|Kurenets Stories Menu|
by Elaine Margolin
The Will to Live On: This is our Heritage
Cliff Street Books
Now eighty-four years old, Herman Wouk, author of Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War and The Caine Mutiny (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize), turns his attention to the precarious state of Jews and Judaism all around the world and his hopes and worries about the future of his people. As he approaches a final accounting of his days, this stands out as being of singular importance, really all that matters.
Wouk first fell in love with Jewish learning on the knee of his beloved grandfather, Mendel Leib Levin, who had arrived in America from Belarus a Hasidic rabbi who refused to learn English or participate in the chaos swirling around him. He was supported by Wouk's father, who came here penniless and was often forced to work on the Sabbath to keep food on the table for his family. Wouk's affection for both his father and grandfather is palpable. When the young and often rebellious Wouk once complained to his father about the countless hours he was expected to study the Talmud with his grandfather, his father warmly replied, "I understand . . . but if I were on my deathbed, and I had breath to say one more thing to you, I would say 'Study the Talmud.'" Except for "a brief interlude after college which had been all chase and no thought," Wouk heeded his father's advice and embraced an observant life, watching sadly while more and more of his brethren left the fold.
Wouk mourns the loss of "Yiddishkeit" among American Jews. In Europe, before the Holocaust, "believers and non-believers alike were immersed in Yiddishkeit . . . Yiddish was the tongue in which they all clashed, hot in dispute, but homogenous in heritage." Although he recognizes that this might be the price for being part of the melting pot in present-day America, he wonders if that cost is too high. He remembers his father reading Yiddish stories to him on Friday nights, recalling that "Yiddish was effortless for me to learn. I have no recollection of ever being taught a word of it. It was just there, like street English, when I began to use language. A saying among the immigrant Jews went, 'Hebrew one has to learn. Yiddish talks itself.'" Wouk questions how American Jews will fare in the long term without a common language to bind them. He worries that they are becoming forgetful, sedated by the distractions of secular life and woefully ignorant of their magnificent heritage. He wonders what "can rekindle some of the fire of old Yiddishkeit," as memories of the Holocaust fade and Israel becomes more of an accepted entity worldwide.
Wouk believes that the long-term survival of the Jewish people depends on a "massive return to our sources, in faith, in literature, and in history." He devotes a great portion of this book to reviewing, in layman's terms, the major stories of the Old Testament, interspersed with fascinating fragments of cultural commentary and his own autobiography. He proceeds to unravel the mysteries of studying the Talmud, which he has studied daily for over half his life, assuring the reader that although it is very complex, it is extremely worthwhile. The author insists that every Jew must make a choice about his relationship to Judaism and his fellow Jews, and he only asks that it be an informed choice, based on knowledge of their exceptional history and religion. He reminds the reader that the Jewish population is only three-thousandths of one percent of the world population and the Jewish homeland in Israel is still the key target of several nations who are determined to see it destroyed.
Nonreligious Jews often perceive the religious life as irrational, a monotony of antiquated customs and superstitious folly. In addition to faith, Wouk presents an eloquent case for Judaism as a source of wisdom, identity and a means to survival.
Herman Wouk (1915-)
Hermans' mother was born in Kurenitz to the Levine family.
American bestseller writer who has dealt in his work moral dilemmas and the Jewish experience. Wouk's epic war novels have been tremendously popular. Several of them have been filmed, including The Caine Mutiny (1951) and Marjorie Morningstar (1955). Wouk's two-volume historical novel set in the World War II, The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978), also gained success as a television mini-series. Wouk's books have been translated into some 30 languages.
Herman Wouk was born in New York into a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. He entered the Columbia University, New York where he edited the college humor magazine. After completing an A.B. degree at Columbia University, he became a radio scriptwriter, working with Fred Allen from 1936. In 1941 he briefly served the U.S. government, producing radio broadcasts to sell war bonds. He then joined the United States Navy and served in the Pacific. Wouk began his first novel during off-duty hours at sea. His first ship was the distroyer-minesweeper Zane. The last post was second command of the U.S.S. Southard, a ship of the same type. In 1945 he married Betty Sarah Brown; they had three sons.
Since 1946 Wouk worked as a full-time writer. He was a visiting professor at Yeshiva University, New York, in 1958-58, and scholar-in-residence at Aspen Institute, Colorado, in 1973-74. From 1961 to 1969 he was a Trustee of the College of the Virgin Islands, and in 1969-71 he was a member of the Board of Directors of Washington National Symphony. In 1974-75 he was a member of the Board of Directors of Kennedy Center Productions.
