Fagin, who recruits a gang of young thieves in "Oliver Twist," is arguably the most villainous caricature of a Jew in English literature -- not excepting Shakespeare's Shylock -- but his creator, Charles Dickens, was no dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite.
Indeed, in "Our Mutual Friend," his last completed novel, Dickens took a 180-degree turn in his portrayal of the Jew Riah, who is as saintly as Fagin is evil. For good measure, Dickens added a Jewish factory owner and his wife, who treated all their employees with kindness and generosity.
The appraisal of Dickens comes from Harry Stone, one of the foremost collectors and authorities on the great 19th-century English novelist.
Stone, who taught English literature at Cal State Northridge for 32 years, recently donated to the university the thousands of items in his private Dickens collection, including first editions of all the novelist's works, the monthly newspaper installments in which they first appeared, personal letters, corrected proof sheets, translations, photographs, and even dolls and figurines inspired by his characters.
Having staved off the imminent demise of the area's only Jewish preschool, Simi Valley's Congregation B'nai Emet (CBE) is poised to do far more -- trade land donated to CBE to meet the needs and ensure the future of the area's entire Jewish community.