“Envy: Or, Yiddish in America” first appeared in Commentary, then was published as part of Ozick’s first short-story collection two years later. The connection between language and culture is explored as an aging Yiddish poet, a fictionalized Joseph Glatstein, centers his life on his all-encompassing jealousy of Yankel Ostrover, a thinly disguised Isaac Bashevis Singer.
True to Ozick’s belief that large themes can be explored in short fiction, she expresses her concern with the nature of language while entertaining her audience with a comically wry story. It takes place in New York City, where Hershele Edelshtein, son of a Polish Hebraic tutor, has lived for forty years. Edelshtein writes Yiddish poetry for an obscure publication edited by his friend, fellow Yiddish poet and Ostrover envier Baumzweig. Baumzweig and Edelshtein are “secret enemies” (a concept that recurs in “The Pagan Rabbi” as well as in “The Shawl”). Their shared obsessive hatred of Ostrover, however, is the force that binds their tenuous friendship.
Ozick’s treatment of the demise of Yiddish, the mother tongue of European Jews, reveals her fondness for the language of her forebears. Yet the death of Yiddish lacks sentimentality; in fact, it faces a brutal rejection from an educated young Jewish writer, Hannah. She represents the first generation of English-speaking secularized American Jews, those who have reduced the richness of Yiddish to a...
(The entire section is 575 words.)