are dealt with in public conversation, or in public education, etc. So far from being an esoteric or academic conversation. This is actually something that is really important for us to think about, as we consider the ways that we use narrative and tell stories in our own world. In particular, when talking about Jewish stories, and Jewish stories of trauma and pain, and in particular, the Holocaust. This is something that is very important to the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding, as we host conference for middle school and high school students on Holocaust education, and the lessons of the Holocaust to reduce bigotry and hate based on identity in our contemporary world. So today's guest is Jodi Eichler-Levine of Lehigh University. Thanks very much for appearing on ReligionWise, Jodi.

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Chip Gruen:

So where I wanted to start was thinking about your work, generally. It seems to me what you're most interested in, it's not high theology, it's not ritual, but it's really the things that are evidenced by the ordinary, the popular, can you talk a little bit about your interest in the every day, and its relationship to religious and cultural identity?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Absolutely, yes, I definitely do whatever is the opposite of high theology. When I started graduate school, back in the early 2000s, the study of lived religion was really becoming very dominant in all fields of religion, but particularly in my own home fields of Jewish Studies, and North American religions. So in my own experience of watching people do religion, it was always the little things that really stood out to me. So in Jewish tradition, people read from the Torah ritually during a service. But what always really interested me the most about that was the Yad, which means hand or the pointer that is used to read the Torah. What about that object? Or I was very interested in the fact that you could read fantasy literature. And it turned out there were religious things going on in fantasy literature, like who knew CS Lewis was Christian? As a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, I actually did not initially know that. And so for me, I really want to get at religion where it lives, religion where people are. So I wrote a book about children's literature and a book about Jewish objects. And I'm writing a book about religion, and the Disney company, because all of these are ways people make meaning in the world. People like to tell stories, people like to see films, people like to make gifts for one another. And so for me, religion is something that people do and hold and touch. It's not necessarily just about debates about the substance of God, no offense to anyone for whom that's an important question.

Chip Gruen:

So, let's dig a little deeper into the stories, because that was your first book, which is "Suffer the Little Children, Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature". Tell me about the importance of stories in your view, right? What does considering stories do for us? How do they function in the lives of the authors in the lives, the communities, in the lives, in this case of the children? Can you just elaborate a little bit on on why you think studying these narratives is important.

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

So in my first book, I was particularly interested in how narratives are tied to people's religious and political identities, and those are really interwoven. And so I became interested in the stories of Jewish Americans, of mostly black Christian Americans, and also of African American Jews. And in both of those histories, while they are different, you have groups that really had to reckon with pretty serious trauma, with things like the Holocaust, or the Middle Passage. And also groups that were what scholar called R. Laurence Moore called religious outsiders, people who in terms of the American dominant narratives, were outsiders, either in terms of their religious tradition, which was the case for Jews, or in terms of their racial identity, which was the case for African American Christians. And so what those stories did, was help people to fit in in America in a way that honored various identities. One of my favorite examples comes from the book series, "All-of-a-Kind Family", which was written by a woman named Sydney Taylor, and the first book was published in 1951. These books were published in the midst of the Cold War. In fact, the Rosenberg trial, accusing two Jewish Americans of spying for Soviet Russia was at its height as the book was being edited. And we have evidence that some scholars have uncovered that Taylor was encouraged to talk about this Jewish family in ways that would make them seem like good patriotic Americans, her editor actually made her add a whole chapter about the Fourth of July, the original manuscript only had Jewish holidays. And the editor said, you know, there should be something patriotic. And the late scholar June Cummins has wonderful articles about this and study that correspondence. So when somebody like "All-of-a-Kind Family", which you might not immediately think of as a religious story comes out, it's giving Jewish Americans first of all representation, it's the first time they see themselves in a children's book from a mainstream publishing house, but it's also explaining them to non Jews, millions of non Jews have read these books, I actually found them on a shelf at the Salt Lake City Public Library once and in the Amazon comments that I studied, studied. A lot of non Jews said, This is how I learned about Judaism. So we can talk about you know, the the challenges of that right, where people go for their information about religion. But what, one of the things narratives do is perform identity for the group telling its story, but they also perform identity for outsiders, who then encounter that through children's books. And that's one of the reasons that debates about narrative are so charged because narratives are so powerful.

