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Remembering Jonathan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2021

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Summary

I WANT TO BEGIN THIS VOLUME with a word about Jonathan's most recent book, his last book, Deborah and Her Sisters. Since my own work is on performance—although from an earlier millennium—Jonathan and I chatted about theater occasionally, amid our more administrative collaborations. Because of our years of friendship, I can hear his voice on every page of the book itself, in the sense of the wonder and joy that permeate each discovery and the urgency that colors many of the insights. And I think: This matters. What we do as scholars, and how we live in the scholarly world, is not insignificant; it is not drudgery but delight, not vanity but valuable. I know this because of what Jonathan wrote and how he himself inhabited his world. It is too easy to forget that writing can be important as well as elegant; to ignore how history and art shape our world; to accept the idea that we are inferior because we are not explicitly “practical.” But rarely with Jonathan was there a sense of crisis, and never of doom; there was energy, delight, even glee. In reading his writing, I sense his giddy joy in the delightful portraits of drama queens and kitschy playbills and bearded patriarchs that enrich every chapter. He loved recounting how he “won” many of the artifacts featured in the book on eBay. They are credited—with great dignitas—as “from the Hess personal collection” throughout the volume. These images are breadcrumbs that I trace back to Jonathan's voice. They serve as insistent reminders of such happiness, such intelligence, such fierce appreciation of women, such investment in honoring the everyday. The book, like its author, is gracious and unassuming, funny and breathtakingly smart. It is insightful and generous, and so clearly a labor of tremendous love. And, through its articulation of why literature and the arts are essential to our humanity, to our kindness and cruelty, to our joy and our sorrow, Deborah and Her Sisters is important. This book is, in sum, clearly Jonathan’s. And reading it afresh brought me to tears.

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Nexus: Essays in German Jewish Studies, Volume 5
Moments of Enlightenment: In Memory of Jonathan M. Hess
, pp. 11 - 14
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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