Responding to Readers
On Anna Breslaw, survivors, and Tablet
I’m used to our pieces eliciting strong emotions. But the reactions to Anna Breslaw’s article have been exceptional. For some readers, her piece explored the consequences of growing up in one specific family touched by an enormous Jewish tragedy, and publishing it asserted the message that young people needn’t express only safely held conventional wisdoms to be involved and engaged with Jewish life. But others saw in it a blanket condemnation of all Holocaust survivors—an impression that caused many to wonder why Tablet published it. Quite a few expressed extreme hurt. That was never anyone’s intention and, for this, we are deeply sorry.
I am posting this response late—by Twitter standards, anyway—because I believed that the controversy kicked up by this piece required that we take some time to interrogate our own reactions to it, as individuals and as a staff. Certain staffers thought the piece was an honest attempt by a young writer to use Jean Amery and Breaking Bad to better understand her own painful family history; a number did not—with a few arguing forcefully that it should not have been published. But the conversation stretched beyond this one article, and raised a number of vital questions for Tablet as a journalistic enterprise: What—if any—is the communal responsibility to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors? Do we have a duty to hear them out, even when their thoughts are—as Breslaw described her own—“unappealing and didactic,” or worse? And what of other writers looking to explore other painful questions about their Jewish identities? What does the intense response to this piece say about what the rules here should be, about what precisely the red lines are in Jewish communal discourse?
What we all did agree on is that it is our duty to more vigilantly and responsibly engage with all of these questions, and with our readers’ legitimate concerns. We pride ourselves on Tablet’s existence as a place for expression of a breadth of ideas and opinion that—in their engagement with the complex people, events and ideas of the Jewish past and present—help us as a community pave the way for a Jewish future. We hope this episode ultimately reaffirms our commitment to that ideal.