Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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LOWIN / PHILLIP ROTH AND THE NOVEL OF REDEMPTION
9 5
plying that Israel’s Zionism has somehow failed. Zuckerman’s
“liberal” Israeli friend, Shuki Elchanan, points out that, at pres­
ent, America’s Jews have achieved the normalcy that the Zionists
had hoped would be the lot of the new Jew — the Israeli. In­
stead, the Israeli, engaged in constant war with an ever-
threatening colossal enemy, and having to endure the world’s
anathema on a national scale, has become the jumpy diaspora
Jew transplanted from Europe onto Israeli soil.
There are nevertheless many cracks in America’s founda­
tion. Or, more to the point, there are many crackpots. In the
autobiographical sequel to
The Counterlife
The Facts,
— Philip
Roth tells of his devotion as a child to baseball; he likens the
leather of the baseball mitt to the leather of his grandfather’s
tefillin:
both represent a value. And yet, in
The Counterlife,
Roth
presents a variation on the theme of devotion to baseball in
the person of Jimmy Ben-Joseph, an adolescent
baal teshuva
who
believes that the only thing that Israel lacks in order to make
it perfect is baseball. “Not until there is baseball in Israel will
Messiah come,” (TC, p. 94), he shouts. And then, in one of
the zaniest of theatrical scenes in all of Roth’s work, young Jim ­
my dramatizes in front of the ancient Western Wall in the old
city of Jerusalem his conception of redemption by baseball. He
does so by playing the roles of both a player and a radio an­
nouncer, of both a character and his author:
“Ben-Joseph is going back, back — it could be gone, it may be
gone, this could be curtains for Jerusalem!” Then, with no more
than three feet between him and the stones o f the Wall — and
the worshippers at the Wall — Jimmy leaped, sailing recklessly
into the air, his long left arm extended high across his body
and far above his embroidered kipa. “Ben-Joseph catches it!”
he screamed, as along the length o f the Wall a few o f the wor­
shippers turned indignantly to see what the disturbance was. . .
“The game is over!” Jimmy was shouting. “The season is over!”
Jimmy was shouting. “The season is over! The Jerusalem Giants
win the pennant! The Jerusalem Giants win the pennant! Messiah
is on his way!” (TC, p. 94)
Jimmy Ben-Joseph dramatizes, aside from his madness, the
problematics of redemption by fiction. The first problem is that
it is dangerous to one’s mental health to take redemption to
its logical conclusion — to achieve it. Jimmy Ben-Joseph, like
Eli, the Fanatic, like Henry Zuckerman, seeks to
live
fully the