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R ootless Cosynopolit an Voltntte

Is s ue 1
A t n Ltg tt :i t t c ttLto u t C u I h n' t I ILc s r s t rt rt c c

F o r I s r a e l .t h e e v e r l o v i n ' p c o p l c :I d o i l f o r
Dear Mr. Dershowttz you'
D e a r R c a d e r s .I c a n ' t b e l i e v ei t ' s t h a t t i m e
We have a lot i.n common. You're a world fannous crimina.I defense J,awyer who y e a r a g r i n , f i n a l s .k l e z k a m p .C h r i s t m a s
teaches at Harvard. r/m a third year law student who goes to cardozo/ Lhe p e r m e a t i n ge v e r y p o r e o f N e x ' Y o r k C i t l a l
Harward of lower Fifth Avenue between 12in and 13Eh streets. oh, and we boLh a n e w i s s u eo f t h e w o ! ' s tc i r c u l a t e d .m o s t
care a lot about the future of the 3ewrsh people. You $rrote a whole book about u n d e r a p p r e c i a t e dz i n e c o t n i n go u t o f
it carled v a n i s h i n g A m e r i c a n W a s h i n g t o nH e i g h t s : R o o t l e s sC o s m o p o l i t a
"The J e w " searching for Jewish rdentity in the
T h e t h e m eo f t h i s i s s u ei s C u l t u r a l
Next Century." And I read that book. You seem to think that there is a crrsrs R e s i s t a n c eO. r r a t h e r . c u l t u r a l i n s i s t e t t c e .
in Amerrcan Jewry- that's the Vanishrng Jew of the title. * I n s i s t c n c et h a t j u s t s a - v i n gH a p p y H o l i d a l
( r a t h e r t h x n M e r r y C h r i s t m a s )d o e sN O T
And the crisis we Jews find ourselwes in now? whrther the cri-si-s? one can s o m e h o wi n c l u d e m e i n t h e o n s l t u g h to f
hardly open a Jewish weekly without reading more news about the sad state of t r e e s .c h e s t n u t sa n d s l e i g hb e l l sj i n g l i n g .
Anerican Jewry- we've j-ntermarried and assimilated * I n s i s t e n c et h a t k l e z m e r i s n o t a f a d . a s
ourselwes to the very br:-nk.
An -hi (see Simon Rawidowi,cz' s excel.l-ent essav rsraer, The m a n y i n t h e J e w i s h i n s t i t u t i o n a lr v o r l d s e e r
Everdying People for another pornt of view). Nonetheress, many agree that a t o think.
* I n s i s t e n c teh a t t h € d e v i l ( o r t h e J e w )i s i n
problem exists. And what's the soLutr-on? FuIIy funded trips to Israel, socral
t h e d e t a i l sa n d t h a t t h e d c t z i l s a r e w h a t
clubs for young Jewish singles, synagogiue based ',continurty,, programs, all
m a k e u s s o u n i q u e l y ,s o l o v a b l v ,r r s .
these have been put forward. as sofutrons to the probJ-em. I would suggest that a T w o g r e a t f i g u r e so f C u l t u r a l R e s i s t a n cael
deeper rnvestrgation into our "problem" might merit better sol-utions. Thrs e p i t o r n i z et h e R o o t l e s sC o s m o p o l i t a n :
rnvestigatron woul-d start wrth the people who created the policy and ideologry M a u r i c e S a n r u e la n d S i m o n R a w i d o w i c z .
that woul-d be central to the Iives of those in the Diaspora- Zi-onism. I know I B o t h m o v e d e a s i l l f r o m e a s t e r nE u r o p et o
don't have to telf you about Zj-onism, Mr. World Fanous -though-no one- W € s t e r n E u r o p e t o t h e t i n i t e d S t s t e s .B o t h
recognizes-him-now-without-his mustache. But, indulge a pedantic faw student w e r e a t h o m e i n t h e s e c u l a rn n d r € l i g i o u s
for a moment. w o r l d s . B o t h w e r e a t h o m e e q u a l l yi n
H e b r e w a n d Y i d d i s h . T h e y h o v e r e do v e r
Zionism as a modern movement had many important m a n v w o r l d s a t o n c e -s o r n e t h i n gt h a t
leaders and thinkers, one of
p r o b a b l yw a s n ' t e a s y -b u t i t t a k c sm 1 ' b r e a
the most importan+* being Ahad Ha'am (One of the People) . The influence of the
j . s a w a l ' t h i n k i n ga b o u t h o w m u c h h a r d e ri t i l
work of Ahad Ha'am ( b o r n Asher Ginzburg) still profound)-y felt rn Amerl-ca, t o d o t o d a y . 1 0 1 - e a r sf r o m n o w , w h o w i l l b
though he does not generally get the wide acknowledgment or interest accorded a b l e t o p u l l o f f t h i s k i n d o f m a g i ct r i c k ?
to other leaders of the Zi-onrst mowement Like Theodore Herzl. But it was Ahad *Rawidowiczwas as much a loverof golus
Ha'ann who worked out the formul-a that would al1ow all segiments of Jewish o f Z i o n , : r s s t r a n g ea s t h a t s o u n d s H . e
society, secufar and religj-ous, to bel-iewe in, and $rork for, the establishment l n s w e r e d t h e c r y o f t h o s ew h o w o u l d
of IsraeL as a modern, polrtical entity. He is also, i-n my oprnion, the father a b a n d o na l l t h r t w a s s y m b o l i z e db y g o l u s