Wouk made his debut as a novelist with Aurora Dawn (1947), a satire about the New York advertising business, which was inspired by a wave of post-WWII experimentation. It was followed by City Boy (1948), a partly autobiographical story of a Bronx boy.
The Caine Mutiny was awarded the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The book was made into a hit Broadway play starring Henry Fonda and a film. In concerns the events leading up to and following from a mutiny onboard a minesweeper captained by an incompetent and cowardly tyrant. The main character is Willie Keith, a rich New Yorker, who comes of age as he witnesses the events which take place abroad USS Caine. But the work is best known for its portrayal of the neurotic Captain Queeg, who suffers from acute paranoia, incompetence, and cowardice. "There are four ways of doing things on board my ship. The right way, the wrong way, the navy way, and my way. If they do things my If they do things my way, we'll get along." Queeg becomes obsessed with petty infractions and even conducts a full-scale investigation to determine who pilfered a quart of strawberries.
Lieutenant Tom Keefer, the villain of the novel, persuades loyal Lieutenant Steve Maryk to take over command of the ship, which happens during a typhoon. In the court-martial Keefer testifies that he always though Queeg was in full control of his faculties. Maryk's legal defender, Lieutenant Greenwald, does not support the mutiny, yet he still believes Maryk acted according to his best judgement. The unstable Queeg eventually breaks down completely while undergoing interrogation. "Ah, but the strawberries! That's where I had them. They laughed and made jokes, but I provided beyond the shadow of a boubt, and with geometric logic, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I'd have produced that key if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action. I know now they were out to pretect some fellow officer." Although the jury acquits Maryk, the verdict is deliberately ambiguous. The deposed Captain Queeg, who had been a hero, but too much combat has had an effect on his mind, is suddenly seen in the novel's resolution as a tragic figure.
Humphrey Bogart had wanted to play Captain Queeg since he read Wouk's original novel. The untypical role for him is one of his greatest, with the scenes of him giving evidence, ball-bearings in hand, being one of the most memorable moments in the movies. However, Edward Dmytryk's direction is stagy - one never feels that the men are actually on a ship in mid-ocean.
Marjorie Morningstar (1955) was considered reactionary by some critics. The story depicted a New York Jewish girl who has great ambitions for herself but ends up a suburban housewife. Marjorie rebels against the confining middle-class values of her family but her dream of being an actress ends in failure. She ultimately gives up her illusions and marries a conventional man, accepting social conformity. In Youngblood Hawke (1962) Wouk depicted the obsession of a writer who is caught up in the intrigue of the publishing world. The work was based on the life of the American writer Thomas Wolfe. This Is My God (1959) introduced the reader to Jewish orthodoxy.
The Winds of War (1971) was a large canvas of the relationship between the actions of individuals and the events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The story focused on the various members of the Henry family, famous for its naval heroes, who finds itself in the center of the conflict. The patriarch of the family is Captain Victor "Pug" Henry, military man, scholar, translator, and advisor to presidents and statesmen, who was portrayed in the ABC miniseries by Robert Mitchum. War and Remembrance (1978) concluded the story and attempted to explain the causes and implications of the war. Inside, Outside (1985) was a story about a Jewish presidential advisor and looked at the importance of religious roots to American Jews.
The Hope (1993) began another epic story. It portrayed the first two turbulent decades the followed Israel's birth. The 1948 war of independence, the 1956 Suez war, and the 1967 Six Day War are seen through the lives of three families, mixing fictional characters with real-life figures. In the sequel, The Glory (1944), Wouk continued the story from the late 1960s to the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.
Wouk's novels display narrative skill, satire, and humor. They are meticulously researched and have won admiration for historical accuracy. Wouk have received several awards, including Pulizer Prize (1952), Columbia University Medal of Excelence (1952) Hamilton medal (1980); American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate award (1986), Washingtonian award (1986), U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation award (1987), Kazetnik award (1990). He also have several honoray degrees from American and Israeli universities.
For further reading: The Historical Novel : A Celebration of the Achievements of Herman Wouk, ed. by Barbara A. Paulson (1999); World Authors 1900-1950, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996, vol. 4); Herman Wouk by Laurence W. Mazzeno (1994); Herman Wouk: The Novelist as Social Historian by Arnold Beichman (1984) - See also: Leon Uris's Exodus - For further information: The Winds of War; Marjorie Morningstar; The Caine Mutiny.
