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I wanted to be an American


What it is to be a Jew shifts with where you are
Philip Roth Writer
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I began to go to Israel to visit in the '80s, I think, and that was very different. There I was confronted with this... this country of Jews and its... its problems. But I wasn't one of them, and I remember I had lunch once in the Knesset with [Ehud] Olmert – who later became Prime Minister – and he was telling me how the Jews were going to come to Israel... the American Jews were going to come to Israel in... by the boat-load to settle the West Bank. And I told him that no one's coming here. The Orthodox are coming, but none of the secular Jews are coming, not even the religious Jews who aren't Orthodox are going to. They're very happy where they are. I said, 'There is a Zion, it's called America', and he... he was stunned. And I think he's written about this conversation somewhere. So what it is to be a Jew shifts with where you are. But I'm genealogically a... a Jew, but I've been acculturated 100 times over since I was a child, by the world – the world of letters, the world of people, the world of politics – and it seems to me to have been a very fortunate trajectory. I think it's fine that it worked out this way. I have no nostalgia for some other way of being a Jew.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Israel, Zion, Ehud Olmert

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013