of secular Judaism as we experi.ence it j-n the US. I'm not talking about formal (theTalmud. Yiddish,the "ghetto
secular Judaism, Ii-ke che Humanisti-c Judaism movement or the Yiddi,shast m e n t a l i t y " . . . ) w i t h h i s b r i l l i a n t c s s a yO r t l .
movement of yesteryear. f mean the culture Conceptof Galut, Galut, he 2rgued, is not :
of the average/ Conservative or
p i e c et h r t c r n b e c a s t o f f . e x c e p ta t t h e
Reform identified Arnerican Jew.
e x p c n s co f t h e w h o l e . G o i n g b a c k t o t h e f i r
g o l u s i n B a b y l o n - h e a r g u e dt h a t g o l u si s a
A syntheslzer of Ahad Ha'am's power was needed because the Jewish attitude i n t c g r a lp a r t o f t h e J e w i s he r p e r i c n c res
toward creating a Jewish homel-and was so fragmented. Sone religrous Jews felt m u c ha sZ i o n .
rt was heresy to rebu-ild fsraeJ, until the Messiah c a n n e . ( S o m e J e w s , s u c h a s t h e " S i g h . C u l t u r a l R e s i s t r n c eH . ow do I love
Neturei Karta stil-l feel this way) Some movements felt that Jewish securj-ty t h e e .r y l ' h od o I l o v e ?J e r v l i aE i s e n b e r gt,h c
and peace was j.ntertwj.ned with the rights of other mrnority groups i-n Eurooe g c n i u sb e h i n d T r i l e c t i c . t h e l € t t € r so f W a l t
and that t-he proper course was to stay where they were and work for the B e n j a m i n a n d A s j a L a c i s s e tt o d o o - w o p -
\atsf6rmdnf ^€ 6r'6ryone. Some felt that the Jewrsh homeland shouLd be rn places t h r e e p a r t h a r m o n y - t h r o a ts i n g i n g - f u c k e d
+-han rsrael, g o r g c o u sm u s i c .T a l k a b o u l r e s i s t a n c ew- h
other most notable uganda. Ald nany/ many people simply could not
was the lasl time you saw a showin New
belreve that such a p r o l e c t could succeed at aII, no matter under what banner
Y o r k C i t y w h e r e t r e a u t i f u lF A T w o m c n
:-t went' forward.
r o c k e d t h e h o u s ea n d i n c i t € dl u s t i n
e v e r y o n e ' sh e a r t s ?
The anLeresting thj-ng about Ahad Haram 1s that it seems that he himsetf didn,t * J e w l i a , D o v C h a r n e v ( f o u n d e ro f s w c r t s h
really bel-iewe that Israei as a politicai real-ity was even possible. He was f r e e A m e r i c a n A p p a r e l c o m p a n v ) ,S a s c h a
cer:ainly cautj.ous in his hopes and he adwocated extreme care in preparat:on B a r o n - C o h e n( a k a A l i G . ) , A m y G o o d m a n
for mass aliyah. He obserwed that many settlements had failed due to inadeguate D e m o c r a c yN o w . I l o v c y o u a l l . Y o u k e e pt
trar"ni.ng in the necessary skiLLs and unrealisti.c expectations on the part of smiling.
t' l^
the settl-ers. underrying this attitude was Ahad Ha'am,s berief that the \fl'1
P e a c ea n d i r i e v i b e s , 0
creatj-on of a modern Israel was not an end unto itsel-f and cerCainly not the
Rokhl bas Cyprus. editor-in-chief
rI o^ -n- g a- , .w, - a tI - rt^ei o g a-
a Er Ln^ *el ! 4 r r- e- v^ F! !LL ^r r s ^ . . - r ^ ^ t o E r e t z Yrsrael. He saw 1t more as a
' J e w i s h Rootlcss Cosmonolitan
solution to the Problem' of the day (more on thrs rater). Ahad Ha'ann
foresaw, cJuite accurately, that most Jefws wouLd stay in the Dl_aspora as
condttions there improved and only those troubl,ed by their status as Jews t-n
grol.us (the exile) woufd go !o the new homeland..
lrleno /o Derskowt'/2, coafia*J Ga* Pq Z
Neat trick. Ahad Ha'am assr,rmed that both secular and religious Jews shared in
coInmon a desire to preserwe the Jewj.sh people as a distsinct, spiritual entity
Seeular Jews might leawe it at that. Religious Jews would take it further. He
sj.multaneously
Orthodox
cared for
cut the heart
as the gatekeepers
and would,
out of secuiar
of Judaj-sm's
theoretically,
Judaism wh:.le elevatrng
essence.
rndrrectly benefit everyone
the
This essence would be well
e1se. Trickle
ffa,
down Judaism was born. Huzzah.
{osnc'fr{,fo
I should point out at thi.s juncture that secuLar Judaism, in the context of the
+
work of Ahad Ha'a:n, would include
Ha'am himseff
Ieft that
was born into
shtetl and that
a Hasidic
way of lrfe
the Conserwatiwe
family
as soon as possible
and Reform movements.
in a Russian shtetl-.
for
Of course,
-.he brrght
Ahad
he
}J.ghts
Top 5 .t
and modern ways of cosmopofitan Odessa, His tradrtional training stayed with
him, nonetheless,
not something
world
for
so easily
the rest
cast
in whj-ch he had been raised
of his
off.
1ife. Being raised
On the one hand, he found
to be 'petrj-fied'
in a Hasidic