The Man in the Trench Coat, 1941
Aurora Dawn, 1947
The City Boy, 1948 - also filmed
The Traitor, 1949 (play)
Modern Primitive, 1951 (play)
The Caine Mutiny, 1951 - Cainen kapina - Pulitzer Price in 1952 - film 1954, dir. by Edward Dmytryk, starring Humphrey Bogart, JosŽ Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, 1953 (play)
Marjorie Morningstar, 1955 - Marjorie - film 1958, dir. by Irving Rapper, starring Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly
Slattery's Hurricane, 1956
Nature's Way, 1957 (play)
This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life, 1959 (revised ed. 1973)
Youngblood Hawke, 1961 - Menestyksen hinta - film 1964, dir. by Delmer Daves, starring James Franciscus, Genevieve Page
Don't Stop the Carnival, 1965 - Karnevaalit
The Lomokome Papers, 1968
The Winds of War, 1971 - Sodan tuulet I-II - television film 1983, produced and directed by Dan Curtis, written by Herman Wouk, starring Jan-Michael Vincent, Robert Mitchum, Ali MacGraw, John Houseman
War and Remembrance, 1978 - translated into Finnish in four parts: HyvŠsti huominen, Maailmanpalo, Tulipilven takana, Sodan mainingit - television film 1986
Inside, Outside, 1985 - Manhattan
The Hope, 1993
The Glory, 1994
The Will to Live On: The Resurgence of Jewish Heritage
The Will to Live on : The Resurgence of Jewish Heritage Forty years ago, novelist Herman Wouk wrote a book about his devotion to the Torah and the Talmud called This Is My God, which remains among the freshest and most quietly impassioned religious autobiographies in print today. The Will to Live On is Wouk's follow-up to that work, although its subject--the particular state of the Jewish people in the 20th century--is very different. Wouk promises to tackle all of the biggest subjects here: "the Holocaust, the reborn Jewish State, the prodigious yet precarious American diaspora, and the deepening religious schisms." And his broad-minded reflections on all of these topics--especially his explanation of modern Zionism's rise from the roots of ancient literature and history--are cleanly, forcefully, and respectfully written. Among Wouk's most penetrating insights are his reflections on Israel's struggle, throughout history, with the temptation of idolatry, and his conviction that the Holocaust at last purged Abraham's people of this "near-fatal cancer." The Will to Live On is a risky, wise book that deserves to be called prophetic.
Herman Wouk: Torah & the Tank
This article appears courtesy of The Jewish Week Herman Wouk Herman Wouk, at 84, reflects on the apocalyptic 20th century and the future of the Jewish enterprise.
One can learn a lot about a book and its author from the dedication. Herman Wouk dedicates his 15th book, The Will to Live On: This Is Our Heritage (HarperCollins) to two of his teachers: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ‰ÛÏthe Torah master of his age, at whose feet I learned Talmud,‰Û? and to his friend Yitzchak Rabin, ‰ÛÏwho taught me in his life and in his death that the Talmud was not enough.‰Û?
Find out more about Herman Wouk's books The new book by the 84-year-old author is a sequel, more than 40 years ‰ÛÓ and many books ‰ÛÓ later, to ‰ÛÏThis Is My God,‰Û? a guide to Judaism and a very personal statement of faith. In 1959, Wouk was already celebrated in literary circles, with major successes like ‰ÛÏThe Caine Mutiny,‰Û? for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1952, and ‰ÛÏMarjorie Morningstar,‰Û? a bestseller in 1955. But he was unusual in those circles as someone who kept kosher, observed the Sabbath and studied Talmud. As he explains in his new book, he wrote ‰ÛÏThis Is My God‰Û? to explain himself.
Forty years later, Wouk, who describes himself as a ‰ÛÏheretic humanist with so much still to do‰Û? remains an observant Jew. He writes in ‰ÛÏThe Will to Live On‰Û? that some of his thinking has changed, and that his ‰ÛÏbelief in a supernatural God and his Torah‰Û? is stronger. The book is a reflection on the ‰ÛÏapocalyptic 20th century ‰ÛÓ the Holocaust, the reborn Jewish state, the prodigious American diaspora, and the deepening religious schisms,‰Û? and the revolutionary changes in Jewish life, as the 21st begins. He provides an overview of Jewish history and Jewish texts that could serve as an introduction to Judaism, or a refresher course. In addition, he looks ahead toward the Jewish future, and sees Jewish education as a means to Jewish survival.
