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Free as a Jew

A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation

Published by Wicked Son
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
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“Ruth Wisse’s intellectual autobiography is a lasting work of profound moral force and scathing political discernment.... Its illuminations are likely to be as urgent one hundred years hence as they are now.” —Cynthia Ozick

A Jewish child born into the worst of times in Europe grows up during the best of times in North America—only to recognize that it could be moving back in the opposite direction.

First came parents with the good sense to flee Europe in 1940 and the good fortune to reach the land of freedom. Their daughter, Ruth, grew up in the shadow of genocide—but in tandem with the birth of Israel, which remained her lodestar. She learned that although Jewishness is biologically transmitted, democracy is not, and both require intensive, intelligent transmission through education in each and every generation. They need adults with the confidence to teach their importance. Ruth tried to take on that challenge as dangers to freedom mounted and shifted sides on the political spectrum. At the high point of her teaching at Harvard University, she witnessed the unraveling of standards of honesty and truth until the academy she left was no longer the one she had entered.

Ruth R. Wisse was Professor of Yiddish literature and Comparative Literature at Harvard University from 1993–2014 and before that, helped found the Jewish Studies Department at McGill University. Currently a senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund and recipient of its Herzl Prize, she has written widely on cultural and political subjects for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, National Affairs, and other publications. Her books include The Schlemiel as Modern Hero, The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Literature and Culture, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, and Jews and Power. In 2007, she was awarded the National Medal for the Humanities, and in 2004, an Honorary Degree by Yeshiva University.

“Ruth Wisse’s intellectual autobiography is a lasting work of profound moral force and scathing political discernment; of a passionately lived education that is itself a transforming education for the reader; of a family record of refuge and character that is also the history of a people. And more: at its fiery heart is the teaching of a language and its literature—Yiddish, born and rooted in polyglot Europe, while its storytellers and poets everywhere and always retain the meanings of Genesis.

Free as a Jew can be read as a history of the future. Its illuminations are likely to be as urgent one hundred years hence as they are now.”

– Cynthia Ozick

"As this extraordinary memoir demonstrates once again, Ruth Wisse has emerged as the most powerful champion in our time of the Jewish people—its history, its culture, and its unique position at the heart of Western civilization." 

– Norman Podhoretz, author of "The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are"

"Ruth Wisse's memoir, like the great literature she taught generations to cherish, is a study in how our fierce attachments shape us, and how we, in turn, shape our modern moment by affirming our ancient covenants. Her voice, like that of Hebrew prophets from time immemorial, is an invitation to revel in the only sort of freedom that lasts, the freedom to embrace our tradition together, with joy and with strength. Always, but particularly in these troubled times, Ruth Wisse is indispensable." 

– Liel Leibovitz, author of "A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen"

"Ruth Wisse is one of America's greatest thinkers. Her story is inspiring and uplifting—and, coming from an intellectual Jewish icon, a ringing reminder of what America is, and what we stand to lose should we lose it." 

– Ben Shapiro, author of "The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great"

"From the center of the storm comes a dishy and damning memoir from the woman who brought Old World Yiddish scholarship and intellectualism back from the dead. Deliciously, Ruth Wisse is revealing all: the gaffes and regrets, the egos and arrogance, the heckling, the joys,and the soul-crushing sadness. But even more, this book lands as a battle cry to our youth and the entire community. Hurry! Our heritage is so rich and our enemies so insidious. There is little time with everything to lose and even more to gain.”


– Masha Merkulova, Founding Executive Director, Club Z

“Ruth Wisse says her life has taken the form of an unpayable debt. She is right—but it’s a debt we all owe to her, for a lifetime of uncompromising advocacy for Israel and the Jewish People that this brave, honest, and vital book so captivatingly chronicles. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the Jewish past and in the dangers—and possibilities—of the American future.”

– Jonathan Neumann, author of "To Heal The World?"

“Ruth Wisse’s compelling memoir unfolds in vivid detail, personal experiences intimately braided together with momentous historical events—Lisbon in the 1940s with Jews escaping the rising European storm; Yiddish poets in hardscrabble kibbutzim during Israel’s struggling early years; fierce ideological battles at Harvard faculty meetings as the deadening hand of political correctness descends. It’s not just revelations about Leonard Cohen, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Larry Summers, and other unforgettable characters in Wisse’s life (grandmother Fradl, the most beautiful woman in Vilna, moved me to tears) it’s Wisse’s clear, astonishingly honest, original voice that makes this book a must-read. Ruth Wisse is a brilliant, courageous,and passionate defender of the Jewish people and the Jewish State—and Ruth Wisse is great company.”

– Sylvia Barack Fishman, Emerita Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture, Brandeis University

“In this profoundly moving account of her extraordinary life, Ruth Wisse displays what it means to deserve our freedom and to earn our glorious Jewish inheritance. A joyous exponent of great Yiddish literature, a fierce defender of Israel and Jewish teachings, and a fearless opponent of resurgent Jew-hatred and its silent abettors, Wisse inspires us to liberate ourselves by following her example. A must read!”

– Leon R. Kass, Professor Emeritus, The University of Chicago; Dean of the Faculty, Shalem College, Jerusalem