Rationally,
family
the traditional
he relected
is

a
8oa,<s ii
3- , j3ro.I *{"e-
traditional, stagnating way of life in order to choose the flexibility of
modern:.ty. But he struggled to harmonize his rational rejection of that
traditi-on with hj-s emotional- attacLrment to it. Note weJ-l the very contemporary
resonance
finding
of this
those elements
struggle. ft prod.uced a confused body of work dewoted to
by a modern person
?rcPil
Ever DY''r''1
of Judaism that could be accepted and
were worth preserving.
reject it as a way of life
That is,
yet
what was it
cling "Lo it
in Judai.sm that
at the same time?
could cause one to
Jewish values were bv Si,,a*du,,dau
t
na I annar rra I rra.l i n j-hcmqot rrcq hrrf to those values was walued.
the attachrnent

Z.TncJe'*s'
Or something like that.

But Ahad Ha'am was dead consistent in one sense- his wholesale rejection of the
Reform
religious
(and by extensj-on,
practice.
Conserwative)
He formulated
movement as a legj,timate
his belief thus: religion
form of Jewish
is subject not to -!oc;*t ?a*{rrn5o{
reform
that
but tso dewelopment.
the'Matriarchs
For example,
be inserted
femin)-sts
in the ]-iturg1'
might
wLrerever
demand (or suggest)
the Patriarchs are a4A,1f#ttrr*';:f"
mentioned. They might ask for thj-s, even though we unquestionably liwe in a
patriarchal
askance,
society where adwances such as female
even in the Conservative
Rabbis
movement whi.ch ordains
are looked
them. According
upon
to
t'**"e
3 .ES 5c"Y5,
Nt moirs L1 At"'"t'
Ahad Ha'am's formula, Israel would be the place where Jews could continue their
spiritual developrnent unimpeded. When, under the influence of the Jewish

lta em (fcotnsic'fecl
imperatiwe of social lustice, Israeli society had truly become intolerant of
misoqyny and supportive of eguality, then, and only then, would rt be the most
natrlrel thind in the world for the litrrrro fo raflFet orrrdceDpst. most
Si*o"r)
unimpeachable egalitarian feelings . 61-a."^
I
r
aT '
lr '

t. Ah*dfla
with me so far? If you cared you'd move to Israel. If you really, really cared
you'd be Orthodox. And what about everyone else? Good question. Ahad Ha'am

4hc Z,'cnisna at
explicitly beliewed, and wrote, that the new,Jewish homeland would serve as a
'focus of emotional- i-dentrfication' and a 'source of spiritual walues for the
rest of the Diaspora' Star-,ing to sound familiar? Problem was, the former was Vy
easy, too easy. And the Latter? I'm sti11 waiting. {tat F'+u.e-
We've arrived back on familiar ground. A cursory investigation into the
Vario,:5quYhdrs
'Jewish
foundatj-ons of Zionism shows today's
'Jewish
Probl-em' to be intimatel-y
\i o'; #en$itr5
connected
touted
to yesierday's
as the answer to ioday's
Problem'
crisrs
Education
of Jewish alienation.
of all kinds has been
But let's be 5.
honest
experience,
about the kind of education
and many of those
that's
of my generation,
been on offer.
it
Drawrng on my own
becomes obwious bhat the
ra1 Nl"r,Q,
Conservatiwe
sprrrtual
and Reforrn movements
obsolescence. That is,
hawe been far
in return for,
too coLlusive
what' (?),
in thei.r
the educationaL
own
arms
Somu*r
of these movements newer included creatj,ng a Lruly Jewishly educated and
observant people. The goal was to create a group of people, akrn to a terrorist
sleeper cel1, l-j-ke the platoon in the Manchurian Candidate, who cared about the
survi'.ral of the Jewish people as a unique spir:.tual entity- though they drdn't
quite know why. Their 3ctual knowledge of Jewish practi-ce and culture would
remain low, but their identifi-cation wrth Israel would be high. Israel- as
project would be successful. Jewrsh culture in America would becorne a disaster.