In response to an Israeli historian who claims that American Jewry is dying, Wouk disagrees, explaining that it‰Ûªs ‰ÛÏrunning on empty, perhaps.‰Û? By that, he means that the ‰ÛÏtwo psychic forces‰Û? that have energized American Jewry since World War II ‰ÛÓ guilt about the Holocaust and pride in Israel ‰ÛÓ are ‰ÛÏwaning, and neither is likely to fuel this great diaspora far beyond the year 2000.‰Û? He continues, ‰ÛÏFrom Bible days onward Jewry has experienced lapses and revivals of faith, but this decline among America‰Ûªs Jews is steep, and the bottom is as yet not discernible.‰Û?
Reading Herman Wouk
There are authors whose books you read -- you like some, you understand some -- but neither the books nor the author become an important component of your life. There is an exception to this general rule: Herman Wouk and his books.
Most of us can gauge our development from youth into maturity by books of Herman Wouk that we read at certain periods in our lives. When we read Marjorie Morningstar we were certainly less mature than when we read The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The same is true of Wouk's other books. And of how many authors can we say that his religious insights and assessments were close to those contained in the sacred books in our libraries? Yet that is what we can say about his book, This is My G-d.
The publication of a new Wouk book is therefore a solemn occasion, one that calls on us once again to find our own world in the author's. His last book, The Hope -- which traced the creation of Israel and its history up to the Yom Kippur War -- put us in the mind-frame of participating in the very historic political and military events that took place so recently in our lifetime. His latest book, The Glory, continues Israel's story with the events that have occurred from the Yom Kippur War on, again putting us in touch with our own lives.
Role of History
I know of two definitions of the pursuit of the study of history. One was given by the German poet Wolfgang von Goethe, who said, "The best that history offers us is an enthusiasm for life." The other was by the German historian Ranke, who said: "The writer of history must be able to present events as they actually took place." Wolf has the gift to offer us both sides of historical writing. For, although The Glory, as many of his works, is dressed in the clothes of fiction, it chronicles the key events in Israel's miraculous history. It aims mainly to take us back into the very moments when great leaders, known to us all, made decisions and performed deeds of heroism that helped preserve the Jewish people. And Herman Wouk makes each moment live so dramatically and realistically that we feel with certainty that what we are reading is being presented -- in Ranke's language -- "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" ("as it actually took place").
But he also fills us with enthusiasm and pride for our nation and its history, as Goethe anticipated. And Wouk offers each an opportunity to add in his own mind those details that he himself experienced and which the author may not have included in the epic. Whether he talks of the Cherbourgh escape of Israeli gunboats or of the fatal days and hours of the Yom Kippur War and Gen. Arik Sharon's miraculous victory or of the Entebbe raid, you are there, you re-live what you knew at the time, you even can add in your mind supplementary details.
For example, when Wouk describes the breathless tension of the escape of gunboats, heading for Israel without French permission from the French port of Cherbourgh, Wouk wonders what Norway has to do with this event. In my own mind I remember clearly the missing piece to the puzzle. A Norwegian shipbuilder by the name of Ole Siem, who, as a fervent friend of Israel, was able to give the boats the cover they needed by registering them as neutral ships heading for a Central American port -- instead of for Haifa. And why Siem? I got to know him in Oslo when I visited his shipyard on business, and Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Agriculture, was there to buy fishing boats for Israel. Siem became a passionate friend and admirer of Israel. He told me, "We Norwegians have been seafarers and fishermen for 2,000 years, and now Israelis, who never had a fishing fleet in 2,000 years, come to us and teach us things about fishing that we never knew." So out of admiration and respect, he made himself available to help the ships escape from France to Israel, as described vividly in The Glory.
