Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
on a New York street by the same Black pickpocket. Eisen is
by no means eager to get involved, but when Sammler appeals
to him, he finally applies his strength and smashes the pick­
pocket’s face with a heavy bag of metal artifacts that he is carry­
ing with him. Sammler is sickened with horror. All he wanted
was for Eisen to stop the criminal from hurting Feffer and then
call a policeman. Instead, he answered violence with much
greater violence. And, of course, he did so because Sammler
had urged him to intervene. Sammler is involved. Eisen laugh­
ingly points this out to Sammler: “You can’t hit a man like this
just once. When you hit him you must really hit him. Otherwise
he’ll kill you. You know. We both fought in the war. You were
a Partisan. You had a gun. So don’t you know?” Sammler is
by no means the passive observer: he is involved because, al­
though the new Israeli image of the Jew revolts his liberal con­
science, he carries that image with him in his own soul and
in his memory. It is his personal
dybbuk.
A similar combination of fascination and troubled concern
is revealed in the Israeli short stories of Hugh Nissenson. He
writes in the tradition of the romantic adventure, if you like
— the romance of the American frontier as in James Fenimore
Cooper, but with an impressive degree of realism. He writes
about Israel’s wars. In “The Crazy Old Man” (published in the
collection
In The Reign of Peace,
1972), there is a scene of
Hemingwayish toughness where the narrator and another
hardboiled Israeli intelligence officer, Uzi, have to get informa­
tion quickly out of some Arab prisoners. In the middle of the
interrogation, a pious old Jew bursts into the room in his
tefillin,
horrified by the shouts and sounds of violence which he has
overheard. He had witnessed a pogrom as a boy and what had
struck him was that “violence made all the difference between
the
goyim
and the Jews” — exactly as Bellow’s Moses Herzog
had said. It would seem that while the restoration of Jewish
nationhood is a source of romantic inspiration, Jews neverthe­
less should not have to figure in Hemingway-type novels.
Nissenson, in trying to correct these disturbing Israeli tenden­
cies, unconvincingly projects the American liberal position onto
an old Orthodox Jew from Jerusalem. He then proceeds to give
a strange Christian twist to the tale by having the crazy old
man take hold of the gun and shoot one of the Arab prisoners
in order to take the crime on himself and thus save Uzi and