Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

Basic HTML Version

all that stuff, Eli, and I refuse to sit by and watch it happen­
ing on my own lawn.
The agitated speaker is referring, of course, to the hasidic
yeshiva that is springing up — threatening and unwanted — in
their very midst. As a lawyer, a man who knows about zoning or­
dinances and restraining orders, Eli Peck is charged with de­
fending the status quo which, in Woodenton, is their “faith.”
Suburban America is not widely regarded as a center of Jewish
thought, one likely to be compared with the Babylonia that pro­
duced the Talmud or with the Spain that produced Maimonides,
but Roth makes it worse, much worse, than it actually is. Even the
American Jews whom Roth is out to pillory know who Abraham
and Isaac were. But Roth cannot quite resist gilding the lily of his
indignation. Indeed, he takes great delight in having a Mrs.
Patimkin ask Neil Klugman (the wisecracker protagonist of
“Goodbye, Columbus” and Roth’s secret-sharer) if Martin Buber
“is orthodox or conservative,” only to learn, to her surprise, that
“He’s a philosopher” or in noticing that, at a lavish Patimkin
. . . Earl Klein and Manny Kartzman sat next to each other
during the ceremony, then at dinner, and once, in fact,
while the band was playing between courses, they rose,
Klein and Kartzman, as though to dance, but instead
walked to the far end of the hall where together they paced
off the width of the floor. Earl, I learned later, was in the
carpet business, and apparently he was trying to figure how
much money he would make if the Hotel Pierre favored
him with a sale.
To be sure, Roth writes about what he knows, and, at his best,
he does this with a sharp eye for undercutting, realistic detail and
a deadly accurate ear for the speech rhythms of people like the
Patimkins. But when his subject is more narrowly “Jewish”— as it
is in, say, “The Conversion of the Jews”— only a fantasy of wish
fulfillment, only psychology itself, will apparently suffice. In the
Hebrew school show-down that pits a free-thinking Ozzie Freed­