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A top pulp mystery writer's father tries to get his son to say Kaddish for him

Here is a true story about a son who would not let his father control his way of expressing himself, even if it meant that, from beyond the grave, his father would keep his son in scalp tingling fear.

"Henry Kane was in his early fifties when I [fellow mystery writer, the great Lawrence Block] got to know him, and some years previously his father had died. And ever since then, Kane had heard footsteps.

Not all the time, to be sure. But every now and then he would hear someone pacing the floor overhead, walking back and forth, back and forth. At first he’d thought there was in fact someone up there, but it even happened when he was on the top floor, or sitting home in an otherwise empty house. It became clear that he was hearing these footsteps, and there were no feet responsible.  Read More 
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Daniel Fuchs' Low Company

Fuchs (1909-93) was a screenwriter and novelist. In the1930s, he wrote three novels about Jewish people struggling in Brooklyn._Low Company_, set in “Neptune Beach” (Coney Island), was published in 1937, and Fuchs wrote the film script for its adaptation as “The Gangster” (1947). Irving Howe: "He showed such a rich gift for fictional portraiture of Jewish life that, given sustained work and growth of mind, he might have written [Brooklyn’s] still-uncreated comedie humaine.”

The film was well titled—it might have been an equally good title for the book. Read More 
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I B Singer, illusion, and the True World

About a half-century ago, Isaac Bashevitz Singer, one August late afternoon, was sitting in a cafe near Times Square. It was not yet that hour at which the waiter would ask the aging tea drinkers to please make room; i.e., get out; and don’t schvitz on the tablecloths. This Isaac (well, it might have been he) was approached by a man whose name he does not remember. That is odd.

Who could forget the name Zelig Fingerbein? It sounds like it belongs to a Borscht Belt waiter doubling as a “Simon Says” caller-leader. The mixed-up name is weirdly relevant to the end of the story, when Zelig and I. B. are looking at a gigantic billboard advertising a movie: “A half-naked woman, four stories high, lit up by spotlights.” As Zelig stared, “half his face was green, the other red—like a modern painting. . . . one eye laughing and one tearing.” Isaac remarks, “If there is no God, she is our god.” Zelig had a modern, 42nd Street answer. “What she is promising, she can deliver.”

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Jewish Geography of the Bronx, c.1951

The pulp paperback cover to the right (published no more than a year after the hardback original) is not as much a come-on as it looks, although Florence Goodman, the girlfriend of the narrator Bob Engel, would not wear such a come-and-get-me dress and assume such a posture, being a “nice Jewish girl” from the Bronx circa 1950. Nor would Bob, a nice Jewish boy (with a spanking fetish) have the street corner tough guy posture. Florence is only five feet tall, “cute,” his “baby.” Her girlfriends call her “our crokie doll,” and her mom admits she needs a “fine man who won’t take her guff” and will “turn her upside down every once in a while.” Filtered through the “Jewish geography” of the Bronx—weekend dances (“rat races”), the park at 161st Street (the “Bronx Country Club”), the cafeterias, the cheaper rooming houses at the shore or in the Catskills—the mating ritual takes its course. It is replete with a “slave morality”: self-deception, a need to strike poses and hide what one really wants, fear of derision from manipulative people higher in the pecking order than oneself, guilt, and loneliness. Joe Weiss cannot reach the level of Wil Eisner’s “Cookalein”; perhaps the only comparison would be that their intended audience was one that the critic Dwight Macdonald denigrated as an indiscriminate and undiscriminating “mass.” But working in pulp and comic strips, both Weiss and Eisner had the freedom to record atmospheric detail and social observation without filters. The rougher the better, and more honest.

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An Imaginary Conversation with J Hoberman about Inside Lleywn Davis and the universe of the schlemiel

(quotations from Mr Hoberman are from his “Tablet” magazine review of the film).

JH: A scene in which [Lleywn] sings Ewan MacColl’s “The Shoals of Herring” for his catatonic dad in a dismal rest home for retired seamen affords a pathos that the Coens are pleased to despoil because, like Barton Fink or Larry Gopnik (_A Serious Man_), Llewyn Davis is a schlemiel.
JG: Llewyn is certainly a schlemiel (but not solely that). He has maybe gotten a colleague at the Gaslight pregnant who, it turns out, really cares for him. But he does not pursue it. He almost drives to Akron to see a girl friend who had his child, instead of using the money he freely gave her to get an abortion. But he doesn’t make it. He insults well-meaning people. He loses his merchant marine papers through thoughtlessness. He loses out on royalties on a gag song he jointly sung (sure fire) , because he gave up any royalties in favor a few hundred bucks he needed (to pay for the folk singer’s abortion).
JH: . Later, Llewyn goes on the road to Chicago with a feline cat and a human one (John Goodman as a hideous jazz junkie hipster), hoping to land a gig at the Gate of Horn or at least get representation from the owner Bud Grossman. A stand-in for Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman, this imposing figure is singularly unimpressed. “I don’t see a lot of money here.” Read More 
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Philip Roth

Philip Roth is one of my heros. All his life, he has been fighting bourgeois Jewish moral indignation. In doing so, he has shown the opinion-making pundits—many Rabbis, the Bnai Brith, the how-dare-you “spokesmen” such as Leon Weisenthaler and Norman Podhoretz, as well as a slew of Academic literary critics-- what it means to maintain a distance form orthodox opinions.