For many of us in our 20s and 30s, the education we reeeived seemed haphazard
and mediocre at the trme, but:.ts larger usefulness and clarity of purpose Roo*[es>
l.rannmae arri^on+ ,!hon further
s h a r e d b v m a n v vo- f .m
exami_nation.
r L lv bcFrq
FOr examD1e, a Hebrevr school
i s hci nd tauoht
memorv
tn rFe.i Hehrew Fi nc so far. When Co:*: prili*t
it came to learning
rvv-

what the words meant, one mi-ght thj-nk that we would be -


'[^.*
taught
synagog'ue
the language
was gorng
in the context
to be lhe only
of the liturgy.
context in which
That is,
we would
for 90t of us,
ever use Hebrew.
the 5 ltssrs -f
So why not
s.'J-Iables?
conversat-ional,
teach us what we were saying
But no, whatever
modern Israeli-
rather
Hebrew was taught,
than 1et us chant
for
Hebrew. My name is RachaeI.
the most part,
nonsense
was
f'm hungry. Pleased
An'",ui.i
kif' .i
]Ann.{o*J|
to meet you. Can f meet you latrer at the d:-sco? Come Friday nighE we might as
weil have been chantrng nam-ho-yo-rengi-kyo for all it meant to us. Further, we
were afl taught with lhe standard Israeli/Sephardic pronunciation. Of course,
for many people (rnyself included) , their parents spoke Hebrew with the Eastern
European Ashkenazic accent. So, even when there was rituaf practice in the L.Abrillia"{
q^d a'
ti;to5o?ht t-
home, the difference in accents, often glaring/ struck a note of discord where

il{;tJ q;*{^so'rr'
there should hawe been harmony. I recentl-y mentioned this to my brother. Hadn't
he noticed that our father pronounced Hebrew so differently than we drd? Yeah,
he had noticed.
years. The examples
He just thought
are endless.
that Dad had been doj.ngr it
My Hebrew school teacher
wrongr aI1 those
was a Holocaust iiu dF
eflihmc
surwivor from Pol-and. Her natrve pronunciation of Hebrew wouLd undoubtedly have
carried a Ceep Ashkenaz accent, though I never heard 1t spoken. I wonder Eoday tC* Rao*fes5
i,f this swrtch bothered her and if, when she went to her own shul (the orthodox
Cosmo?otitqa '
shtrbl across the street from my conserwative synaqoqTue) she spoke in the ofd
tlqre
Z. Mqrjh6{US
ray or not.

More importantly,
our practrce
if
of Judaism,
the uLtirnate
my teacher
goal of teaching us Hebrew had been to enrich
wouLd newer have had to so tortuously hide
J;tt rirl 3'u t^r'{4
her true self. No, we were being prepared for the role Ahad Ha'am saw for us S$qh>+,rcS Vo*
a big
aIl those years ago/ the undifferentiated, vaguety sentimental mass with
l(neuj Yo.l
nc\t"r
gui-1t complex and checkbooks at the ready. We wouLd not be able to participate
religrousJ-y because we had been so inadequately prepared. No matter, l.$- oatY
needad,Nrs-.ooi
Conservative or Reform observance i.sn't real, after all. And should we find, +e llld "
q11e$ v,f f?
through some accident, that we wanted to inclease our Jewish connection, oE if thlho caft
we were even just searchingf for something meaningful in general, the Zronrst s?
3 . YousL o-rl}fo4
suggestion was there, awaiting activation. My friend, A, just told me a grea:
story about her own Hebrew school- experience. Most of what she remetnbered berng
taught were thrngs
here and stuff about
like the difference
kibbutzim.
between holiday
I commented that
obserwance
I remenlf,ered
in Israel
how the teach.rng
and
tt lcaE*,L27"n
of Hatrkwah (the Israeli anthem) and the shma were giwen egual grawity. Weird, h" darcKh {alaa'tt \
I choughts out loud, how they chose seemingly random things Eo focus on. ?ionisn o{A'Lr's ft"'''j
Ilati-kvah, kibbutzim. What was the point? How useless! Then my friend tol-d me
that after graduatj-ngi from coJ-J.ege she had been at loose ends as to how to mark a,i u*r to 5;^tof.. ^r,
the occasj-on. A cross-country trip? Back pack through Europe? A friend of A's - .;bao-r /a riucl,\;ddialr
D
was going to work on a farm for the surrmer. That seemed cool, a totally
different experi-ence. My friend A mentioned thj.s to her mother. Her mother, who 4. *cel11 lri.oaatYsi5
those years, ta
AS Ail'S fuflur44'
had dragged A kicking and screa.ming to Hebrew school aII
suggested: why not go to a krbbutz? DING! WouLd you like to pfa!' a game of
solitaire? why nct go to a kibbutz? Needless +,o sa1', the plan dj-dn'!- go far iio&rn tirvs.
after interwiewing with the people who send foiks like us to kibbutzirn.
-t1. *;fit a ica€
tr '
Nonetheless, my friend, who up to then had been pretty much as unaffilrated and
had been 'activated',
alienated
He:. true
from Judarsm as possible,
pLrrpose had almost been fu1fil1ed. Almost.
however temporarrly.
Now al,I she has to do rs o';t,' t {;sk*i.;4 -
nake a Lot of monev and donate
z l :rra h fa r

