Monday, September 17, 2012
Some of my best friends are Jewish, but, fortunately, some are not. I thought about this as I walked to services this morning to celebrate/honor/observe the Jewish New Year. Without question, my stew of Jewish practices is unique, unscripted, and unpredicted. (I say unpredicted instead of unpredictable, because I am more fascinated at just where I am now than in speculation as to where I am going on the great continuum of Jewishness.) While I now eagerly participate in the High Holydays, I admit to being out of touch with their overarching tenet of forgiveness, which is the basis for atonement. I know that I will not be entering the new year with a clean slate, free of grudges, resentment and outright antagonism. It would be asking me to live without memory, starting each day, approaching each person or situation anew. I can’t do it and I’m not sure that I would want to do it.
So, I was not bothered that I was bothered while walking to services by the conduct of two radio broadcasters. Each morning, as I prepare myself for the day, I move back and forth between my bathroom (the Palazzo is blessed with separate facilities, a key to a happy marriage) and the music room/den/guest room/study/computer room/library which also houses my clothing. Each room has a radio, which I turn on and off as I go in and out. I need to do this, because each radio is turned to a different station, although they are both sports talk stations. In the morning, both stations pair an ex-jock (football player) with a civilian, who has devoted himself to following sports since boyhood. While these two civilians substantially differ in style and temperament, they are both Jewish, one from New Rochelle (once the archetypical New York City suburb, as immortalized by George M. Cohan as “45 Minutes From Broadway”), and the other from New York City (in fact, from Stuyvesant High School). This morning, as usual, I went back and forth, listening to first one and then the other radio broadcast for a few moments until I heard each of these two guys, became annoyed and muttered all the way to shul (actually church because we rent a nice Gothic church to handle our far-larger-than-normal crowd). I was annoyed at these guys because, if you’re Jewish, stay home on Rosh HaShanah. You don’t have to go to shul; you don’t have to dress up; you don’t have to spend time contemplating; just stay home. We have been separated from the rest of the world, often involuntarily, for millennia. If only to honor our past, stand apart for a day or two.
There is a Jewish history extending over 5,000 years. Why stop it now? I’ll suggest two answers, neither of which satisfy me. First, there is an atomic view of humankind, one for one and none for all. It holds a romantic view of the self-made person, above and beyond any community or societal grouping. This view last had a basis in reality when Adam still had all of his ribs. It still seems to appeal to some adolescent boys, enamored of their omnipotence, who occasionally grow up to become Congressmen from the Midwest. Clearly, not for me. The other view, held by some of the finest people I know, is quite the opposite, a universalist, all-men-are-brothers (adjusted for gender) view, often unwilling to distinguish group differences. I find this view impractical, at the very least, and ahistoric, even though it makes for good folk songs. After thousands of years of human development, differences have become ingrained in populations, for better or worse. We are not one; we do not blend effortlessly. If, as the universalist believes, there is good in us all, I am led to believe that there may be good in our clustered groupings, and, inevitably, a need to choose among them.
While I do not believe in a transcendent force intervening in human affairs, if only because there is so much to be accounted for, I marvel at the tenacious continuity of the Jewish people over thousands of years and our associated core values. Therefore, I am willing to stand for and with those people.
I realize that there are retorts to my antagonism for those radio broadcasters, such as, who are you to judge?, and everyone draws a line somewhere. Maybe I should wait until next week, for Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish Holydays, more commonly known as the Day Sandy Koufax Did Not Pitch. Of course, I will not be able to offer a judgment on the conduct of the Jewish broadcasters then, because my line shifts from listening to the radio on Rosh HaShanah (and watching television as well) to total abstention on Yom Kippur.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
My favorite quote of the week does not contain the number 47. Rather, it comes from a 1971 essay by Ayn Rand on stamp-collecting: “[N]o matter how dreadful some of mankind’s activities might be, here is a field in which men are functioning reasonably, efficiently and successfully.” And, may I add, COLLECTIVELY (no pun intended). Postage stamps come from government agencies, even in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Language is a mysterious phenomenon. Why are there so many? Why does proximity not always breed similarity? These days, new media seem to hasten the process of the invention and evolution of words and phrases. This came to mind with today’s e-mail offer from Google to purchase “a homespun dinner for two on the Lower East Side.” As you may recall, just a few days ago, the New York Times substituted “Homespun” for “Jewish.” So, I read the restaurant offer carefully, expecting this Lower East Side establishment to feature the food that Gwyneth Paltrow’s father and I grew up on. While “delightfully fluffy pancakes” are promoted as a house specialty, additional copy strayed far from the traditional Gotthelf/Goldenberg cookbook; “buttermilk fried chicken and a house-ground burger crowned with sweet, savory, and smoky sugar bacon.” Maybe the Paltrows ate this way, but the Lower East Side Gotthelfs and Goldenbergs fried their chickens in schmaltz, without the benefit of any dairy products. Which also reminds me that when a poor Jew ate a chicken, one of them was sick.