Chip Gruen:

So there seems to be a push and pull here that I'd like you to talk a little bit about, like, on the one hand, having minoritized groups or groups from different religious or cultural tradition than the majority represent those groups to a large body of people. But on the other hand, the work that they're doing for that community is essentially saying, we are very similar to you, we are, we are good Americans. We are patriotic, we, you know, we are not so different as you might be led to believe. And I wonder what, how is that American identity? Explain that, right? So we have on the one hand, the religious, the cultural minoritized identity. On the other hand, we have the mainstream American identity. What does that look like? What does that negotiation look like?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

It's challenging. And I think that since I wrote this book, which came out in 2013, there have been newer movements like the We Need Diverse Books movement hashtag, that have pushed not only for greater representation of minorities in children's literature, because the number of African American children's book authors and illustrators is still gross underrepresentation, but also for new kinds of stories. Right? So the first example that I gave is from the 1950s, a moment of tremendous assimilation, for many groups and of wanting to be seen as fitting in. I think that what the turn we we got to in this century, moved towards recognizing different kinds of stories. I think that the work for example, of Jacqueline Woodson, one of my favorite authors of African American, mostly middle grade, or young adult books has done is she's moved into poetry. She has a book that talks about rap that uses Tupac Shakur. And so you are starting to see children's literature get beyond the anodyne, right beyond, let's just all tell a story about our holidays and hold hands and sing. I think there's much fresher stuff happening in children's literature today. But you're quite right, that there is this tension. There's still a tendency, especially in picture books, for younger grades, to want to focus on things like the Happy Thanksgiving story that ends up completely uncritical of the Thanksgiving story, right, that just sort of acts, you know, pretends that Native Americans were treated well, in early America, because if it's a book like Molly's Pilgrim, which is a Jewish Thanksgiving story, the Jews want to be on the Pilgrim side of the equation, not the Native American side, which you can't blame an author in the 1980s for wanting to do that. But it, it ends up being a way of becoming American at the expense of some difficult historical truths.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, so we have on the one hand, the telling of the story of the community in question, and we have the telling of the American story, right? And there's this idea that maybe maybe those are the same story, after all, or at least that is one of the pushes that we get. And I wonder if you could talk about I mean, because in your in your chapter about dwelling, right, I love the Thomas Tweed reference of the crossing and the dwelling thing, it's a wonderful book, we'll put we'll put that in the show notes. In the dwell, the dwelling, the identity ends up highlighting things like domesticity, economics, consumerism, you know, some of the things that maybe we wouldn't highlight as American religion writ large, but are certainly some of the pillars of, of American culture. Could you talk about and again, I think that you've just alluded to the fact that these things might have changed in the last decade, but the ways in which domesticity and economic, economic systems are held up in this type of literature as well.

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Absolutely. So yeah, I was very influenced by Thomas Tweed's definition of religion and the idea that one of the things religion helps us do is make homes. We make homes we sometimes intensify joy in those homes, and sometimes we confront challenges. And I think that you can go back in American literary history to Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose "Little House on the Prairie" books are certainly not perfect. There's been a lot of studies of them. They certainly contain some horrific racial tropes of minstrelsy, at the same time, She ushers in this way of looking at the domestic you know, long descriptions of dinners, Almanzo is always eating everything in sight, discussions of how the family gets an organ and her sister Mary plays it, how they sew their dresses, right? Everything about the domestic is just oversized in "Little House on the Prairie". And that thread really continues through the rest of American children's literature. So we have books about quilts and the Underground Railroad, or about rag dolls on the Underground Railroad. We have lots of Jewish books about quilts as well, most famously, Patricia Polacco is "The Keeping Quilt". And I think what's going on there is something that the scholar Colleen McDannell talks about in a very well known book called "Material Christianity", which is that religion is something that is haptic, another scholar, David Chidester, talks about haptic religion. So something that we feel with our hands. And so when you're talking about, say, the history of Christianity, you can talk as Colleen McDannell does about Warner Sallman's portrait of Jesus Christ that was like reproduced and became the popular image of Jesus for millions of American Christians and would hang on their wall. So what's hanging on someone's wall? And how is that part of their religious life? What happens when a quilt is made out of clothes that were rags as a family escaped from Russia, right, they escape and Patricia Polacco tells the story of her family's immigration through the story of this keeping quilt and then it becomes a ritual object. It has multiple lives, it becomes a wedding Chuppah or canopy. And so it's kind of like materiality is the glue. Or I don't want to say the force even though I'm a Star Wars fan, but it does kind of you know, flow through the home and bind people in ways that can be quite emotional as they live their religious lives unless you are in a particularly ascetic tradition. The odds are that your religious life does involve memories of special foods that you eat, or ritual foods that are supposed to be eaten in a certain way, like the Passover supper. And so you've got all of these kinds of things you touch and smell and feel that are part of people's religious lives. Think about how incense smells, for example, that that evokes a powerful sense memory for a lot of people for multiple religious