rjltrmately, the real


a€

story
7. t aa
it

here is how, whether


to Israel and she reall-v

we wanted to or not, we a1l


wrll- be a true

kli*:*:t::*y
became Zioni-sts^ Not because we beli.eved rn it, but because we had no choi-ce.
That is, by consciously cutting off American Jews from their culture (most of
rvhich is Eastern European in origin) and subscj-tut:.ng the deferred culture

nodeJ- ernvisioned by Ahad Ha,ann, a deal was struck We're paying now for what we
thought we wanted then. I ask you Mr. Dershowitz. was it worth it? Not that I
h1:mo rrnrr va €
r a ^v ,u. r- S € .
u
,

But when it comes time to look for a solution, r ask you to thj-nk a lj-ttl-e more
about the crJ-si-s.

Peace and irie wi_bes,


\r\
+t rf
It
rokhL
bq Pete Rushefsku
Uthatthehellisthattlting?
An Iittroductian to the Klezmer Tsintbl

When North .Anrerican.Ieu'sthink of


klezrrerntusic.-jazzvbrassbandsled Lrv board".).The first record of a .leu'isir
c l t r i n e r sL r s L r acl lor u t el o r r r i r r dB r r ti r r player of the instllLurentcomes fi'om
Lerlberg (nourLvir'. L,lc-zrine) r'r'hete
earliertjmes. thc'kIeznrerknpcl.t.e,s
Abus Cyr-nbalista r'r'asapprovedb1'the
(ensenlbles) in Easterl Europewere
predontinantlvstritrobandsled b,"- musician'sgLriidto plav fbr Catholic
violins acconrpanied b a n q u e l si n 1 6 2 9 M i g r a t i n g . l e ui s h
by the tstmhl
(crrlbalonr). or hatnntereddlrlcinter. nrusiciansr.l'crehettcetbrthcentral to the
snreadof tl-retsintblthrotLgh Eastern
Er-uopeand the Balliansover the nert
The tsirnblispla,vedlikt: a xvlophone ot-tt'
Several
bLrtentploysstringsinsteadof wooclor tluee centr"tties l:::,:'
tlentlontrrg'
metalirlocks.The plaverstriliesthe ?,*u,.= ate wofll-t
> t r - i u Susi t h u r a i l e t so f r c np a d d e cul i t l r
the
c o t t o no r I e a t h e rA. s w i t h a p i a n o ,e a c h Adan N4icliienitz-considered
literature'
riotestrLrckon the instnrurentresoniitcsa Shaliespeareof Polish
coLlrseof foLrror fir,estlingsthat have ;;ilJy baseclhis characteriaukielthe
Mrckiewitz-'s^
beenplacedclosell,togetherand tuned ,.i .t" t;itblist (fi'on-r
real-
to the sanreprtch.The multtple strinss lr-lttsterpleceeptc Pan Tader'rsz)on
of
Fe1'orr.iran
prol'idethe tsirrtblwitlia rich ar-rd often ili. i.r.ttonn"r Mordkho
of St'
hauntingsonority.Of cclurse.the ta'rr.r* ancl\'ar-rlielLibelmar-r
dorvnside,to this constructionis the larqe Petersberg
nunrberof strinesto lieepiu tune--ntost
tstntbl.sliirve over tu'ent).coLtrsesand The most f anror,Ls klezntel musicirn of
nrore tltan otrehundredstlings whiclr a l l t i m e u ' a sp o s s i b l vM r k h a i l G n z r i < o v
nrLisibe chechedand adjlrstedprior to ( 1 E 0 6 - 1 E 3 7B ) .o m i n S h l i l o r "( n o r vi n
perfonlanc: BelarLrs). GLrzihovplavedtsimbl and
flute,br"rtgainednotorictyas a pla-v-er of
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Gerrnan instrun-ietri cal Ied tl-teltctcli h rt.t t translates as "straw violin" lvas real11,' a
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I o m e n s c o n c e d s te o my,sw e a ty,so o ty,New Yor k, but the cour seis

