However, films like Arranged, A Price Above Rubies, and A Stranger Among Us, to name a few, raise difficult questions about depicting Orthodox Jews in mainstream media. These kinds of films are often critiqued for their inaccurate or unfairly critical portrayal of Jews, and for airing our "dirty laundry" in public. (Frankly, you don’t need to watch movies to see the worst in the Jewish community – just read the New York Times or Google "New Jersey, rabbi".) Literature written in the Orthodox Jewish community does not fill this void. Characters are flat representations of goodness and humility, plots are cliché and bland, and the writing style is horrendous. The community does not allow for flawed and human characters who are real and vibrant, and Jewish writers who dare to write about these pressing issues are criticized for being self-hating Jews. The joke, however, is on the Jewish community. Writers like Tova Mervis, Etgar Keret, and of course, Shalom Auslander, write with such keen understanding that must stem from their own Jewish identities, combined with a love of humanity. This brings us to the question of today's blog: How much depends on an insider's perspective or can compelling realistic fiction be written by outsiders? Do writers lose credibility when they are "others?" Or is it another kind of censorship to hold writers back from telling stories that are important to them, ones they might not have experienced themselves? How many moccasins must we walk in to really understand another person's culture and write about it convincingly? The winners of the 1973-74 Newbery Medals are both women who wrote powerful fiction about cultures unlike their own, and opened up questions about the nature of multicultural literature.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, winner of the 1973 Newbery Medal, developed from George's own connection to nature, relationship with an Inuit woman, and communication with actual wolves. In her novel, she tells the story of Julie, a young woman who runs away to the Alaskan tundra to escape a miserable marriage. When I read this book as a child, I was outraged by the child-marriage that Julie endures, but as an adult, I was more affected by the message of the loss of the indigenous Inuit people, whose rich culture is at risk when exposed to gussak, or American, ways. While not Inuit herself, George is an advocate for treasuring their way of life and believes in many of the same values. Like Julie, she has a deep love and reverence for nature, a strong understanding of animals' habits and behavior, and an appreciation of the old ways of Eskimo life. While "the hour of the wolf and the Eskimo is over," by writing about their timeless culture, George has exposed generations of children and adults to a world whose story may have otherwise gone untold.