Chip Gruen:

So that's the domestic angle, the making a traditions. home, the dwelling angle, but then one of the other things that you argue is happening these stories, they're doing cultural work, they're processing trauma, or remembering trauma. So in the case, in "Suffer the Little Children", on the one hand, the Holocaust, on the other hand slavery, can you talk a little bit about that function, not the function of integration, but here the function of remembering the past?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Absolutely. And in doing that, I was really influenced by a scholar named Michael Rothberg, who encourages us to think about what he calls multidirectional memory, that if we're going to think together with, say, the Holocaust and slavery or lynching, we're not having a, you know, a suffering Olympics, we're going to be thinking about how these pains touch one another, in a more subtle way. So in a lot of ways, both slavery and the Holocaust are so dominant in how non how, let's say, white Christian Americans understand Jews and African Americans, that there's more books produced on those two topics than just about anything else. And that's there's there's a lot to criticize about that right to say we should have more books about the happy stuff too. But we always do have to reckon with with trauma. And part of why it's so important to keep teaching these books is because so many Americans don't understand the legacy of slavery. Don't understand just how brutal an institution it was, or can't name concentration camps, which is something we're seeing in surveys now. So when Jews and blacks write about these traumas, or other people write about them, there's a way in which suffering becomes redemptive. And that's something I'm a little bit critical of at times. Because I kind of worry when you know, the most popular story about a Jewish young woman that Americans in general have read is "The Diary of Anne Frank", which is obviously an important book and she was a genuinely gifted writer who wanted her work to be published. But at the same time, if we only have that story of a young Jewish girl who was murdered, and if we focus, especially people tend to focus on the hopeful quotes towards the end of the book, then we're processing the trauma, but we're also losing a lot of other parts of Jewish life. And the same thing is true with slavery. One of my favorite books, though, about slavery is Julius Lester's, "The Old African", Julius Lester was a black Jew, he wrote a really beautiful memoir of his conversion experience to Judaism later in life. And "The Old African" is a magical realist story that takes us through the experience of an older slave, and how he literally walks back to Africa under the ocean, and all these ghostly things ensue. And one of the things I love about that story is because it kind of recognizes that America is hopeless. And that story Lester gives up on on America and freedom is in this sort of imagined landscape, something you walk back to, under the ocean. So this is a really long way of saying that both groups are processing trauma, sometimes really eloquently in these books. But when when other Americans process these stories, they're in, at times educating themselves about traumatic pasts. But they're also primarily seeing dead and suffering people. And I think that's always a another sort of tension between wanting to honor the past. You know, when I'm in the classroom, my students come in, they want to talk about the Holocaust, they want to talk about slavery, they want those stories, but not reducing minority groups to their most traumatic moments. And so the question becomes, how do you do that?

