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Mosaic

Fall, 1962

By Anthony Hiss

Mosaic, the publication of the Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel Societies, has with its most recent issue reached its second-and-a-half birthday, which certainly means, reckoning by the ferocious rate of infant magazine mortality hereabouts, that it has attained its majority. True, Mosaic enjoys considerable financial support that other local little ones have never been able to find, but where oh where has it been able to find such an abundance of excellent copy? Coming of age has not withered Mosaic; and speaking as the past editor of another small Cambridge magazine, I can only marvel at its infinite variety.

What is it that makes Mosaic (Daedalus only excepted) the best magazine published in the Harvard community? I have been asking myself rather long-windedly. There is, as I have already mentioned, the quality of its copy and the variety of its interests--qualities which, in themselves, set it apart from its contemporaries. But, over and above these, there is, I think, a conscious and recent attempt to write for a variety of audiences: for the layman as well as the scholar, the Christian as well as the Jew. It is this effort to achieve what might be called a committed catholicity that gives Mosaic real stature, that sets it head and shoulders above the other magazines around, just as Scientific American towers head and shoulders above other magazines in the field of general science.

(I am, of course, applauding this broadening as an interested and sympathetic Christian reader of an avowedly Jewish magazine; at the same time, I am not, I trust, issuing a plea for ecumenical bonhomie: I do not see and would not want to see, any lessening of the magazine's commitment to Judaism.)

The new Fall 1962 issue is very much a case in point: it is made up of three essays of varying length, a short short story, two poems, a one-act play that-runs to some twenty pages, and a hefty book review. All of the essays are about Jews and Judaism (although one was written by a Catholic, Michael Novak, and concerns itself with the problems he feels arise when a Catholic "encounters" a Jew), the short story has been cast in a specifically Jewish idiom (the involved mock-reminiscence practiced by Issac Bashevis Singer), and at least one of the poems has an announced Jewish theme (though, I confess, I think that without its title its professed Jewishness would undoubtedly have escaped me). But the play and book review--of E. H. Carr's What Is History?--are not Jewish and the second poem, "Eve's Nightmare," is Jewish only to the extent that its subject was inspired by the Book of Genesis, a text which is no longer exclusively Jewish property.

Space limitations force me, unwillingly, to curtail discussion of all these various pieces, and I can only discuss, in the inches that remain, a few of the best tesserae:

E.H. Carr's What Is History?, to be sure, never was Jewish property at all, but Allen Y. Graubard's review of the book is nevertheless the best piece of work in the issue. H. R. Trevor-Roper has already pointed out the major shortcomings of Carr's approach to history at great and devastating length in his own review of the book, but most of the points are very much worth making again, and Mr. Graubard by concentrating his fire on Carr's bandwagon dictum (that the historian is only successful who writes about and believes in the winning side), makes his denunciation of Carr more than mere reiteration.

And Leon Carl Brown, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies, contributes a valuable discussion of a little-known problem (little-known to me, certainly): the dilemma of Jews in North Africa, who, struggling for a century to gain equality with the colonizing French, suddenly found themselves excluded from the growing Moslem nationalist, anti-French revolutionary movements.

The fiction, short though it is, cannot be slighted. Mark Mirsky seems to be much more at home writing Singer than ever he was last year when writing Malamud; his "Muzzel, the Drunk of Hoamer Street" is a smooth and quite evocative little sketch and stands on its own very well, even though it is but an excerpt from his "novel in progress," The Tales of Blue Hill Avenue.

But I will stop here, for a cursory examination of the tesserae cannot recreate the splendor of the whole Mosaic.

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