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sit
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ondf
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f a c e st h a l L t n i o n i z e df:z r c e st l r a l e s c a p e d- it r s t
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p :e s e r v i n s , t hj ;e-b o d i e s .l t u t n o 1t h e i r r t r i n d s .
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u , e ' r ' ed e c i d e dt o r e s p e c t h e r n i s 1 o p t ' e s e r v e
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t h e i r b o d i e su ' i t h o n h , u r i n i n i a a l t t e n l i o u1 0
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l l r e i r ' l e n t p l eosf d i g r i i t l , t. h e i rh o u s e so f b r ai n u ' a s hi n g .
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pan of a rrrassivecare contp/ex.titere are
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o u , n s p e c i f i co r i e n t a t i o n .i 1 i s a s r a n d i o s e
c o n m u n i t v p r o j e c t .o n e o f p r e s e r v a t i o tiit r II il-'e erPotex ceritie
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h a r d r v o o de v e l v u , l r e r ' et h. e m a z e o f h a l l u ' a l s
the lesicieritshave inclepenclertce- thet, have are eacir narriedafter birds and trees.there
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r s .e x e r c i s et.h e r e i s : c r a J i s .t l r e r e i s : l i r n e i u ' e n t t h e r e . i t h o L r g l rit h a d
L ' n r c t ' t c t i t l n t L- ,inht a r e b e e ni o 1 o or t r a r t -or f a c c i d e u t a l l yg o n e t o t h e u t u s e u t nb e c a u s e
t h e s ee v e r r l s i: h a v e p e r f o r u r e da t t l r e n r .t h e l '
e a c hr o o m h a d a g l a s s c a b i n e t o u t s i d e
b r e a l <n r y h e a r t .e i t h e r r e c v c l e df ; l m s t h a t
r e p r e s e ntth e r e s i d e n t sl'i v e s t o t l r e i t 'r a t l r e r u , i t h p i c t L r r eosf family. artifacts.'judaica
q i l l r n r o o l a n r r l i r r sqo c i a lu o t ' l i e r so r n r t r s i c t h e r e i s a n e e r i e f e e l i n g o f p r e - d e a t h i. t h i n l i
f r o m c l : a s s i d i cs. e c u l a r .a n d / o r u n i o n i s t t h e v a r e t r f i n g t o m a l < et h e i r l i v e s i r . n p o n a n t
jeu,ish l.ristorv.there are freaky houro-erolic b u t i n s t e a dt h e y a r e a r c h i v i n gt h e i r I i v e sa s
d i s t l r r t n r e n r o r ' )b e f o r et h e l a r e e \ e n g o n e .
e a c h f e s i d e n t i a fl l o o r i s d e s i g n a t e d for a
3 r n o n t h sa g o . r a i z l f e l l o u t s i d et h e r e r r a c e .
i e v e l o f t l e u t a l c a p a b i l i t l ' .a s t h e n r l m b e r s
a n d l o s tc o n s c i o L r s n e s h s .eh a d a h u t e b u n r p
i n c r e a s ea. b i l i r y d e c r e a s e si .t h i n l i : t h e y a r e
g e f t i n s c l o s e l a r l d c l o s e rt o G o d . r a i z l ' sn e x t o n h e r h e a d .d u e t o i n t e r n a b i l e e d i n go u t h e
b r a i r . tr.v e d i d n ' t k n o w i f s h e ' dn t a l < ei t . v v h e r r
step is to go to the apotex.slie had a test to
i f i r s t s a n h e r . s h e u , a st o t a l l _ cr 'l e l L r s i o n a l .
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. e l ' s a r d :l v h a t ' s7 l s h e c o u l d n ' te a t . a n d c o Llrd b a r e l l ,u r o v e .s h e
a r i t l t n t e t i cq L l e s t i o l l st h
t h o r , i g htth e r e w e r e c f e a t L l f e isn t h e c e i l i n g
n r i u u s5 ? s h e s a i d : 6 l a n d t h e 1 t"o l d h e r i t
c o r n e t ' ss. h e l i e p t a s l , i n _nqt e t o t a l i e h e r
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a n s \ \ ' e r a. s l < i n gh e r s e l fu ' h y s h e d i d n ' t
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l o s so f d i e n i t r ' . i l o v e m y a u r r tl i l < ea b u b b e .
l u r o n e \ /s.h e ' s9 8 a r r di r r t i l e l t o s p i t a l h . ow
l i k e a g o d - m o t h e r ,I i k e a n a n g e l .i w a u r h e r
n . r u c hu ' a i t i r r gc a n s h e d o ?
t o l i v e - u o t j u s t n t a n a g ew j t h h e r l r e a r l ,
v e i n s .s k i n a n d s t o m a c h .s h e h a s t a u g l r tr r e
t h e t h i n s s i v a l u e r n o s ta b o L rnt r 1j e u , i s h n e s s
III the baycrest hospital y i d d i s h . s e c u l a rr e s p e c tf o r t r a d i t i o u ,
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floor o u r e l c l e r sl v i t l r c y b e r - t e c h n o l o gtyo l < e e p
rvho come and go, otherswho seem to
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g L r e l . plhi k e m e s h e 1 , s l 1 lso u d er .t l r a r r t i r e r ei s s L r c ha s p e c t r u l ro f i d e a sb e l r i n d
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4"t'{^ }n*s
The Nerd as Jew,the JewasNerd: Daniel pinkwater
and the Fsotericaof Cult'rrai rResisiance
:lE-E*e-.*<__'-
By Rokhl bas C-vprus