Chip Gruen:

Well, you took the bull by the horns here by doing a comparative study, which being a through and through religious studies scholar, I really appreciate comparativeism, I think comparativeism is really important. It can highlight things that we might not see otherwise. But I wonder, you know, if we think about the question of whose stories are these, whose stories are these to tell? Have you gotten any pushback on that at all? But about dealing with both of these bodies of material, both side by side? Considering your, your own identity and your place in the academy?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Yeah, a little bit. Um, I mean, it's Yeah, and it's always seemed to me like if you were doing interesting. So I'm a white Ashkenazi Jewish women from the East Coast. So obviously, I'm much closer to the identity of the Ashkenazi Jews in the book, then, to the African Americans. I wouldn't say that I got push back so much as the book was most read, actually, by children's literature scholars. And there was a slight push back actually, in a very thoughtful review of the book that came out after the Black Lives Matter movement had gotten going. So that's one of the things that's, you know, true with publishing, you spend years and years publishing a book that comes out. And if you're writing about a contemporary topic, something new happens and changes the whole story. And even though in the book, I do say, you know that for Jews, America was this promised land and for African Americans, it was it was hell, it was not a promised land, it was pleased someplace you were kidnapped to and tortured. But I do say both groups are able to write their way into mentor, into membership. And that looked less true. After you know, once we got into Black Lives Matter, I certainly was aware when I wrote the book that racism was still alive and well in America. But I wrote the book before, before Trayvon Martin, before Eric Garner, before so many people, and Trayvon Martin in particular, I remember watching that trial, while my daughter was quite young, and I had written about Emmett Till in the book I had meditated on the lynching of this young black teenager, in the 1950s. And it was it was so chilling, watching what happened in Ferguson, and what later happened in countless cities, in light of having written about this, but the book was was done, you know, and so I think, I think I would have had a different ending. If, if I were African American, I might not have written about being able to write your way into membership at all right? I might have had a different way of thinking, at the same time, I do think it's really important for people to be able to write about groups that they're not part of. I think that so I didn't, I didn't get tremendous pushback, but there was that little Hey, what about Black Lives Matter? And I'm, you know, in it, it's, it's challenging, because I think, you know, following J.Z. Smith, you know, I think in comparison, the magic does dwell that we notice things when we you know, put blue against yellow or black and white, you know, the the wrong metaphor, but we see things in greater relief when we compare them. But undoubtedly, we all wright, from comparative work, it is almost impossible to write about, you our social position. know, to not write about something that is not your own identity, Unless you, unless you yourself, we were all hybrid, but unless you have a deeply hybrid identity.

Chip Gruen:

Yes, absolutely. So speaking of how things change given current events, I mean, this seems and I want to talk to you today about narrative because of current events. Here we sit in 2022. We have all kinds of I mean, I would say proverbial fights, but I think that there are actual fights too about, about history, about memory, about what whose narratives are who's about what stories can be told that there are countless states and municipalities where books are being pulled from shelves, where curricula are being reviewed, certain titles are being excised from from curriculum, how does that particular this particular historical moment play against the idea of the crossing and the dwelling the building of identity that coping with trauma that happens in the literature itself? How, how do how does all this fit together?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