In Wouk's graphic description of the Entebbe raid, starting from the preparation of the miraculous rescue operation, he lists some of the ruses used by Israel to put the Ugandans at ease and thereby create the element of surprise. Israel announced a day before the rescue operation that its government had given in to the demands of the PLO terrorists and would release PLO prisoners held in Israeli jails. With that news the terrorists celebrated a victory and lulled themselves into complacency and inaction. But there was another similar ruse used that Wouk does not mention. I myself was used by the then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin to enter into negotiations with Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator and patron of the hijack, to ransom the hostages. I succeeded in making contact with Idi Amin, who promptly agreed with my ransom offer and consented to meet me at Entebbe airport on July 4 at 1:30 p.m. (the very hour when the Israeli air rescuers would already be back in Tel Aviv with the rescued hostages -- less Yoni Netanyahu, the fabled brother of Benyamin Netanyahu). The lure of a hefty ransom was more overpowering than anything else. (The only catch was that Rabin did not bother to tell me to abort my Entebbe trip. Had my late son not called me with the report of the dramatic rescue, I would not be alive today to write this column!)
Attack on Golan
A very gripping chapter of The Glory deals with Syria's surprise attack against the Golan Heights, which had been in Israel's hands since the Six Day War. Wouk describes the outstanding heroism of Gen. Kahalani, who almost single-handedly stemmed the onslaught of the superior Syrian tank force and thereby saved the country. Wouk's conclusion, Kahalani saved Israel from being overrun by the Syrians. This fierce battle against the Syrian invaders is a powerful argument against giving up even a small part of the Golan Heights, as Rabin seems hell-bent to do, contrary to his own campaign platform that "anyone who gives up the Golan Heights, gives up Israel's security." Nobody can understand Rabin's about-face on such a fundamental strategic consideration. There are serious political observers who have concluded that Rabin is a puppet in the hands of an unseen but immensely powerful power clique represented by Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller, who have an agenda totally oblivious to Israel's security needs. How they have turned Rabin into a willing tool who acts against his better judgement as if drugged, has yet to be disclosed.
Kahalani is not only a hero in Wouk's eyes, he is today a hero in Israel, not only to his fellow settlers on the Golan -- mostly members of the Labor party -- but of all who know Israel's history. Kahalani once showed me his patched up legs, which Israeli surgeons laboriously put together from the thoroughly wounded limbs that survived Syrian bombardments. No wonder he is totally opposed to Rabin. How could a man who offered his very life to hold the Golan Heights now become a traitor to his own self?
Arik Sharon is pictured by Wouk as the supreme military genius, who could have won the Yom Kippur War in the first days, had not the endless bureaucracy and infighting of the Labor government hampered him. Only after his tireless defense of his brilliant strategy, did the Labor bosses grudgingly allow him to proceed with the crossing of the Suez Canal into Egypt. One of the frustrated characters in Wouk's book exclaims: "Throw out that Labor gang and get some real leadership." These words could and should, of course, be said today!
So mindful of the hazards of attacks by the Arabs, Israel's sworn enemies, Wouk's verdict on the current so-called "peace process" is of course of cardinal importance. In a lecture he recently gave on the cable TV network, C-SPAN, he said, "If it works, I am for it. If not, I am against it." Well, unfortunately we know that it does not work. Wouk should be looked up to as a reliable political analyst whose verdict is a clear: "I am against the `peace process.'"
Wouk and Rav Soloveitchik
Wouk's personal life is inspiring. I remember most clearly, of all my recollections of him, the occasion when he attended a shiur (class) by Rav Soloveitchik, at the Moriah Shul on Broadway and 80th Street in Manhattan. As usual the hall was filled to standing-room only capacity, and the Rav was in the midst of one of his ingenious discourses -- when suddenly Herman Wouk shot up and stood erect for the Minchah Amidah. I thought it was a wonderful demonstration of personal piety and discipline. His family background had a lot to do with his personal warm observance of Torah and Mitzvot. His mother Ester, who was a real "Eshet Chayil" ("Woman of Valor")) and who was active in the family business - fishing and seafood -- often attended service in the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, which her son had helped found over 40 years ago. My daughter would often walk her from shul to her apartment on Central Park South. My daughter never ceased expressing her love and admiration for Mrs. Wouk, who exuded the warmth and consideration of a real "Yiddishe Mama." The apple, as they say, never falls far from the tree...
The Glory is certainly a book that is bound to become a classic. It should be required reading for anyone interested in finding out "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" in the heroic chapters in Israel's and the Jewish people's history. We must thank Mr. Wouk for taking out several years to painstakingly research every aspect of the events he describes, which he embellishes minimally, as is the prerogative of a novelist.
There is an urgent implied message in Wouk's book: Do not let glib politicians take away from us our Land for which so much blood, tears, heroism and patriotism were sacrificed. It is the Land that is our very own glorious history and patrimony. Therefore, the name of the book, The Glory, is more than apt.