Note the Comment below: the use of "lib-rad" is like the "Jewish self-hater" label Roth fought in his time. There should be, as the writer states, movies and novels about the divisions among Jews. They won't by written or produced by those with slogans which divide up the world into the right-thinking and the dangerous (Roth had thought-out principles--which is why he was called a "misogynist" and a "traitor" ).

From the Goodby Columbus stories through Portnoy’s Complaint, he had the courage to reveal what really had happened to the Jewish Mother, the successful business- and law-school college grad, the “New York intellectuals” (who could not abide the 60s anti-war movement), and the young Jewish American woman who sought out what she guessed was the man who had his feet on the ground and could appreciate her needs, including her own professional life. What had become of the sons and daughters of immigrants who slaved so that their kids could enjoy The Golden Land?  Read More 
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Moishe Leib Halpern (1886-1932)


Dawn to dusk, your hands and eyes
Bent over sewing -- girl, don't cry.

Tomorrow it shall come to pass;
Your worries will die like poisoned mice.

In that day, in iron and stone,
Men will roar like bears, while women,

Old men, and babies at the breast
Chase down robbers and arsonists.

My girl--what a fire! your beloved is coming
to carry you off, on bird wings.

This lyric is as ambiguous as a prophesy. Irony, violent and peaceful images, anger, and a bitter joy are at war in it, yet it is perfectly balanced.

I recently found a book (in English) by the Yiddish poet, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern (1886-1932), called _In New-York_. He wrote about New York in the time of immigration, neon, the El and its noise and grit, poverty, ragtime, the heat of August sticking to the body at manual labor. An immigrant, Halpern contrasts the small Polish town and the Lower East Side with images as powerful as Pound's, and as brief.

But he also writes a night dream that surrounds the entire history of his people, and his relatives, with the personal mystery of his own existence "A Night."  Read More 
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Is Israel the only place for Jews? Militancy and Zionism (same questions Roth wrote of) nb:no image for this post

In plain, graceful language, the authors of _The Battle of the Two Talmuds_ , Leon Charney and Saul Mayzlish, bring to awareness the way Jewish belief systems developed during the Diaspora.  Read More 
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Steve Stern's "The Wedding Jester"

Steve Stern is a gifted comic writer. Like Nathan Englander, he weaves into his stories legends and mystic figures of the Jewish people: Dybbuk, Golem, shekinah, tzaddik, doppleganger, demons, wonder rabbis, the True World, transmigration of souls. Both writers allude to the tales of The Baal Shem Tov, Nachman of Bratslav, Mendele the Bookseller, Sholem Aleichem, the panoply of Yiddish short story writers published in eastern Europe and in The Jewish Daily Forward, as well as Bellow, Malamud, and Ozick. I. B. Singer is perhaps their most recognizable model.
This kind of story allows readers to understand the part-anguished, part-mystical world the Jewish people of the Diaspora lived and breathed in the context of the American world into which they have been, by now, oh so thoroughly assimilated. A hell of a trick, when successful. Sometimes, these stories indeed do prove timeless, and enrich their characters psyches. Leslie Fiedler asked, “Is there a Jewish identity which survives the abandonment of ghetto life and ghetto beliefs, which for so long defined the Jew? Or has the Jew left in Europe, along with the pain and squalor he fled, the possibility of any definition?” It is a brilliantly composed question.  Read More 
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The Jazz Singer and his Cantor Father

THE JAZZ Singer was wildly popular, the first talkie (1927), although only the songs were heard. (The dialogue was still in captions). Full of schmaltz, struggle, pizzazz, and music, it told of Jakie Rabinowitz, whose cantor father disowned him for not following in his footsteps. Instead, Jakie became Jack Robin, a rising star in musical theater, a Jazz Singer. With “a tear in his voice,” especially when, in blackface, he sings “Mammy.”

Jack (a name his father does not recognize) tells his father that Jazz is the cry of a lost anxious soul for the same completeness that the cantor provides in synagogue. His audience in the theater needs him, like his father’s congregation needs him during the High Holy Days, especially Yom Kippur. Jack is referring to the danceable, joyful “song number with a kick in it,” and the passionate or sentimental, “soulful” ballads, some of which are about futility of passion and loneliness. They are most definitely not about God, or atonement through self-abnegation and submission to divine will. Read More 
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