So in a really, really sad and depressing way, I'm not entirely surprised by our cultural moment of, you know, banning books, again, of limiting what can be said in curricula. I'm sadly not surprised. I think it actually speaks to the power of stories to cause empathy, and lead people to care about those who are other than they are. I think that's the threat. So when people say they want to ban any discussion of critical race theory, aside from the fact that they're misunderstanding the history of critical race theory as a concept coming out of feminist legal scholarship, they're really saying, let's not talk about race. Let's not talk about privilege. And I mean, we had the example of the Tennessee School Board, banning "Mous" because of nudity. And the problem is, these books are powerful, right? You can't, if you read Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Mous", you have to confront not only the horror of the camps and the Holocaust, but the horror of the bystanders, the horror of the neighbors, right. And that's really powerful stuff. I saw that one of the books that was banned, I think, in Ohio, was a book called "The Purim Superhero", which was a PJ library book about, about a Jewish kid dressing up for the Jewish holiday of Purim. And his two dads, and it wasn't even like a book that was like here. Here's a book about you know about having gay dads, it was just part of the story. And so I wasn't surprised at all that that book was banned, because it suggests that queer families are just like everybody else is in you know, figuring out what the costume should be dealing with family stresses. And so when we see a moment like this, it's because there have been so many gains in children's literature over the last say 30 years it has become much more robustly diverse and it has started to be more critical of the sort of standard everyone comes to America and makes it story right like you know, Ibram Kendi. I will say, I haven't read "Antiracist Baby" yet. But obviously, there's various new trends in children's literature that are not always complimentary. Jacqueline Woodson is another person who really is will point out that not everything can be mended. Not every bridge can be built, you know, she she writes about neighborhoods that have been torn about by bridges, and you can't always fix what's been broken. And so I think that that to a lot of people, that narrative that America is imperfect, or could be improved, is very threatening. And and it's, it's, it's empathy. And I can say more about that, but I'll stop for now.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, well, I want to follow up on that, because one of the things that comes through and I want to before we're done, I want to talk about fantasy, fantasy literature, because I think that that's just fascinating, in lots of different ways. But this idea that you can reimagine pain, but you can't undo it. And the idea that children's literature, particularly good children's literature is often subversive, right? That we tend to think about, and they all live happily ever after as sort of the quintessential ending to a children's book. But more often than not, that's not the case, particularly for children's literature that's, that's sort of critically acclaimed and recognized as being significant. Can you can you talk a little bit about, about children, about subversiveness? I mean, they are on the outside right they're, they don't have power. They don't have money. They don't have political influence. I mean, there's a lot of ways in which children can be read as, as quintessential outsiders, how does the literature the subversiveness of this literature play into the identity of these children as well?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Yeah, children are the only constituency of literature who generally can't write their own literature. There's a scholarly, a scholar named Jacqueline Rose, who wrote about this, the calling it the impossibility of children's literature. But everyone thinks they know what it's like to be a child because they were once and we kind of remember. This is where we get into Maurice Sendak, who's far and away my favorite. Probably my favorite author I've ever written about. And he famously said, you know, I don't write books for children, I write and they say that's for children. Even even fairy tales, you know, you use the happily ever after example, but fairy tales were incredibly dark in their original tellings. The Grim fairy tales are just bloody and messy. You know, the original Andersen's story of "The Little Mermaid" ends in tragedy. So children who were used to dark stories because children suffered too. You know, sometimes they suffer in horrific ways impacted by geopolitical conflicts. And sometimes they suffer because it's lonely on the playground, but they suffer. And so I think that, you know, books, a book, like "Where the Wild Things Are", was revolutionary in the early 1960s, precisely because it was about Max's interior voyage, about his going off to the land of the wild things and just getting to be himself. And it actually, the Wild Things came from a Yiddish expression. Sendak's relatives called him vilde chaya, which means wild, wild, animal wild living thing in Yiddish. And so I love the fact that there is this Yiddish expression at the center of this really subversive book. So, um, children's literature has always, if we go back to folklore, not been just for children, these were stories for people of all ages, the idea of a separate shelf for children is very modern. And those stories have always had loss, and challenge and they've always, they've always turned the world upside down. They've always messed with the power structure. And that's again, where Sendak is so powerful because Mickey like in the Night Kitchen, Mickey is saying like I'm taking control of the milk. I am the milk and the milk is in me is like this battle cry. That actually he's the one in charge, not the, you know, whoever's bringing the milk.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah. And so you make this comparison in the book. And I'm going to, to do a Tolkien reference here. But about about loss, right. And and while maybe we would not consider Tolkien children's literature, I think it's a really interesting example in comparison to some of the stories that you talk about, because we get to the end of "The Lord of the Rings". And it's, it's sad. I mean, it's unresolved. Frodo has to sail away, you know, from everything he knows his wounds don't quite ever heal, you know, the Shire is not what it once was, you know, there's just tremendous loss. And, you know, you make, maybe not in that explicit detail, but you make that comparison. And I wonder if you know, thinking about fantasy and the mechanisms of fantasy and what gets resolved and what doesn't get resolved. How you see that in some of the stories you've dealt with here, or fantasy in general?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Yeah, I, first of all, aside from the fact that I love fantasy. I think what Tolkien does in particular, both Frodo's ending. And with one of the really famous lines from the books that ends up in the movies, where Gandalf says, to Frodo, you know, all you have to do is choose what to do with the time you are given. It's a slight paraphrase. Fantasy in its extraordinary locations and situations, and it's sort of bigness forces us to really confront what we would do in times of tragedy or in challenging times, like the ones we've been living through. So I think that part of the power of fantasy is to unbind. In the book, I talk a lot about metaphors of binding, as in the sacrifice of Isaac, and unbinding. And fantasy allows us to imagine what would happen if we were powerfully unbound? If we could fly away, for example, which I talked about in terms of Sendak and Tony Kushner's "Brundibar", where in this sort of Holocaust metaphor, because the book is based on an opera that was performed at the camp Theresienstadt. The children are able to fly away from Hitler on blackbirds on giant blackbirds, but they're also be lost. You know, it's, it's this image that should be of liberation, but it's actually the parents losing their children. And it's absolutely tragic. So, fantasy shows us both horror and liberation, depending on how we read it. And somebody like "Lord of the Rings", you know, I think you're right, that that example of the wounds that don't heal is something that I think anyone who has been through a trauma knows that. But if you haven't, or if you've forgotten, or you just need to feel less alone in it, the narrative provides that reminder. And fantasy provides that reminder.