From a Jewish point of two elementsare inseparablefrom any discussionof


"'iew,
the Jewish problem: anti-Semitism and assimilation.For to a Jew the problem
essentiaiiyisthis: how can the Jeu'ishpeoplesun'ive in the face of hostilitywhich
ttu'eatensto destroyus, and, on the other hand, in the face of a friendlinesswhich
threatensto dissolr'eour group ties and submergeus as a *'hole by absorbrngus
individually?
Ben Halpern,America is Different in The .Teu,s: Social Patternof an
AmericanGroup (1958)

Kinda iike being a nerd, huh? It's hard to be different, especiallyin junior high,
especiallyif your name is Ronald, Melvin or Eugene,as are many of the boys of Daniel
Pinkwater's books. A tyoical Pinkwater book featuresthe u,hitestof u'hitebreadparents,
Old Country grandparents,and very confused protagonists struggling with their nerdy
identity. Even rf it were possibleto be parl of the popular crowd, they're pretty sure they
don't belong there.What then?

Alan N{endelssohnthe Boy from Mars. Leonard (the narratorof "Alan Mendelssohn")
goes to great lengthsto tell the reader about his parent'snew suburbanritual, the
barbecue-where the dog even has iiver for dinner.
"I larerv what had happened-my lather had come out of the garage,stepped through the
back door, kissed my mother, patted Melvin [the dog] on the head, taken off his coat, and
hung it on a hook, first taking his apron off the hook...Next my father had gone outside
(that was the secondslam) and startedbuilding a fire in the portable barbecue.This had
been going on all summer...Besidesthe hamburgersor steak,we would have salad.My
parentshad been to a restaurantu'here they servedthis specialsaladwith choppedhard-
boiled egg on it, and anchovies,and all sorts of stuff. The waiter makes the saladat the
table, and he has theseoversizedpepper mills and salt shakersmade of wood, anrl he
does a whole routine with the salad.Anyrvay, my fatherhad gotten the same kind of
wooden salt and pepper shakersand the same kind of big stainlesssteel saladbowl, and
he would go through the whole routine every night...Now I u,as getting bored- my
parentsweren't, though."

Compare this with Leonard's Grandparents:


"My grandmotherlikes everyoneto call her 'Old One'. . . She believes that
everyoneought to eat only raw food, except meat, which she believes no one
should eat at all. She spendsall her time grinding up nuts and rvheatberries and
soybeans,and mashing them togetherwith honey and raisins and stuff. It tastes
better than it sounds."

The irony is that the Grandparents(we're not sure whose parentsthey are) are strict
vegansand in later sceneswe seecomic confrontationsbetweenthe parents.die-hard

@
meateaters,and the grandparents who cometo dinnerandwon't eat anythingbecauseit's
not "healthy'. Substitute"healthy" u'ith "kosher"andyou get a pretty familiar story.

Self-inducedcultural amnesia.The subtextof Pinkr,r,ater stonesis usuallysomething


like this: in orderfor Leonard, Meivin or Eugene to gain masteryover their lir.'es,
escape
bulliesanddefeatmad scientists, to fully self-actualize,first theymust go backto the
City, the Grandparents, the old u'aysin general,andreintegratethat knowledgeinto
themselves, (usuailyin usedbook stores)andusethatknou'ledgeto completetheir
adventures.Toyremay be the bestest
schoyre,but for theseboys,the truth is packaged a iittie differently:

LIFOs
Footreflexology
Hlperstellararchaeolo gy.
Hlper intelligentchickens
Explodingchoppedliver
The universeas a poppybagel
Many fat men in polyestersponjackets
The zloty as the universalspacetime currency
Blongl You area pickle.

parentsarealwaysclueless,trusting-andalwaysin the processof reinventing


Pinkri,ater
themselves as whitebreadaspossible.LeonardNeeble'sparents,for example,havejust
relocatedthe family from The Old Neighborhoodto the suburbof West Hogboro.

