Sunday, May 04, 2008

Look What I Got in the Mail
by: Schvach Yid

The folks at Nextbook publish a magazine – news print style – called Nextbook Reader. I’ve been graced with a copy of this literary ditty. One can access this sales vehicle on-line; just search.

Thanks to Leon Wieseltier’s 1998 contribution to the world of Jewish writing, Kaddish (perhaps my favorite book of all time), a ‘new’ word has been re-introduced into Jewish circles – solipsist. Every time I encounter this word I have to run to the dictionary; I’ve never heard it in the course of conversation. A one page article appears in this magazine titled (you guessed it) ‘The Solipsist’. I haven’t read it.

But the real story (as far as I’m concerned) in this edition of the Nextbook Reader comes from that lamenting author of Foreskin’s Lament, Shalom Auslander. Straight from the wooded mountains of Woodstock NY (I should be so lucky; how I lament my continued exile from the northern Catskills of NY – Route 28 beckons), Mr. Auslander bewails his dilemma of going through life carrying an official Tribal membership card, yet arguing against it. Still, he sticks to it like a fly sticks to flypaper, all the while making a lot of annoying noise with his fruitless wing beating, while getting absolutely nowhere. Poor Shalom.

He knows how to write folks. Not that I’m qualified to critique an author’s work, but even I, with nothing to speak on my behalf as an amateur writer, am capable of recognizing his talent.

Here he writes about Avraham avinu. Depicted above Auslander’s article is an artist’s conception of Jewish patriarch #1, represented as a not-yet graying (he’s bearded) mensch clad in traditional Arab garb, complete with a scimitar at his side, his left hand clutching the weapon just below the hilt, his right hand placed over his heart (could this be a sign of angina brought about by a foreknowledge of Auslander’s opinions?). In the background, barely visible in the lower left corner, one can just discern the Greek/Roman columns and entablature (thank Gd I saved my copy of Janson’s History of Art) of a building. Auslander definitely has some hefty unresolved issues!

His essay is titled Civilization and Its Discontented. He should know – he knows how to write, and he’s pissed.

Auslander brags that rather than teaching his son the Chumash, he instead instructs his son about Yossarian, the lead character in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – very Jewish. Boy, does Auslander have unresolved issues, or what (I wonder if Yossarian, a Sephardic Jew, knew Ladino)?

Auslander calls for action. We shouldn’t teach our kiddies about the Gd of jealousy and vengeance, Auslander asserts, or to invoke his lexicon, f*ck accountability (yes folks, he even has his version of Avraham avinu, to whom he assigns the moniker ‘Abe’, speak this most famous word of the English language). He even refers to the Aybischter as a you-know-what (not to be repeated by me). This guy really has unresolved issues (the English ‘issue’ sounds like the Hebrew assur which, as we all know, means ‘forbidden’. Mr. Auslander should learn this).

The point is Mr. Auslander has painted himself into a corner. He invokes Avraham avinu as a rebel who rejected what he saw around him (Auslander’s interpretation, not mine), yet the heroic Avraham accepted every commandment given to him by HaShem (and by his wife Sarah imanu), including the mitzvah of circumcision.

Auslander, you big dummy, maybe you should teach your son about Fred Sanford!

Don’t get me wrong, Jadies and Jents, Auslander is no foreigner spitting on the Tribe. I harbor no animus for Mr. Auslander; I just disagree with him.

The real point, however, is that this mag is a sales vehicle for the Nextbook series, of which I am a fan. One book in this series, David Mamet’s The Wicked Son, is another of my favored writings.

Back to Auslander. If he thinks he’s going to get away with going through life with one foot in and the other out, then he has another guess coming. It’s not that he wants to equivocate, but he does. His dilemma is that he is solidly in the Tribe – he just won’t fess up to it.

Those Jews who hate Judaism, who think they’re above and beyond it, who think Judaism has nothing to offer, that it’s wrong, archaic, bigoted, irrelevant, etc, have a strong tendency to leave it. They don’t resort to the Reform Movement for escape and denial. They just leave and never look back. This is not Auslander’s chosen life. Auslander is a kvetch, and he evidently likes it that way – he’s entitled, and he’s obviously making a good living at it. His is the old Immigrant’s Son’s Tale, the sort of character one finds in the fiction of The Jazz Singer and Leon Uris’ Mitla Pass. When one is confused, embarrassed, self-conscious about one’s identity, when one can’t make up one’s mind, then that person is in a wee bit of a quandary.

Poor Shalom Auslander. Identity is not a pursuit - just ask any recovering BuJu.

But take heart guy. There are lots of you out there. You have lots of company for solace and emotional support. What you’ll probably never enjoy is resolution.

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