Chip Gruen:

Yeah, I'm excited, I'm getting ready to teach my religion and popular culture class in the fall, I haven't done it in a few years. And one of the things I always lead with, and I want to get your take on this, is that there's really no such thing as escapism. That, you know, we watch, you know, we say, I want to forget about the world. So I'm gonna watch this three hour movie. But in the end, you're just really dealing with your own reality on a different level. And I think I see echoes of that in some of what you're doing here. Would you, would you agree with that sentiment?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, I teach a class on religion and fantasy literature. So we read Tolkien, we read Lewis who read, we approach Harry Potter in various ways. And I actually taught it online mid pandemic. And it was really powerful. Because it allowed my students to really give voice to all the challenges they were living through in the children's books. It wasn't escapist at all. It was actually one of the it was the best class I taught online. And it was really a reckoning. Because fantasy, good fantasy really brings up human vulnerability. This is why I'm obsessed with N.K. Jemisin, who is not a children's book author, she's just, in my opinion, one of the best. One of the best fantasy sci fi writers writing today. And that was my pandemic read was to go straight through pretty much every book she's ever written. The and it didn't, it didn't allow me to escape. And some of it was incredibly dark. It allowed me to think about how do we live through traumas, you know, how do we encounter great battles, and I think that even though, you know, someone like Tolkien is doing that in a much more sort of like high medieval Christian way. Some of the themes just, you know, hold true. So absolutely, I would agree with you 100%. It's not escapist at all.

Chip Gruen:

So where we always like to end up is, you know, as as I was saying to you earlier, I'm really interested in you know how we talk about religion when we talk about religion that this isn't that what we're talking about here is not esoteric, but instead is really about our own lived experiences about us being in the world perceiving the world, you know, not only as scholars and academics, but people in their other in their professional lives and their family lives, etc. And so I always like to finish up with, what is the takeaway? Like, what is the thing that we should not only sort of intellectually take away from this conversation? But if we are being active in the world, if we're thinking about putting books in the hands of our children, or grandchildren, or we're thinking about, you know, how we should be in the public square? What What should we learn from this conversation? And how should that inspire us to action?

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Well, I'd say what we should take away is something the poet Naomi Shihab Nye Palestinian American poet, writes, in one of her novels, she says, stories are the way you know, stories were the only thing holding us to the ground, I'm paraphrasing, but that image of that, which rather than flying us away, actually keeps us here with other humans navigating our lives with other humans is so powerful. And that's obviously why I think we shouldn't ban books, we should, you know, propagate books and spread them around. In part because we don't all live in diverse places, right? I spent eight years teaching in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which has diversity, sure. But I was usually the only Jew my students had ever met, or the first Jew. racial diversity was not tremendous there. But books can exist everywhere. And that's why they're so powerful. It doesn't mean that because you've read "All-of-a-Kind Family", you now know everything about Jews today. You don't, it's set in 1914. But it's a start. And I think that's why we all just need to if we want to think about religious difference, racial difference, all of these things, class difference, even people who live in really diverse cities often only hang out with people of their own class and race. We need to at least start with empathy and with those stories, and that's, that's why they're so important and powerful.

Chip Gruen:

All right. Well, Jodi Eichler-Levine. Thank you very much for sitting down today. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Jodi Eichler-Levine:

Thank you so much for having me.

Chip Gruen:

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