Wheredid theseparentscomefrom?How did theygetto be so radicallydifferentfrom


theirown parents?At leastwithin Pinkwater'soeuvre,we neverfind out. We are
etemallyat the full daylightof assimilation,
surrounded andconfusedby remnantsof a
culturewe belongto but no longerunderstand or cantakepart in.

WhatsomereviewershavecalledPinkwater's surrealism, his juxtapositionof unrelated


subjectsandthings,his impositionof the fantastic
on thenormal,very oftenseemsto be,
on closerinspection,thejuxtapositionof theJewish/Yiddish world on the
world. What no one in anyof the criticism to be found on Pinkwater
Americarrr'-Gentile
wantsto sayis thatthese"funny oddsandends"arethe culturalfroth of a Jewish
upbringingof a specifictime periodin Americanhistory,thebeginningof the
culminationof Jewishassimilationin thelate1940'sand '50s.JustaskMannyMoe and
Jack,theNafsulianspacepirates,(otherwise knownasthePepBoys,foundersof the Pep
Boyschainof automotivestores.)

What Pinkwaterobviouslyfinds funny,andwhathe usesover and over, is the discovery


of Jew'ishness andJewseverywhere theyshouldn'tbe.William, the youngnarratorof
"FatMen From Space"getsa filiing anddiscovers thathis toothis actinglike a radio
receiver.He picksup signalsfrom as far awayasTnnidad,Coloradoadvertising:"ln East
Tnnidadtherewill be a meetingof theCorvboy's Mah JonggClub". Not oniy does
Wiliiam stumbleon cowboyswho playMah Jongg,but spacepirateswho eatiatkes.One
nightWiliiam picksup transmissions from a spaceshipwhich is aboutto invadeEarth,
looking for snacks.Lots of snacks.TheytakeWilliam aboardwhen they rcalizehe has
beenlisteningto their inter-shipcommunications on his toothreceiverandtherehe learns
of theirplan.He hasbeencapturedby a spaceburger pirateship from theplanetSpiegel
which is roamingthe galaxyin searchofjunk food.The alienfat men in polyestersport
jacketsproceedto float down to earthandeatall the prepackaged andjunk food on the
planet.The earth'ssalvationturnsout to be whenthespacepiratesdiscovera giantpotato
pancakelaunchedin spacein the vicinity of theplanetZiegler. They leavethe earthin
chaos and take off after the mammoth iatke.
Justas childrenof immigrantsfled to the suburbsandproceededto forget asmuch as
possibleaboutu'heretheyhadjust comefrom.Yiddish.the naturallanguageof these
peoplefor the lastmillenium,\ /asiost alongw,ithAshkenaziHebrew.Engiishbecame
the languageof the Jewsof America,alongwith artificially transplantedmodern,
Sephardic Hebrew,oftentaughtby Hebrewschoolteachersfron-rPolandandRussia.The
assimilation of AmericanJewsis a familiarstory,onewhich periodicailyinspiresbreast
beatingby Jewishcommunalieadersand fantastic"plans" to do every4hingfrom
preventingjew'ishintermarriageto makingeveryJewishkid in americastayfor a yearin
Israel.All theseschemes missingthepointthatwhatshouldbe thesekids', andadult's,
naturalbirthright,
theirculture(mostof it Yiddish)hasbecomeas aliento them,asif it
might asrvellbe from Mars.Pinkwater,geniusthathe is, seizeson this ideaagainand
agarn t g

P o s t c a r dS i x : Iq ?f
Y,rt;" {anJ,
os
Jchn-JohnMoniarogeSoroundme.T chooseto see
little os possibleof it, but o foir bit trickles in. A
normollyupbeotyoungwomoncomeuPto me ond
Honnohof schooltodoy:"Isn't it trogic? AboutJFK
ee to
Juni or?,'Therewos o longPouse.I sippedmy cof f
ovoid hovingto reply. Honnohmurmured , " ummh."" Of
course,they hoven'tf oundthe bodiesyet, so there's
still hope."f heordmyselfsoy,"There'sno hope"'
stroight f oced.And three doysloter whenthey f ound
, shecon'tsoyI -qd^'1-trn her'
I thought
the bodies,

Postc:rrdSeven: L JJs\lqnJ,f f77


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